Austin Grossman's got a lot of arrows in his quiver. Already a game-design legend when he published his first novel, 2008's Soon I Will Be Invincible (a fun superhero romp), he followed it up in 2013 with YOU, a incredible, brooding tale about adolescence, alienation, games mythos, and second-person quests. Now he's brought us Nixon, a substantial advance on the existing canon of great spy-thrillers about a Lovecraftian Cold War.
Nixon stumbles on the awful truth about the real Soviet menace when, desperate to convict the cool and collected Alger Hiss, he follows the accused spy through the streets of New York and discovers a secret journal of the American magickal experiments that Hiss had been reporting back to his Soviet spy masters. When Nixon returns to nab him, he is instead captured by a pair of fearsome Soviet spies who attempt to sacrifice him to an Elder God. When he breaks lose, they quarrel and one of them executes the other.
So it is that Nixon is inducted into the mysteries of the lurking ancients — and turned into a Soviet agent, with the promise that Hiss will be delivered to him and he will make a name for himself as a kind of savvier, less-rabid Joe McCarthy.
Grossman's Nixon isn't a comic figure — he's tragic. He's self-aware, riven with impostor syndrome, angry at himself and at the world. He is the author of his own misery, and he knows it. He is scared, triumphant, self-righteous, and self-effacing. He is just like us, but more so, and in the worst ways.
It's a brilliant mix: the flawed antihero, self-detesting and yet driven, cast as the punchline to every American political joke right up to the Clinton impeachment. Throw in the Cthulhu mythos and some meticulous historical research and you've got a novel that transcends satire and stands on its own. This would be an amazing book even if you'd never heard of Richard Nixon.
Crooked [Austin Grossman/Hachette]