Just finished rereading All The King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. And decided it's my favorite novel. Warren was an accomplished poet, so the writing is terrific, plus it's got lots of dirty politics, a love story that's messy and complicated enough to seem real, a towering central character that makes it hard to decide whether he's the hero or the villain, and even a voluntarily poor saintly figure floating in the background. Inspired by a true story, too. Here's a taste:
He called me in and said: "I told you to dig on Irwin. What did you get?"
"I got something," I said.
"Boss," I said, "I'm going to give Irwin a break. If he can prove to me it isn't true, I won't spill it."
"God damn it," he began, "I told you—"
"I'm giving Irwin a break," I said. "I promised two people I would do it."
"Well, I promised myself, for one. The other one doesn't matter."
"You promised yourself, huh?" He looked hard at me.
"Yeah, I did."
"O.K.," he said. "Do it your way. If it'll stick, you know what I want." He surveyed me glumly, then added: "And it better stick."
"Boss," I said, "I'm afraid it will."
"Afraid?" he said.
"Who you working for? Him or me?"
"Well, I'm not framing Judge Irwin."
He kept on studying me. "Boy," he said then, "I'm not asking you to frame him. I never asked you to frame anybody. Did I?"
"I never did ask you to frame anybody. And you know why?"
"Because it ain't ever necessary. You don't ever have to frame anybody, because the truth is always sufficient."
"You sure take a high view of human nature," I said.
"Boy," he said," I went to a Presbyterian Sunday School back in the days when they still had some theology, and that much of it stuck. And—" he grinned suddenly, "—I have found it very valuable."