The Death of a Thousand Cuts

What would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power?

Good stories demand verisimilitude. To make them believable, a writer has to imagine them from multiple angles. S/he must “see” as the characters see, and that includes (maybe especially) seeing what it is the bad guys want and why. From there, the writer has to imagine how the conspirators would achieve their goals.

pawn-to-king-WhogovernsWhat would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power? That’s the question I set myself for the new thriller, Emergency Powers, with chillingly real implications. I find my stories once again sailing too close to the wind.

In Emergency Powers, FBI Agent Imogen Trager is haunted and undone by a case she failed to solve. When the president dies in office, she knows that the conspiracy she chased down a blind alley still has life in it–and she needs to get back in the hunt. The accidental president is no accident.

The (not) accidental president will take steps to solidify his grip on power, with deadly results. His party controls both Houses, so impeachment hearings or Senate Judicial hearings are unlikely. But he’ll need a pliant Attorney General to thwart, delay and/or make a mess of certain investigations that might bring the truth to light. Moreover, to guard his flanks, he has to secure the allegiance of the Federal bureaucracy.

It’s dismaying that a number of the key moves I ascribe to the conspirators’ playbook turn out to be exactly the kind of thing the Trump administration enacts, and there are spoilers I’m leaving out which also synchronize with both playbooks. I didn’t set out to write a screed against one party or another, nor to malign any particular politician. I wanted to tell a cracking story that would be thrilling…and plausible.

So how is it that our government consistently acts like the bad guys in my books?

Step one in Emergency Powers, after achieving the presidency, is to remove and replace the Attorney General, who will guard against any investigation getting too close. At the same time, the new administration proposes a number of federal rule changes. It’s immaterial whether the rules actually go into effect. The act of proposing them–and observing the reaction–is meant to help the conspirators sort out who is with them, and who is not.  Then, with that information in hand, they begin dismantling the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and move on to Step Two.

Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 11.12.08 AMI had all this in the first draft of Emergency Powers, which I finished in October of 2018. That same month (unbeknownst to me at the time), Jeff Tien Han Pon was asked to resign as Director of OPM. As of this writing, there is still only an acting Director, Margaret Weichart, who is also the Deputy Director of OMB.  Pon’s resignation came as the Trump administration began work to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management and to bring it under the ambit of White House administration, which folds the daily business of the Federal government into one run by political appointees: patronage politics, or a return to the “spoils system.”

February of this year, the Trump administration appointed William Barr as AG after Jeff Sessions proved incapable of shielding the president from attacks. Barr has been doggedly faithful to his president, if not to his office or the American people.Barr-AG

Thriller writers generally work in broad strokes–assassinations, a terrorist plot, a proxy war. A hero thwarts it all at the last moment. Emergency Powers has all that (no spoilers), but it also works on (and maybe gets too right) the little things.  Not only is there an ugly, violent plot, but the conspirators in my books simultaneously attack seemingly mundane institutions and/or procedures in the hope of slipping by unnoticed…until it’s too late to stop them. Or in the case of Emergency Powers, by the time anyone notices, the conspirators will control all levers of power and levels of government meant to check them. Ideally (for them), the truth may never come out.

It’s death (of democracy) by a thousand cuts, and it’s shocking how closely reality and fiction meld.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

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

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy 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

 

 

Operating as designed…

blog.StupidWatergate-OliverI don’t write about current events. If anything, my thrillers anticipate them.

We are living through what the comedian John Oliver aptly calls Stupid Watergate, which is “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.”

But what if an administration were run by smart, seasoned, ruthless political operatives? What if it were the culmination of a years-long plan? What if–historical norms aside–the President’s Constitutional powers were operating more or less as designed, so that the sinkholes created by the systematic erosion of democracy couldn’t even properly be called a “crisis?”

“If the president does it, it’s legal,” Nixon famously asserted.

And what if one party controls all the levers of power meant to check them? We’re seeing in real time what a pliant Attorney General can accomplish merely by resisting. What if the AG were actively involved?

