Chris Coppel’s darkly humorous novel LUCK presents us with Daniel Trapp — a wealthy, womanizing real estate tycoon who enters US politics with a populist agenda. Unlike its (we assume) real-life inspiration, Coppel’s protagonist can telepathically influence people’s minds, making them do what he wants. The title LUCK gets an ironic undertone since Trapp’s success in business and love has nothing to do with good fortune. It does take a very long time to get to that conclusion as Coppel spends far too much time setting the stage for later events by following Mary and Henry Trapp. A well-to-do couple from Los Angeles, they adopt baby Daniel after his parents die in a gruesome traffic accident. Even as the story keeps dropping ominous hints, the tone remains surprisingly light. Mary and Henry go from one personal success to another, unknowingly manipulated by their step-son’s powers. A considerably grimmer part of the story begins as young Trapp starts deliberately abusing his ability to help himself or harm others – frequently both. With time his power grows almost as much as his need for adoration. Even as a kid, Trapp is pretty much a sociopath, regarding others as mere tools. But, with an ability to control people, how could he not? LUCK doesn’t answer this intriguing question.
Eventually, Trapp enters politics, swaying voters all over the country. And here LUCK stumbles. Throughout the novel, Coppel heavily implies our villain forces people to perform terrible things against their will. But here the author seems to suggest Trapp merely manipulates his political followers with demagoguery. Why? Because Coppel doesn’t want to convey the wrong idea that followers of authoritarian leaders are somehow not responsible for the evil they do because they were duped. So he adjusts the core premise, additionally muddling something that’s already poorly explained. And then, to make matters worse, he ends LUCK with a final twist that comes out of nowhere and feels unearned.
Chris Coppel’s LUCK is a frustrating novel, not because it’s bad, but because it has potential. Both funny and sinister, this satirical look at contemporary US politics has a decent premise, and a villain with unsettling powers. As it is, it only half-succeeds as a satire about a wannabe dictator.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader