Book: Echo House

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Echo House

Author: Ward S. Just
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company

This is a novel about the will to power of one American family, the Behls of Washington, D.C. Their world turns on secrets—family secrets, state secrets, secrets divulged, secrets misunderstood, secrets denied. At the center of the story stands Echo House, the family mansion, exerting its own field of force. Three generations of men in the Behl family Adolph—his son Axel, and his grandson Alec—as well as the women they marry and sleep with, pursue power and influence from before the New Deal through the Cold War and far past the Gulf War. They live off-the-record lives and love off-the-record women. And the women tell their story. Echo House is populated not only by actual and fictional presidents and candidates but by White House staffers, by fortune-tellers and adventuresses, by powerful journalists male and female, by lawyers and bankers young and old, honest and dishonest, by researchers and diplomats. Nearly all the characters are Beltway insiders: rumor spreaders, power brokers, secret keepers, senators, investigators, spies, would-be ambassadors, and the canniest survivor of them all, a women who in the 1950s declared her intentions to become first lady and finally succeeded.


As a foreign correspondent and writer for the Washington Post, Ward Just knows Washington. And what he knows he’s put into his latest political novel, Echo House, the story of three generations of a powerful Washington family. The book’s title refers to the Behl family mansion, a historic landmark that has belonged to the Behls since the Wilson administration. Constance Behl, matriarch of the family, buys the house when it seems her husband, Senator Adolph Behl, is a sure bet for the vice presidential slot on his party’s ticket. The political jockeying that surrounds this nomination and Senator Behl’s mortifying disappointment are dealt with in the first 20 pages, leaving the rest of the book to chronicle the fortunes of the senator’s son, Axel, and grandson, Alec.

Axel grows up to be a wartime hero and, later, an eminent leader of the Democratic Party. He marries Sylvia, a poet, and has a son, Alec, who grows up to be a powerful beltway lawyer. Outside this family circle there is a host of minor characters—politicians and politician’s wives, reporters, lawyers, generals and civil servants. But throughout Echo House the main character is politics itself, as men and women wheel and deal, coax and bribe and threaten their way into power. By the end, it is evident that individuals come and go, but the system is forever.

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