In my third thriller, Emergency Powers, Agent Imogen Trager confronts this very problem, and she knows that the incoming AG will discredit and close her investigation:

When FBI Agent Imogen Trager learns that the President has died in office, she knows it’s no isolated tragedy but the final stage of a dark network power grab. The new president owes his position to a clandestine power that’s avid for greater control.  Not content with merely “owning” a President, the wealthy, ruthless autocrat known only as The Postman plans to tighten his grip on power by staging a horrific false flag terrorist attack, which will allow his new President to invoke emergency powers and martial law. The pendulum of rule has swung decisively.  Unless Imogen can stop them, it won’t swing again.

As bodies pile up and leads go cold, a break in the case arrives when a dark network operative on the run from the FBI and marked for death by the Postman, reaches out. Trager is wary of trusting him, and not only because he’s offering intelligence that sounds too good to be true.  He’s already tried to kill her once.

That’s the premise of the “noir politik” thriller, Emergency Powers.  

It’s not precisely what we’re experiencing in the moment, but as the earlier thrillers have demonstrated, it’s certainly possible–Faithless Elector pitted Duncan Calder and Imogen Trager against a conspiracy that tries to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College; and in Dark Network, Imogen confronts a diabolical plot–and a mountainous FBI “mole” hill–when Congress convenes for a contingent election.

In Emergency Powers, the conspirators are two steps away from total rule. Unless Imogen and her colleagues can find and exploit a gap in the armor, the conspiracy will prevail. She’s running out of time.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

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

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy 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

 

 

 

Added Value and Perspective – Publishers Have a Trump Problem

Alex Shepherd, writing in New Republic this past week (‘Book Publishers Have a Trump Problem‘), notes and discusses the economic factors constraining big publishers, and the trap it presents.  As he states:

NewRepub.Trump“Publishers are doing what everyone else in the news media has done for the past two years. Trump’s ability to sow constant chaos and shift attention toward himself is unparalleled…

“The result is an industry addicted to the quick Trump fix—and an industry that is rapidly moving away from one of its seminal strengths…the long lead times and production work that go into book publishing are meant to allow for added value and perspective.”

The Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network are not about Trump, but they are about this political moment. They embody the “added value and perspective” Shepherd finds lacking elsewhere. We did not suddenly fetch up here, orphans of some storm out of the blue, but as always, step by step. The Imogen Trager thrillers have the added value and perspective that comes not from reporting, but from imagining what would happen if…

In the novels, the conspirators are ruthless and focused where the current administration is lazy and scattershot; are canny and adept, where the real occupants are foolish and clumsy.  The implications are chilling.

In Faithless Elector, which introduces FBI Analyst-turned-Agent Imogen Trager, a clandestine group operating outside the major parties tries to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College vote, exploiting for the sake of fiction a weakness that remains all-too factually latent.  In Dark Network, Imogen returns. The FBI is leaking, the Attorney General is being undermined, politicians are spinning and social media is in an uproar.  The presidency is still up for grabs.

In Emergency Powers (coming soon!) we get a look at who’s pulling the strings and what their endgame is. If you crave perspective, if you want a look behind the circus noise, check out the Imogen Trager novels.

Emergency Powers is making the rounds of agents and editors right now.  Let’s hope it IS coming soon!

Look for the other Imogen Trager thrillers at: Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up 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

 

 

Cut-outs, Assets and Plausible Deniability

Emg.Powers-capitolThe latest NoirPolitik Imogen Trager thriller, Emergency Powers–even more so that my earlier books Faithless Elector and Dark Network–focuses on the clandestine, not-so-cold battle between power hungry conspirators and Imogen’s FBI team.

 

Excerpt from Emergency Powers – (Imogen’s friend and colleague, Amanda Vega, tries to get a handle on what’s going on):

“Until recently, Vega’s experience of casework had been decidedly one-sided. She had known only the righteous, powerful sensation of drawing ever closer to the truth, the hunter pursuing the hunted. But this case was different. The prey fought back. Strikes at these operatives were met not with capitulation—or even retreat—but by counterattacks, flanking maneuvers, rearguard actions.

Her friend Imogen, she felt certain, was the latest casualty.

Was it worse than that? she wondered. Did her notion of this investigation as a war extend to espionage and double agents? As she flew home, staring out the window at the country unrolling below, she wondered if the killing was starting again? Had it ever stopped? And what was the meaning of Imogen’s note ?

Just-Secure.Collusion-RangappaAsha Rangappa, together with Alex Finley, and the aptly named John Sipher, reposted their article about intelligence gathering from JustSecurity.org recently: Collusion Doesn’t Have to be Criminal to be an Ongoing Threat, from December 2017, in which they detail the ways intelligence agencies gather information and “assets.”  It makes for chilling reading, particularly with regard to the opportunism of intelligence officers, and the slippery slope of compromise. It jibes with the background research I did as I worked on the book. 

Emergency Powers delves precisely into this world, taking a deep dive and a realistic look at how assets engaged in an anti-democratic power grab might behave.  The key to the dark network conspiracy (decidedly homegrown in this instance), is that it be small, adroit, nimble.  I’m suspicious of secret armies of henchmen (see here); and the key to the conspirators’ success here is that the numbers of those involved, as well as the communications between them all, be minimal. The thriller examines how the conspirators’ recruitment and training.

“Three may keep a secret,” Ben Franklin opines from the pages of Poor Richard’s Almanac–and the epigram for the book–“if two of them are dead.”

In Emergency Powers, the pendulum of control has swung decisively.  If Imogen fails to stop them, it might never swing again.  And as the final pieces are moved into place the loyal operatives begin to wonder whether they will receive their just–or their eternal–reward.

Emergency Powers is making the rounds of agents and editors right now.  Let’s hope it’s coming soon!

Look for the other Imogen Trager thrillers at: Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy 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

 

 

 

Systemic Weaknesses

We are living through what the comedian John Oliver aptly calls “Stupid Watergate”

In my last blogpost, I wrote about how readers found Faithless Elector and Dark Network to be prescientFaithless is a page-turning thriller about stealing a presidential election by manipulating the Electoral College (published well before the 2016 election, thank you); and Dark Network looks at the exploitation of the the FBI in aid of a conspiracy to usurp the presidency.  Many readers are surprised to learn that neither of the parties is behind the conspiracies.

It’s less that each thriller is forecasting doom and intrigue, but that they examine very real weaknesses in the US system and how they might play out, pitting the feisty heroine, Imogen Trager, against the forces arrayed to abet these power grabs.  She is continually marginalized at the Bureau, even though it is her patient, analytical approach that gets results.

“If the president does it, it’s legal…no matter how he got there.”  

blog.DailyBeast-obstructFor two years now, the terms “collusion” and “obstruction” have been in almost constant use with regard to the Trump presidency.  My current Imogen Trager thriller, Emergency Powers (finished, but in pitch-mode), deals directly with collusion and obstruction of justice–only the conspiracy is so well organized that there’s no room for such charges.

Nor is there a special prosecutor:  if the House and Senate are controlled by the president’s party, and the president appoints a savvy, ruthless, hand-picked Attorney General, the minority party can complain, but it can’t really do anything when one party manipulates all the levers of power.  And since the Constitutional powers are operating more or less as designed, it can’t even properly be called a “crisis.”

EMERGENCY POWERS: When FBI Agent Imogen Trager learns that the President has died in office, she knows it’s no isolated tragedy but the final stage of a dark network power grab. The new president owes his position to a clandestine power that’s avid for greater control.  Over the next six weeks, through the new president, they’ll work to solidify their supremacy.  The pendulum of rule has swung decisively.  Unless Imogen can stop them, it won’t swing again.

Not content with merely “owning” a President, the wealthy, ruthless autocrat known only as The Postman plans to tighten his grip on power by staging a horrific false flag terrorist attack, which will allow his new President to invoke emergency powers and martial law.

As bodies pile up and leads go cold, a break in the case arrives when a dark network operative on the run from the FBI and marked for death by the Postman, reaches out. Trager is wary of trusting him, and not only because he’s offering intelligence that sounds too good to be true.  He’s already tried to kill her once.

