53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2004
It's tough to review a Brad Meltzer book. Any discussion of the plot is going to give too much away. Over drinks, I was attempting to tell a friend about THE ZERO GAME. She hadn't started reading it yet, and I was midway through. "Oh, you're going to love it," I said. "The premise alone is enough to hook you."
"Don't tell me," she said.
"No, no, seriously," I pushed. "I won't ruin it. You see, these guys who work in congress as aides and stuff, they have this game. It's super secret, and they bet on legislation, guessing the outcome of votes and stuff."
"That's too much, stop."
"Well, you can imagine from that all the different ways Meltzer can take it."
"Seriously. I don't want to know anymore."
"No," I said. "You don't get it. That's information you get just on the first ten pages. I didn't spoil anything. The book is packed with twists and turns, probably more than any of Brad's other books. By page fifty, you're going to be so sucked in; you're never going to want to put it down."
And it's true. In the first fifty pages of a 460-page thriller, there is already one turn of events so shocking that you start the next chapter fully expecting to discover Meltzer is messing with you. "No," you say, "he CAN'T do that." But he does! And at that point, THE ZERO GAME is just getting revved up. The rest of the novel is a mad, breathless dash to find the answer to the sort of convoluted plot only people who are part of the US government could dream up!
THE ZERO GAME is full of Meltzer's usual narrative tricks. Shifting points-of-view, untrustworthy characters that switch allegiances at the flip of a page, young idealists, and a hero (or two) pushed out of their comfort zone, suddenly finding themselves on a run for their lives, having to scramble to find the strength and skill to survive. It boggles my mind that there hasn't yet been a movie adaptation of one of Brad's books. THE ZERO GAME was easily more exciting than any modern film I saw last year. It's a popcorn thriller, an action-packed suspense story that doesn't need special effects or the chiseled features of a $20M paycheck to excite. Proof positive that there's nothing like a good book to get the imagination--and the adrenaline--pumping.
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler work on Capitol Hill. Matthew is an assistant to a Congressman, and Harris is the youngest chief of staff ever hired by a Senator. Both young men are very bright, but they are a bit bored and looking for some laughs. They decide to play "The Zero Game," in which they place bets on their ability to push through meaningless pieces of legislation. No one gets hurt, the guys can make a few bucks, and it's all in good fun. Unfortunately for Mercer and Sandler, there's more to the "zero game" than meets the eye. The seemingly trivial pursuit proves to be extremely dangerous for its participants.
Brad Meltzer, the author of "The Zero Game," does well when he discusses the inner workings of Congress, especially the machinations of lobbyists, the horse trading that occurs during appropriations meetings, and the quid pro quos that grease the wheels of politics.
Unfortunately, it takes more than this to make a successful political thriller. The plot of "The Zero Game" is both far-fetched and repetitious. Brad Meltzer has written a book of over four hundred and fifty pages, with numerous descriptions of one chase sequence after another.
To his credit, Meltzer's good guys, Harris and Vivian Parker, a seventeen-year-old Senate page, are affable, intelligent, and engaging characters. They are tough and idealistic, and they put up a good fight. It is also refreshing that Meltzer does not include a hokey romantic subplot in this novel. However, the villains are straight out of central casting, the dialogue is stilted, and the unrealistic story goes on far too long. As a political thriller, "The Zero Game" ultimately misses the mark.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2007
After starting off on a high note, The Zero Game quickly falls into the same plot structure as DaVinci code, ie. Find a clue...run, run, run...find a clue...run, run, run...on and on for five hundred pages or so. I did find some of the Washington "insider" stuff to be interesting, so kudos to Meltzer for his extensive research. But as far as the story goes, I wasn't buying it for a second. Unfortunately the entire plot hinges on a character who is supposed to be brilliant acting like an idiot throughout. At no point was I convinced that the protagonist couldn't simply call the authorities and then hide out until the whole matter was resolved. And the villains are so ridiculous and one-dimensional it's not even funny. You've seen these guys a million times. Based on the research that went into this book, I wouldn't write Meltzer off, but he definitely needs to dedicate more of his time to crafting a compelling story with believable characters.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2004
I read the Millionaires first, which despite it's absurd ending, I enjoyed. I read First Counsel(which honestly did not stay very long in my mind) and The Tenth Justice next (have not read Dead Even) and it was clear that Meltzer had a ways to go--good ideas, some sloppy execution...however, if you line up the books in the order they written, he has grown. This was a really interesting and original story. The best part of the book is the "game" (hilarious and ingenious) and the inside look at Congress (his research is outstanding). The characters, Matthew, Viv, and Harris are among his best. It is cool see a multicultural cast of characters. The problem? Well, the biggest was the fact that the two chase scenes are FAR too long. He had this problem in other books, but these went on and on. It would have been better to hear more about the Midas Project (I need to be vague so as not to ruin the book) and the political stories behind it. I would have enjoyed more character driven issues and less running around. And, as another reviewer so smartly noted, the dust jacket gets many things wrong--particularly Viv's age--which is 17, not 16. I must commend Meltzer on his restraint in plot twists--there is a whopper early on--but he uses them wisely--another sign of growth. I hear he has recently moved to Florida. I hope he does not lose his ear for the political or urban thriller.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2004
Either the person who wrote the description on the book jacket did not read the book, or if Brad Meltzer wrote it, he forgot that he killed off his main character early on. The description includes the dead character as one who is still alive and "in a frenetic chase from the secret tunnels under the Captiol to an abandoned gold mine halfway across the country, the TWO friends ...on the run, THEY turn to...the only person they can trust: 16-yr.-old..." AMAZING! The one character is dead BEFORE any of this happens! This was the beginning of many disappointments and confusion for me. If this had been the first Brad Meltzer book I had read, I would never choose his books again.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2007
The Zero Game is the latest and without question best offering from political-suspense author Brad Meltzer, a relative newcomer whose first real breakthrough came in 2002 with The Millionaires. In The Zero Game, Meltzer takes a close look at what can go wrong in the back halls of power when the truly powerful turn a blind eye to the ambitions of those who desire power at any cost. The book is well written, fast paced, and insightful, with no major problems and very few minor ones.
