Southern Gothic – Gladwell’s Grand Unified Theory

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece recently for Crime Reads in which he described his grand unified theory of thrillers. Briefly, he stated that “There are, structurally, four (4) essential narratives in [the thriller] genre.”

I tend to shy away from reductive theories, but they can be useful, too. And I think Gladwell is on to something. His four genres are cardinal in nature (and direction, too!):

1) In the Western, the hero comes to a world without justice or law, and establishes order.

2) In the Eastern, our hero works to improve and educate the institutions of law and order in a world where they are incompetent. (Think Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s sleuths.)

3) Third, is the Southern, where our hero, an outsider, restores order to a world that is hopelessly corrupt. “John Grisham’s novels are all Southerns,” Gladwell contends.

4) Last is the Northern, in which our hero works to perpetuate order from within a functional system. “The popular television show Law & Order is a classic Northern,” he notes, as is most Scandic-Noir.

It pains me to realize that while I’m drawn to “Western” thrillers (and Westerns), it seems (according Gladwell’s Theorem) that I’m writing Southern thrillers. Indeed, my favorite kind of Western stories are perhaps a subset of the genre, those in which not only is the world of the book or film without justice, but it’s going to take someone who’s even worse to put it right. And that person won’t be able to stay and enjoy it. They’ve made the world acceptable for decent people, which is why they must now leave.

Unforgiven, Shane, True Grit and the Road Warrior movies spring to mind. But so do Hammett’s Red Harvest, and the Jack Reacher novels. They’re mythic tales—Unforgiven resonates heavily with medieval themes of good and evil, stories of knights and quests. A quest tale turned upside down, to be sure: the knight is a vile murderer, the damsel is a prostitute and the magic elixir which allows him to transform into a hero is corn whiskey.

Those are the Westerns I admire, and go back to. But what of the thrillers that bear re-reading? For the discussion, I’ll stick with well-known favorites: LeCarre’s George Smiley novels, Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal and Graham Greene’s Quiet American

Philip Kerr, to stick with Gladwell’s taxonomy, is writing Southerns. His recurring character, Bernie Gunther, is trying to inculcate something like morality or justice in the midst of Hell. Greene’s narrator, Fowler, can’t stop the war to come, any more than Gunther can stop the war he’s in, but he can do something, can strike a blow. By contrast, the wind blows Northern-ly for Smiley and Inspector Lebel, as they search and scratch and tighten the net around their quarry–Karla and the Jackal. Their dogged pursuit will prevail.

My protagonist FBI Agent Imogen Trager is a Cassandra figure, confronted with corruption no one else sees. She’s an outsider—even though as a Bureau Agent she should be the ultimate insider—made so by the very corruption and factiousness she opposes. She’s dedicated to law-and-order and accountability, because the opposite is thuggish, anarchic corruption and chaos. A Southern thriller, then, but with noir-ish elements of the Northern procedural. The conspiracy goes deep, and she knows that if you don’t get the root, it just grows back—perhaps stronger than before.

Whether the nomenclature of Gladwell’s Unified Theory is accurate (“eastern” and “northern” feel forced), it’s an interesting way to look at how thrillers operate. Fortunately, they’re not carved in stone, and there can be shared elements. His own take on Lee Child’s hero combines elements of both South and West(ern).

In each, we’re drawn to the problem, drawn in further by the situation and we want to watch our hero(ine) set it right. In the end, it’s just categories. It’s the details of why and how—and the characters—that will make it unique.

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James McCrone

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.The third book, Emergency Powers, is available NOW!

He’s at work on a fourth thriller, set in Scotland. A Seattle native (mostly), he now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.

Sharing Space – recent guest blogs

I’ve been fortunate (and honored!) to have my writing hosted on other writers’ blogs over the past few months–and ones that I read regularly! Tomorrow, my post “Decisions, decisions…” will come out on the Writers Who Kill blog. Beginning in late September/early October, my writing will again be hosted on other blogs, and I couldn’t be more excited!

writers-who-killThis summer, I’ve written primarily about the short story “Numbers Don’t Lie,” included in the charity anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vol. 2Every Stolen Vote is a Crime, and I’m taken with the support and fellowship offered by crime writers. I’m deeply grateful.

In case you missed them, below, are links to the most recent guest blogs and appearances, including a brief outline of future appearances.

July 14, 2020 – Art Taylor’s The First Two Pages

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July 8, 2020 – FacebookLive reading, excerpt “Numbers Don’t Lie”

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July 7, 2020 – Do Some Damage (Scott Adlerberg)

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_JMc-contact20James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st.

He’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

 

NetGalley-EmgPwrs

 

You can check out and review Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

 

The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

Find them all through BookShop.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones (UK) and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books, or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

 

 

Chaos Theory, Electoral College edition

SOCTUS-BldgA reader sent me a note asking whether a Supreme Court decision in favor of state laws governing Faithless Electors would make my thriller obsolete.
Sadly (for the nation)–No.

