The elusive haggis

Haggis – Chieftain a’ the Puddin’ Race!

Scotland has a number of foodstuffs you’d be hard pressed to find outside of Scotland—proper shortbread, porridge, good butter. And haddock is regarded as a “trash” fish here in the US, so smoked haddock is all-but impossible to get, except at internet specialty sites where it fetches prices per ounce that rival cocaine!

Haggis is another thing altogether.

Our family tried it when we lived in Edinburgh in the ‘seventies, when I was a boy, but we didn’t like it. My mother happened to mention our experience to a neighbor, who immediately asked which butcher my mother had seen. It was the wrong butcher, the neighbor tutted, and we tried it again from the correct butcher. It was good!

My American haggis journey began in 1997, when my wife and I decided to have a proper Burns Supper with friends in Seattle. I scoured the city for the Chieftain of the Puddin’ Race. With no luck. If butchers even knew what it was (and more than half claimed not to), they still didn’t have it. I grew desperate. Remembering that there could be great variation in quality and taste, I worried that I’d just have to settle for whatever I could get, and risk that the friends I was inviting over might get a poorly made one, and dislike haggis from then on.

Hoping for some guidance, I took a chance and called a number in the phone book, “Scottish Connections.”

Robert Burns

Mrs Wilson answered. She had a lovely, lilting Edinburgh accent. I told her I was looking for haggis.

“Weel, dear, yer starting a bit late, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I admitted, “but I’ve been trying for weeks.” Did she know of anywhere I could get it?
“I could let ye have one…but I’m afraid I’ll have to charge you,” she said.
Ah, here it comes, I thought. The soak. “I see. How much were you thinking, Mrs. Wilson?”
“Well,” she began cautiously, “it’ll end up costing you at least five dollars.” She sounded genuinely apologetic, though at this point I’d have paid $20 and still felt like I’d done well. “You could come over now, if you’d like,” she said.
I rushed over, lest someone else beat me to her last one.

On the night, it turned out to be sublime, and very well made. And best of all—illicit!

Because it turns out that wee Mrs. Wilson, well into her pensioner years, had—and not for the first time—smuggled eight or ten haggis across the Canadian border where she’d procured them from a butcher in Burnaby, British Columbia, who made them in the traditional way—“lights” and all. Not all heroes wear capes!

One of the ingredients in a traditional haggis is the sheep’s “lights,” its lungs. The USDA will not allow food for human consumption that contains sheep’s lungs. Which, when you write it out like that, sounds kinda like a good thing.

But the point is that traditional haggis uses it–and has done for centuries. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK are fine with “lights” in their haggis. It’s only our own Dept. of Agriculture that prissily abjures it.

Not Mrs. Wilson

I loved that not only were we getting haggis, but a true one. That it was also smuggled, like whisky from the Highlands, only added to its steamy, earthy savor. I imagined Mrs. Wilson and her husband at the Blaine border crossing sweetly, innocently claiming they had nothing to declare, when in fact the car was sitting low on its springs under the weight of all the bootleg haggis they carried—less Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road, perhaps, and more a Matlock-era Andy Griffith version.

Wm. McGonagall

On Burns Night, we feasted, we toasted, we read not only from Burns, but from William McGonagall (a friend was from Monifieth, near Dundee, and if Burns was the poet laureate of Scotland, McGonagall was the eedjit laureate of Dundee; a poet so bad that pubs would pay him NOT to read his poetry in their shops).

And we raised a glass to Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, too. We had a grand and a delicious time.

Next up, further tales and travails of the elusive haggis on American shores.

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James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector, Dark Network and Emergency Powers–noir tales about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge. All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, your local bookshop, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

James McCrone

His work, “Numbers Don’t Lie” recently appeared in the 2020 short-story anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vol. 2, and his short story “Ultimatum Games” will appear in Rock and a Hard Place in issue #7 this fall. His next book, w/t Bastard Verdict, is a noir political thriller set in Scotland.

A Seattle native (mostly), James now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children. He’s a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and is the newly elected vice-president of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.

For a full list of appearances and readings, make sure to check out my Events/About page. And follow this blog!

Strong Characters

I write about politics and institutions a great deal on this blog. I worry that my posts have made it seem that the Faithless Elector books are only political treatises. To be sure they are well researched and offer a chilling, insider take on Washington and our dismayingly enduring democratic deficit.

But they’re thillers.

As thrillers, they’re about characters in action. And a good many readers and reviewers have found the characters compelling and intriguing (see a sampling, below). My protagonist, FBI Agent Imogen Trager is a complex, driven character, a by-the-numbers (if rarely by-the-book) investigator who leads a strong, memorable cast. Taken together, the books weave high stakes, low politics, intricate motives and tense emotions into compelling, fast-paced stories that can be read individually or in order.

