It’s impossible for any book to keep pace with the breakneck speed of the Trump-era news cycle. Every day is, seemingly, another insane news day. But for anyone looking for a broad overview of what we know about the case for collusion with Russia, there’s a great book now available in paperback. In its most compelling moments, Collusion, by veteran Guardian reporter Luke Harding, is a thorough and deftly compiled case against the president and his 2016 campaign. Reading it feels like having a pint with Harding, as he quietly walks us through the whole twisted, convoluted endeavor.

Harding does, at the book’s most electric moment, have a beer in a bar with one of the most interesting and least heard-from characters in the Trump-Russia story: former spy and famous dossier creator Michael Steele. Although Steele emerges from this meeting even more enigmatic and shadowed than before, it’s nonetheless a breathtaking moment. Sadly, good spies don’t generally spill their guts over beers. Steele seems to advise Harding to follow the money and sends him on his way, along a cogent, well-reported path through many twists and turns.

At its best, Harding’s Collusion casts a wide, whispered, conspiratorial tone over much of the familiar bumbling of the Trump campaign and administration. What it lacks is a “smoking gun” moment: One certainly gets the sense that many in Trump’s orbit seem to be shockingly up to no good, but one doesn’t emerge from this reading ready to convict anyone. It’s still too early for all that. The reader might wish for an ending in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller leads Trump and family out the front door of the White House in handcuffs. Spoiler alert: This is not that book.

It’s difficult to assess which chapter of the Trump story we’re in. Saturday Night Live might call watching CNN or reading books like this “impeachment porn,” but, as with any great mystery, we readers just want to feel like we’re headed toward a satisfying denouement. It’s clear, to borrow Gertrude Stein’s overused conceit, that there is “a there there.” There are enough tales of official scoundreldom to satisfy anyone’s need to think “I told you so.”

Some of the characters in Collusion deserve their own books, chiefly Carter Page. There’s something so deeply strange about his maneuvers, it would be quite a thing to identify his motives.

Collusion is a quick and satisfying read, but it also leaves us wanting in a way that true porn would not. In the post-truth world, any rhetorical trap can be escaped by decrying it as “fake news.” Harding’s reporting isn’t so easily dismissed. But we also don’t quite know who was holding the candlestick in the conservatory. And finding out will make all the difference.

Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Trump Win
by Luke Harding
(Vintage)