Harris Sandler is a Congressional aide working for one of the most powerful senators in Washington. He's not a true power broker, but he's a guy who can get things done. He's well liked, not overly ambitious, and just cynical enough about his job to recognize a good opportunity when he sees one. In short, he's a player in the highest-level game in the world--the game of politics in the capital of the United States.
But he's also a player in a different game, one not nearly so well publicized, one that has never been discussed by pundits or examined by the media. This game is played in secret by an unknown number of anonymous participants. The only rule is that no player may ever reveal the secrets of the game to anyone. The players in this game are betting on the outcome of Congressional votes, and the stakes can be deadly.
In an age when many, if not most, people's view of the political process in Washington falls somewhere between skepticism and cynicism, the notion that somewhere behind the scenes a small group of otherwise insignificant people are really calling the shots is appealing--and almost believable. Secret power and hidden ambition at the highest level are hardly novel concepts for a political thriller. Yet Meltzer manages to put a new twist to these familiar themes. With the addition of a seemingly invincible antagonist, a 16-year-old heroinne, and a daring cat-and-mouse chase that takes readers from the bowels of the earth, 8,000 feet deep in a South Dakota gold mine, to the bowels of the U.S. Capitol, Meltzer's transformation from a mediocre fiction writer to a top-notch political novelist is complete.
Meltzer's latest novels are unsurprisingly drawing comparisons to John Grisham and David Baldacci by many critics, and The Zero Game indicates that such observations are not without merit. Meltzer's development as an author even since his previous novel, The First Counsel (2001) is immediately apparent in The Zero Game. The dialog is crisp and believable; the action is cinematically fast paced; the suspense is tight without ever going too far over the line toward melodrama. His portrayal of the House and Senate--particularly the members of each--is deferentially humorous while at the same time almost certainly accurate. He has left no crucial element of his writing untended, and his efforts pay off in the reader's experience.
Meltzer draws upon his own experience as an intern on Capitol Hill to walk a fine and for the most part satisfyhing line when writing about Congress. He is knowledgeable enough about the political process not to be awestruck by our nation's lawmakers; yet he retains just enough idealism not to be jaded by the corruption that inevitably lurks behind any number of Washington's closed doors. And he allows his readers to view the whole Congressional system through the eyes of interns and aides, the seemingly powerless minions who write the speeches, who conduct the low-level meetings where major policy issues initially get shaped, and who in reality know more about politics than any lawmaker. One theme that comes across especially well is the relationship between Congressmen and Senators and their staffs. In one telling exchange, Viv, the 16-year-old intern who gets caught up with Harris in the corruption surrounding the game, asks another aide, Dinah, for some project books containing sensitive information. When Dinah hesitates, Meltzer writes, "Harris had warned her this might happen. That was why he gave her the ultimate comback. `The congressman wants them,' Viv insisted. There was a short pause on the other line. `I'll get them ready,' Dinah eventually said."
There are some negatives in the book as well. At times the writing seems slightly careless, as if portions were never researched and certain facts never checked. In one instance, Meltzor describes an aide walking past "the hearing room where Nixon was impeached during Watergate" (Nixon was never impeached; he resigned before the House of Representatives had a chance to vote on the articles of impeachment drawn up by the Judiciary Committee). In another, the two houses of Congress are referred to as the two branches of government. Minor offenses, but they do distract the reader from the story.
A more serious authorial offense is Meltzor's fickleness when it comes to narrative point of view. In an apparent effort to keep the reader locked into the story, Meltzer switches back and forth between the standard third-person narrative and a more unusual first-person account written in the present tense. Designed to make reading more experiencial, like watching a movie, this writing style is difficult to do well and easy to botch. By switching back and forth, Meltzer manages to land somewhere in between; it's a little distracting but not quite frustrating enough to dwell on. The real difference between Melter's technique and that of, say, John Grisham, who used first-person present-tense narration to great effect in The Rainmaker, is that Grisham is smooth enough to make you forget the unfamiliar and rather awkward construction after a few chapters, while Meltzer draws attention to it by killing off his narrator. This is a dirty trick, catching the reader off-guard, again in an attempt to make the reading experience more vivid.
