David Pepper recently had to block someone on Twitter for the first time in his life, because he was tired of being accused, repeatedly, of hiding his real identity as a Russian spy.
“If I were a Russian spy, would I really release my plot in novel form in advance?” the 46-year-old Cincinnatian asks me, mock-bewildered, on a recent Friday morning. “Then I wouldn’t be a very good spy.”
The online tormentor isn’t just throwing out random espionage allegations for no reason. He’s decided to go after Pepper because his first book—The People’s House, a quick, lively thriller full of labyrinthine scandal and homey Rust Belt touches—reads like a user’s guide to the last two years in U.S. politics.
And Pepper wrote the book before any of it actually happened.
The People’s House centers around a Russian scheme to flip an election and put Republicans in power by depressing votes in the Midwest. Pipeline politics play an unexpectedly outsize role. Sexual harassment and systematic coverups in Congress abound. But it’s no unimaginative rehash. Pepper released the book in the summer of 2016, just as the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up—and before Russia’s real-life campaign to influence the election had been revealed. In fact, the heart of the story had been written for three years when Russian government sent hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee and sent their trolls to influence the election on social media. The Putin-like oligarch Pepper portrays as pulling the strings of U.S. politics had been fleshed out for two.
Using a self-publishing service, Pepper didn’t expect much of a reception, and he didn’t get one at first, beyond his amused friends and colleagues. But when a Wall Street Journal reviewer that November surprised him by calling The People’s House “a sleeper candidate for political thriller of the year,” that started to change.