For reasons of ideology, the dean of the National Cathedral in Washington cannot bring himself to greet a conservative Republican as “Mr. President.” So opens, on this pitch-perfect note, one of the best novels ever written about the American Left. Charles McCarry’s Shelley’s Heart, originally published fourteen years ago and now being reissued by the Overlook Press, takes the outward form of a political thriller—but this is no ordinary work of genre fiction. Shelley’s Heart is an ambitious attempt to describe the American Left from within and without, to catch it in the act of revealing its true character, aims, and methods.
The passage of time has validated McCarry’s uncanny gaze into the country’s immediate political future, with a plot that turns on three events—a stolen election, an impeachment scandal, and a highly partisan confirmation hearing. As Shelley’s Heart opens, a liberal Democrat has narrowly defeated a conservative Republican in the presidential election of 2000, but only because a few thousand votes were shifted from one column to another in California, Michigan, and New York. Franklin Mallory, the losing candidate, has uncovered evidence of the fraud. At the funeral of the Chief Justice shortly before the Inauguration, he asks President-elect Bedford Forrest Lockwood to resign the office, and when he does not, Mallory makes the evidence public.