The unexpected death of a character assumed to be a major protagonist is not uncommon and helps keep readers on their toes. But the unexpected death of a narrator seems cheap and frankly a little strange. Even so, Meltzer manages to pull it off without leaving the reader feeling cheated--too cheated, anyway. There's no question that there's some bait-and-switch advertising going on somewhere between the flap copy and the actual story, but the writing is otherwise good enough that the trick almost works.
The Zero Game is a fast, entertaining read, Meltzer's best to date. His harrowing plot lines and unconventional characters, coupled with intriguing story developments (when's the last time you read a political thriller with a major scene taking place 8,000 feet underground?) conspire to make Meltzer one of the best of his genre. If he can keep it up, his readers will undoubtedly continue to reward him as he continues to reward them for a long time to come.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2004
If you've ever found politics boring, think how those in Washington feel. Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler are senior staffers working on Capitol Hill but Matthew's getting restless and thinking about changing his profession.
That's when Harris lets him in on a little secret known as the Zero Game. To spice things up in politics, only select people are invited to play a friendly wagering game on whether bills will pass or fail.
And that's when a surefire win comes across Matthew's desk. He has the power to make the bill pass, giving him and Harris the chance of a lifetime.
They bet everything they have and watch as the game unfolds. But when Matthew gets curious, Harris finds himself on the run.
He draws a 17-year-old Senate page into the mix as he tries to uncover the truth. What went wrong with the game?
Harris discovers there's more to the Zero Game than just some minor bets on bills passing or failing. Somebody wants him dead to keep the secret quiet...an international secret that could change life as we know it.
Brad Meltzer has written one of the most clever novels ever created. The Zero Game weaves such a detailed web, you'll see a side of Washington that you have to wonder if it's really fiction or not. The world he's created is very real but not so technical that only a Congressman could enjoy it.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2004
The zero game is a dangerous game surrounded by secrecy. It is a game of risk, reward, mystery and the thrill of knowing that just being invited to play confirms your status as a Washington power broker.
Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler are two young men playing the zero game, no one knows they are playing, not their friends, not their co-workers and definitely not their bosses who happen to be some of the most powerful senators and congressmen. The game starts off as fun for both men with the reward of some extra cash, until someone they both know turns up dead.
As Matthew and Harris try to figure what they have become involved in, they realize the zero game hides a sinister secret and that they both have been marked for death.
With a killer tracking their every move, Matthew and Harris must run for their lives and their only chance for survival is to trust the 16 year-old Senate with the know-how to roam the capital undetected.
`The Zero Game' is another great thriller from Brad Meltzer. From page one the story grabs hold and doesn't let go. Complex plot, break-neck pacing, well-drawn characters and shocking twists all blend together to make an unforgettable read complete with an explosive climax. Brad Meltzer's smooth writing style and ingenious plots have earned him the reputation of being a master thriller writer, with `The Zero Game' he not only confirms the reputation, he proves he is at the top of his game.
Expect to see this book dominate the top spot on the bestseller lists.
A MUST read!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2005
This book disappoints nearly from the very beginning. The key ingredient of the plot is utterly implausible and since it is introduced at the beginning of the book the reader is forced to forge on despite this egregious weakness. It never stopped nagging at me throughout the book and at the end Meltzer adds insult to injury by disclosing that it was indeed NOT plausible. But our hero, Harris Sandler was bamboozled nonetheless. Despite his political savy and cleverness he was fooled by a transparent ruse that even a high schooler would have detected.
Even accepting the preposterous story line, this book was a pedestrian effort at best. Very predictable. The only redeeming quality of the book was the glimpse into the inner workings of the Congress. I enjoyed that, but wading through this mediocrity was too high a price to pay for what I suspect was not a particularly accurate portrayal. I found myself skimming large sections of the book in order to just get through to the unsatisfactory end.
Ordinarily I would have simply quit reading but the story was just barely interesting enough to keep me going which is why I gave it three instead of one or two stars.
Now, if you are stuck on a transcontinental flight and you find this book beneath your seat cushion AND you have absolutely nothing else productive to do then and only then should you consider reading this book. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and find something more worthwhile to expend your efforts on.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2004
Picking up Meltzer's The Zero Game I was intrigued by the cover jacket description, basic political intrigue, then something goes wrong. sigh. And wrong it does-not only in the story-with-the lack of character development and the concentration of a drawn out 200 page chase sequence which after page 170 I began feel finishing this book would be more laborious because of the droning, ahem, "action sequence." If only the writer of the jacket would have either a) read the book or b) wrote the story line itself.
The first few chapters held my interest. The plot starts with two guys one working in interior appropriations and another, his best friend working elsewhere in congress. There's a secret-insider-game basically betting on votes in the House and Senate. Then something goes wrong. The only other "fascinating" feature of the story line is the discovery of the secret in an old mining cave-and that's it.
I disliked this book and I believe it is a waste of time. However, if you find that little character development, uncultivated multiple story lines and a 200-page chase sequence then hey, this book may be for you.