There would remain exploitable weaknesses—indeed, the very ones that are the linchpin of the plot in Faithless Elector would remain in place.

The vote can be suborned. I’ll explain.

The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments regarding state-level Faithless Elector laws in Colorado and Washington State on May 13, 2020. At stake was whether state laws that bound Electors to vote as they pledged were Constitutional. They should issue their ruling in the coming weeks. (For much more background on this, including the relevant precedents, check out the Faithless Elector Argument Preview, posted on the SCOTUS-Blog. It’s informative, and not over-burdened with legalese.)

During oral arguments back in May, the Justices seemed keen to avoid electoral “chaos.” The chaos the Justices seem to want to avoid is that of Electors willfully or frivolously breaking their pledges. But even if the Court rules in favor of the state laws, the Electoral College vote will remain susceptible of being altered. (538.com does a nice job of contextualizing as well.)

According to FairVote.org, along with those states with Faithless Elector laws, there are a total of 32 states that have no such laws. In that absence, Electors are therefore free actors.

2020-FE-no-penalty

 

Of the 32 states with no laws against an Elector breaking his/her pledge, 15 states (representing 144 Electoral College votes – light green on the map above) have no penalty whatsoever, while another 17 states are regarded as “safer,” or less likely to defect, even though they also have no such laws, because they have a strong, party-based vetting process. These states (gray on the map) represent 181 EC votes.

The question, then, is not whether the upcoming Supreme Court ruling will deal with willful petulance and protest votes. It seems likely that in upholding Washington and Colorado’s laws–if that’s how they rule–will deal with it. Up to a point.

Beyond that point, however, it means that there are 325 Electors who might be susceptible to voting against their pledge. No one is suggesting that all would vote against their pledge.

But in Faithless Elector, there is a very thin margin of victory for one candidate. Only three Electoral votes are needed to alter the outcome. In the real world, if the 32 states without laws against breaking an electoral pledge do nothing more to pass their own laws, and conspirators like those in my book were to target Electors in those states, they could reverse the supposed outcome of the presidential race.

It’s true that those who have been through party vetting would be far less likely to vote against their pledge. But for those who have read Faithless, you know that there are always inroads bad actors can make, and that fake news, fake voter fraud, corruption and murder, all figure into the Faithless conspirators’ equation to get the “right man” into the White House.

Chaos indeed. And worse.

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The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

NetGalley-EmgPwrs

 

You can check out and review Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

 

_JMc-contact20Find them all through BookShop.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books, or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Supreme Court to hear #FaithlessElector arguments this month

SOCTUS-BldgThe Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments on May 13 about the constitutionality of Faithless Elector laws established by the states, and it will deliver an opinion this summer.

At stake is whether Electors are independent actors, or are bound by the laws of their respective states.

Until very recently, most scholars seemed to agree that if the question came before the Court, the Court would rule that Electors were free to choose according to their individual consciences, which is what the Electoral College was intended for. Indeed, the schism between what has come to seem customary and how things actually work was the dramatic–and dire!–premise of my 2016 thriller, Faithless Elector. Now it seems less clear. And even when viewed through a so-called States Rights lens (which this court might tend to favor), the potential gains are actually muddled.

Those who seek to preserve the Electoral College–in which the people of the United States do not vote directly for the president or vice-president–want to preserve an institution that has twice since the turn of the century delivered Republican candidates who lost in the popular vote–Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016. But such people should be careful what they wish for.

If the states prevail and the Court finds that Electors may be bound, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV) will have more teeth in it. The core of the NPV is that states can direct their Electors to vote for whomever the national vote winner is, irrespective of the result in the state. States could also argue, as the plaintiffs before the Court do, that states would also be free to direct Electors not to vote for anyone who had, say, failed to provide his tax returns. Or not for one who was divorced, or an adulterer. We’re talking about state legislatures making these rules, after all.

The high court has never weighed in before because until the 2016 election no Elector had been penalized for voting against his/her pledge. No one had “standing” to bring a claim. Now they do. The Court is taking this case ahead of the upcoming election because adjudicating it in the heat of an election (or after the fact!) would be disastrous for the nation.

As I’ve pointed out on this blog elsewhere, the Electoral College was a compromise, one that most assumed would be ironed out in the fullness of time.

I fear that the Court’s decision won’t provide clarity, but will solidify an archaic system and add to the bitter acrimony already festering.

The Faithless Elector Argument Preview, posted on the SCOTUS-Blog is informative, and not over-burdened with legalese.

#   #   #

The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.

NetGalley-EmgPwrs

The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) . You can check out Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

_JMc-contact20

Find them all through BookShop.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com