Imogen grew out of the first book, Faithless Elector, and during the re-writing/editing process, I realized she was a star. And like a star, she was stealing scenes and making others look bad! I deleted one character, and gave her his lines and discoveries, and switched a few other things around to make her more central. When I came to write the second book, Dark Network, I was excited because it would be wholly her book. In Emergency Powers, all the chickens come home to roost. And the whole cast—Imogen in particular—must confront their choices and their allegiances. (No chickens were actually harmed in the writing of this book 🙂

Here’s some of what reviewers and readers have said about the characters in the Faithless Elector series:

“McCrone’s ability to portray a heroine who makes both good and bad decisions is well-done, providing many action-packed and unexpected moments throughout.” — DIANE DONOVAN, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Three tough female characters that steal the show: FBI agents Vega, Sartain, and Trager…shoulder much of the burden in this novel and deserve a large credit for why it succeeds.” -T. LIEBERMAN, Independent Book Review

Imogen Trager “wrangles with her demotion from golden girl to the FBI’s problem child while still trying to uncover the truth…It beautifully combines the bureaucracy of a spy thriller with the tantalising chase that’s usually seen in detective novels. -HANNAH STEVENSON, Dorset Book Detective

“A dynamic mix of political intrigue and high-stakes personal drama, offering keen portraits of true patriotism—its weight, its costs, and the courage that drives it.
ART TAYLOR, Edgar Award-winning author of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74

“Couldn’t put it down. The tension just builds and builds. The book just sucked me in….and now I’m looking forward to the next!” radiostax (Amazon)

“Wonderful characters! But the key to the book is Imogen Trager – a dedicated FBI agent who’s willing to risk whatever it takes to save the country. You’ll love her. Highly recommended!” R. G. Belsky (Amazon)

Links to all the books are available in the bio below.

You can catch me online this Sunday, Aug. 1 at 3pm in conversation with Matty Dalrymple and Lisa Regan, hosted by the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop;

AND I’ll be in New York City on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at KGB Bar (85 E 4th St) IN-PERSON and online for the MWA Reading Series, beginning at 7pm.

For a full list of appearances and readings, make sure to check out my Events/About page.

# # #

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector , Dark Network and Emergency Powers–noir tales about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge. All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

His work, “Numbers Don’t Lie” also recently appeared in the 2020 short-story anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vol. 2, and his short story “Ultimatum Games” will appear in Rock and a Hard Place in issue #7 this fall. His next book, w/t Bastard Verdict, is a noir political thriller set in Scotland.


A Seattle native (mostly), James now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children. He’s a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and is the newly elected vice-president of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Better Next Time…

The Atlantic published an article this week, “The Unraveling of the Trump Era,” by Olga Khazan, who notes: “Trump’s team fell short because it often made mistakes in the nitty-gritty work of rule-making… That might come as a relief to Democrats, but it’s actually a warning: All it will take is someone with the same priorities as Trump, but better discipline, to reshape the way the government works.”

The comedian and host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, referred to the Trump administration’s all-thumbs approach to governing as “Stupid Watergate,” which he described as “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.”

The Faithless Elector series (while not about Trump) mines and articulates the very real dangers of what could happen if a group of ruthless, disciplined and canny political operators were to try to seize control of government—and then cement their grip.

We’ve seen the lock (goose) step of the vast majority of the GOP. If such a president had majorities in both houses of Congress, he could enact what he wanted. If he had a pliant Att’y General and had successfully remade the Office of Personnel Management to be under the aegis of the White House as he tried to do (thus a return to the spoils system of patronage government), the few things such an administration enacted that were contested might easily be upheld by a craven Supreme Court, bent on returning the nation to the 19th century. And the DOJ could become solely the tool of the president.

Also from Khazan’s article: “The rule process is specific, technical, and tedious, which did not exactly fit Trump’s style. Some experts say Trump’s agencies wrote their rules carelessly…”

The genesis of Faithless Elector books and the conspiracy bent on seizing control and remaking the nation in their own bloodless image was not Trump, but the W Bush administration–and the work of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Carl Rove. Cheney and Rumsfeld cut their teeth under Nixon, and they were aggrieved by the rejection of their candidate and the repudiation of the so-called Imperial Presidency. They were savvy, cunning, and understood intimately how government works. They set about bending it to their oligarchic will. It was Rove’s job to ensure a “permanent Republican majority.”

It’s touching that fewer than 20 years ago the GOP still cared about elections.

