Latam BookLook: "High Hand" by Curtis J. James

Did this spy novel predict Trump as president?

Latam BookLook: "High Hand" by Curtis J. James

What’s it about?

“High Hand” is a novel that was written a few years ago, when the three writers that published it under the pseudonym of Curtis J. James (Curtis Harris, James Rosen, and James Ellenberg) , produced a work of fiction where the main plot revolves around Russian interference in the US presidential election. It is a novel that intertwines espionage with journalism, because the main character is a reporter for the Los Angeles Register and his ex-wife, another of the main characters, is an undercover CIA spy that was sent to try to understand billionaire Robert Stuart’s ties with the Russian oil industry. In the foreword of the novel, International Spy Museum curator Vince Houghton writes: “Rosen, Harris, and Ellenberger were thinking about Russian interference in an American presidential election years ago. Throw in the billionaire Republican candidate and the espionage angle, and you’ve got the classic recipe for life imitating art”.

Who wrote it?

Curtis J. James is a pseudonym for three different authors who have collaborated in High Hand. In their Good Reads bio, the trio is described as: Curtis Harris, a world-renowned cancer scientist; James Rosen, an award-winning political journalist; and James Ellenberger, a former senior official of a national labor union”. Since all three belong to different disciplines, they combined their different experiences and knowledge into the book, creating a novel with accuracy in terms of the journalistic experience as well as the implications of being a spy.

Even though the novel is multi-perspective, it ticks the box of a unified writing style. While you can tell the different voices of the characters apart, it is not tragic as to seem like multiple fragments of different books put together. With a timeline that jumps back and forth, and a fast pace, the three authors have managed to write a book that makes sense, but that will also keep readers in the edge of their seat.

Read or pass?

High Hand is a fun, fast paced read. I would not say it has a memorable lyricism, but because of the genre this decision to use more colloquial ways of speaking, and in instances technical language, makes sense. However, and sadly to a certain extent, while reading I can truly tell that this is a novel written by men with a male reader in mind.

Most of the main characters, who are high figures in the Russian society and in the United States, are men. Even journalist Frank Adams’ sources are predominantly male. This is not in itself a negative aspect, but I find it to be quite distressing, particularly in today’s political climate. Women are a part of the world, even a part of the underground, poker-playing, Russian spying world, as well as a big part of print and digital media companies and of international politics.

It is impressive how the novel predicts Russian interference in US presidential elections to place a billionaire with high ranking Russian connections in the Oval Office -- the novel was released in 2017, but the authors were working on it years before the election. However, the main difference between Stuart Roberts and Donald Trump is that Roberts did have a political career prior to running for president, at least.  


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