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.

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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, 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.

Dead of Winter by S.M. Jones is a page-turning thriller

Dead of Winter, by Stephen Mack Jones (3rd August Snow thriller)
May, 2021 – Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1-64129-102-6

In Dead of Winter, Detroit ex-cop and Mexicantown native August Snow fights not only for his own life, but for the soul of the neighborhood he loves. When Snow is invited for a business meeting at Authentico Foods, he finds that the owner is being blackmailed into selling out by an anonymous developer. Snow doesn’t want to run a tortilla factory (the reason for the meeting), but he does want to find out who’s threatening his neighborhood. It’s a thriller with strong elements of a whodunnit (and why). Old friends, flames and enemies converge with violent, genuinely inspired and deadly results.

This third book featuring August Snow raises the tension—and the stakes—on Jones’s major themes of redemption, forgiveness and belonging. Snow carries scars from his time with the military in Afghanistan and can’t forgive himself for something that happened there; the Detroit police department where he used to work can’t forgive him for crossing the thin blue line. He finds joy in the everyday details of his neighborhood and its people. And its food. The sense of place, of history and of belonging is vivid and runs deeply in the August Snow series. That sense of place, of belonging, adds to the stakes if Snow fails to find out who or what is behind this latest threat.

An action-packed thriller, Dead of Winter delivers high-stakes drama with twists and surprises (one of which you will never see coming!); and a solid, compelling hero for these confusing times.

Readers who enjoy a cracking mystery-thriller, with surprising (and alarming!) twists will love Dead of Winter. Readers of the Jack Reacher novels will be rewarded, too, with action, tension and intrigue. But where Reacher carries his ethics from place to place, August Snow deals justice in his own hometown.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,” is the well-known quote from the epicure and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. And author Stephen Mack Jones wastes no time letting us know exactly who and what August Snow is, even as those behind the blackmail and murder remain in shadow. Though the novel’s keeps a furious page-turning pace, there’s time to eat. Food in August Snow’s world is a vital ingredient. Its function in the story is almost like another character in the drama. Its creation, its consumption—and what it means—wafts through these pages like “a warm and seductively spicy aroma.”

The other characters are compelling and seductively spicy in their own way. His on-again-off-again love Tatina, his confessor and friend Father Grabowski, his godmother and godfather are all compelling and fully realized. Their dialogue crackles with terse interchanges that brim with snark and subtext. It’s hard to say which character intrigued me the most, and all I can say without giving too much away is that the assassin is someone I’d like to know more about.

An action-packed thriller, Dead of Winter delivers high-stakes drama with twists and surprises (one of which you will never see coming!); and a solid, compelling hero for these confusing times…A tale, I might add, with enough meat on its bones to be thoroughly satisfying. Highly recommended!

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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.

Record Scratch has writing that’s crisp and direct, with wit, humor and darkness

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 3.12.12 PMIn JJ Hensley’s compelling Record Scratch, Trevor Galloway takes a case from the sister of a murdered superstar musician, who expects him not only to solve her brother’s eight-month-old homicide, but to recover a vinyl record she believes could ruin his reputation and his legacy. The client closes the meeting by putting a gun under her chin and pulling the trigger. Galloway’s sense of obligation drags him down a path he may not be ready to travel.

This is the second in the Trevor Galloway series, beginning with Bolt Action Remedy (2017), and following up later this year (Oct. 14) with Forgiveness Dies.

I’m a bit late to the party, not having read the first Galloway thriller, but I never felt lost in the plot, and Hensley keeps the action going. The writing is crisp and direct, with wit, humor and darkness as the trail to what really happened to rock star Jimmy Spartan unfolds. It probably isn’t a spoiler to note that things get violently out of hand for Galloway, but I’ll leave it at that.

As Galloway pieces together the final days of rock and roll legend Jimmy Spartan, he struggles to sort through his own issues, which include having the occasional hallucination. He’s not certain how bad his condition has deteriorated, but when Galloway is attacked in broad daylight by men he assumed were figments of his imagination, he realizes the threat is real and his condition is putting him and anyone nearby at risk. The stoic demeanor and ironic distance that earned Galloway the nickname The Tin Man works well as a device for carrying the story forward, even as that detachment is tested.

Pittsburgh, PA, itself plays a role in this thriller. Like Stephen Mack Jones’s Detroit, the author guides us through the city, its neighborhoods and its denizens with familiarity, exasperation and love. I enjoyed every page of Record Scratch, and I read the final third in one night. The picture of a man slowly coming unmoored from the codes to which he had adhered and that gave his life meaning is fascinating, compelling and darkly satisfying. The novel begins and ends ominously: “There are two types of men you must fear in this world: Men who have everything to lose—and men like me.” 

The stakes and the conflict are real. Recommended for anyone who likes forceful, intelligent thrillers.

 

This is one of an occasional series of mystery-thriller book reviews, archived here.

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

 

 

In Below the Fold, every life, and every passing, has its meaning.

Every human life is supposed to be important. R. G. Belsky’s latest Clare Carlson mystery,

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 3.07.55 PM

Below the Fold, begins with the death of “a nobody,” the kind of news that falls “below the fold.” Carlson is a veteran TV news reporter, and she knows all about the deaths that matter…and those that don’t.

But Carlson—a TV news director who still has a reporter’s instincts—decides to dig deeper into this seemingly meaningless death. She uncovers mysterious links between the murdered “nobody” and a number of wealthy and influential New York figures. Their names, together with that of the murdered homeless woman, turn up on a list left at a second murder scene. There’s no obvious connection between any of the prominent citizens, but soon there are more murders, and more questions.

Along with a being a compelling murder mystery, Belsky’s novel successfully describes the large and small effects people have on one another, like ripples in a pond, radiating outward, colliding and intersecting with the ripples other lives produce. Those resonances prove key to solving the mystery, so I won’t say more.

Readers who like an engaging, well-crafted mystery with fascinating twists will love Below the Fold. The writing is crisp and economical, and I felt pulled forward into the story as it delved deeper into the mystery. It’s the second in the Clare Carson series, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone. Along with Clare herself, the most engaging character is the policeman-with-a-past Scott Manning.

In less skillful hands, murder mystery victims can often feel like mere plot points; but in Below the Fold, Belsky gives the dead back their humanity. Every life, and every passing, has its meaning.

Highly recommended.

 

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