Beginning with the first book, Faithless Elector (published in spring 2016 before Trump was even the Republican candidate), the conspirators recognize that they do not have a majority, and so they set out to manipulate the Electoral College. In Dark Network, they work on the rules and try to manipulate a Contingency Election. In the final book, Emergency Powers, the conspiracy starts working hard on eating government from the inside out.

It’s worth noting that while the Faithless Elector series was prescient in many ways, the era in which we find ourselves may not be a rebirth of freedom and democracy but–for the forces arrayed against democratic accountability and the rule of law–nothing more than an unfortunate, regrettable interlude in their dark march. And they will delay, distract and bide their time.


People like Mitch McConnell play the long game, and they’re patient. And ruthless.

# # #

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector , Dark Network and Emergency Powers–noir tales about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge. All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

His work, “Numbers Don’t Lie” also recently appeared in the 2020 short-story anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vol. 2, and his short story “Ultimatum Games” will appear in Rock and a Hard Place in issue #7 this fall. His next book, w/t Bastard Verdict, is a noir political thriller set in Scotland.


A Seattle native (mostly), James now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children. He’s a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and is the newly elected vice-president of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.

As American as Baseball: A Modest Proposal

New plurality rules for baseball!

The extra-innings format rule in Major League Baseball has inspired me to dust off a format change I’d blogged about years ago, but which so far hasn’t garnered the changes I envisioned. Be assured, I have forwarded this “innings-ovation” proposal to Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. Incredibly, then-commissioner Bud Selig did not respond to my original proposal.

The Electoral College is as American as baseball—venerably, willfully idiosyncratic, hidebound and capricious. (Which is part of the fun, right?)!

Why does the similarity stop there?

The enduring use of the Electoral College should inspire those of us who love the game–as we love the Republic–to greater depths.  If winner-take-all is indeed our national spirit, why must “America’s game” cling to its outmoded scoring?

Total number of runs over nine innings is clearly too simple-minded a way of determining a winner. And likely to stir up passions.

Therefore, in order to address the unfair, and frankly un-American scoring discrepancy that baseball presents, I would like to modestly propose a new set of plurality rules for scoring a baseball game:

  • The team who scores the most runs in a particular inning will be awarded ALL of the runs scored in that inning by either team. 

To illustrate: let us say, in the first inning Team ‘A’ scored 3 runs and Team ‘B’ scored 2. Under electoral scoring, Team ‘A’ having received more runs that ‘B’ would receive all 5 runs scored in that inning.

Then, (to continue the scenario) if in the following second inning, ‘B’ scored 3 runs and ‘A’ none, the running score would be ‘A’-5 vs. ‘B’- 3, each having won an inning and been awarded all the points that inning carried. Then, in the 9th inning, the innings-won total would be calculated to determine the winner.

I’m sure we can all agree that this makes much more sense. And to those who say it would unfairly award wins and even the championship to a lesser team, I can only say that it wouldn’t happen any more frequently than the Electoral College winner loses the popular vote (5, but who’s counting?).

Indeed, a survey of the last two World Series contests shows that while the scoring would have been different, the result would have been the same. And more just.

But I hear you say, there could still be a tie.

Of course. In the new innings plurality rules, the teams would play a 10th inning. But, as the new player-in-scoring-position-to begin extra innings makes clear, to continue playing past that is pointless. If, at the end of the 10th inning, there is still a tie, the decision as to who has won the contest would be remanded to a responsible body, one with knowledge of the teams, players and their capabilities. 

There could be no better group than living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame to weigh, consider and decide which team should win, a College of Baseball Elders. Like the electoral college, there could be some simple safeguards in place, such as a restriction on not voting for a team on which an Elder had previously played.

What could be more American? 

Follow this blog for more insights.

# # #

For a primer of past blog posts on the issues surrounding the Electoral College, click the links below: everything from the issues surrounding popular vote winners losing in the Electoral College, to Faithless Electors, to the democratic deficit inherent in the apportioning of EC votes.
And for a thrilling read, check out the whole series, beginning with Faithless Elector.

Alexander Hamilton and the first contested election

Power of Small State Voting

Chaos Theory, Electoral College Style

Faithless Electors could have tipped 5 previous elections
Structural Flaws

James McCrone

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector , Dark Network and Emergency Powers–noir tales about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge. All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

His work, “Numbers Don’t Lie” also recently appeared in the 2020 short-story anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vol. 2, and his short story “Ultimatum Games” will appear in Rock and a Hard Place this fall. His next book, w/t Bastard Verdict, is a noir political thriller set in Scotland.


A Seattle native (mostly), James now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children. He’s a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and is the newly elected vice-president of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.