That’s the premise of the “noir politik” thriller, Emergency Powers.  It’s not precisely what we’re experiencing in the moment, but as the earlier thrillers have demonstrated, it’s certainly possible.  Unless Imogen and her colleagues can trust and exploit their gap in the armor, it might very well come to pass.

blog.StupidWatergate-OliverWe are living through what the comedian John Oliver aptly calls Stupid Watergate, which is “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything”

But what if an administration were run by smart, seasoned political operatives?

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

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

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy 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

 

Prescient #NoirPolitik Thrillers

Without law, there’s only power.
DarkNet-ad.WithoutLawThe NoirPolitik Imogen Trager thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network remain prescient and disconcertingly relevant political thrillers.
Faithless Elector, the first Imogen Trager thriller, is about stealing the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College.
Imogen follows up in Dark Network, where the shadowy group, headed by a ruthless, deep-pocketed autocrat known only as the “Postman” tries again to twist and upend the Constitution.  Imogen and the FBI are hard at work, but their efforts may not be enough…
Find out who’s pulling the strings in the prescient (and dismayingly relevant) NoirPolitik thrillers, FAITHLESS ELECTOR -and- DARK NETWORK.  Watch for the next Imogen Trager thriller — EMERGENCY POWERS — coming soon!
Faithless Elector, on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2l5nl6J
Dark Network, on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2kbB8ZC

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

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

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy 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

Quorum Sensing

My political thrillers are tense, fraught stories of people confronting forces greater than themselves.  There’s no magic (nor magical realism), no dragons, zombies or vampires.  And yet….Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 4.35.21 PM

The first two Imogen Trager thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network are made the more disquieting because neither Imogen nor the reader know the identity of Imogen’s conspirator nemesis, referred to only as the “Postman,” nor what it is he ultimately wants.

Despite not revealing him, I had to look at events in the stories both from the perspective of my protagonist and from that of my antagonist. Moreover, I had to look at his enablers.  Who invited the vampire in?  And why?

BlofeldI’ve always wondered what drives people to work for/with the bad guys.  In the James Bond world, for instance, why would you work for Dr. No or Ernst Stavro Blofeld?  Beyond a paycheck (and, sure, that may be enough for some), what draws them in such large numbers?  How do you advertise the positions?  Are they just lackeys from the ranks of some sympathetic war lord?  Again, it’s possible, but that just kind of kicks the can down the road a bit.  I mean, how did the war lord get so many?

Here’s what I think happens: attraction, sorting and dissolution happens constantly, until there’s some critical mass.  Sometimes individuals coalesce into small groups but result in nothing more than pitiable sound and bitter, impotent fury.  At other times, they cause great suffering.  There’s an analog in the natural world, among bacteria, called quorum sensing (from US Nat’l Library of Medicine/Nat’l Inst. of Health). 

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 12.57.09 PMBacteria, far from living solitary, cloistered existences, signal to one another, organize and coordinate into cooperating structures in a biofilm with specific roles and tasks.  Indeed, some potentially toxic bacteria never reach a level at which they can do damage, never “initiate gene expression for coordinated activities” (see link above), because their signaling and coordination is not turned on until they’ve reached sufficient mass or strength.

Among groups of people, certain phrases and symbols act as signals to draw out and sort those most sympathetic, amendable or susceptible to a World Power or Ruin message into discrete camps.  In small, uncoordinated groups they may appear benign, if distasteful.  But at some threshold, they become toxic and threatening. And, like bacteria, they will kill the host.

What fascinates me is that the elites who are drawn into this political biofilm are originally attracted not to the dear leader’s vision or objectives, but often view joining forces as an expedient to their own ambitions.  They think they’re the ones in control.  But as I’ve tried to explore in the Imogen Trager thriller series, once the juggernaut is set in gear, it will roll over everything.  And you can’t un-invite the Vampire.

Note: I’m grateful to Rutgers University for exposing me to this notion of quorum sensing.  I attended the Honors College Capstone presentations yesterday, where I listened to some wonderful presentations regarding Honors Seniors’ research work, where this came up in relation to bacteria on plastics in our waterways.  My daughter’s roommate, a Biochem and Microbiology major, broke it down for me and provided the NIH link. 

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

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

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy 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