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.

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.

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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.

Antagonizing

What we get wrong in political thrillers is the same thing we get wrong in real life —

We tend to oversimplify antagonists.

For the protagonist, every writer asks, who is she? what does she want, and why can’t she get it? Part of the writer’s craft is to artfully reveal details that make the main character(s) feel rounded.

But what does the antagonist want–and why?

My recent thriller, Emergency Powers, takes seriously those questions, delves into who the bad guys are–so much so that one reader said he almost began rooting for one of them.

He didn’t think that was a bad thing, and neither do I. You don’t have to agree with- or root for them. But reader and writer should at least understand who the bad guys are and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

My thrillers – Faithless Elector, Dark Network and the new Emergency Powers – have been called prescient, seemingly ripped-from-the-headlines (or, rather, anticipating them). One of the reasons is that I looked not only at the driven, conflicted protagonist, FBI Agent Imogen Trager, but at what the bad guys wanted; how they might get it—and what it would take to stop them. If possible.

That impulse forced me to think like them, to consider how they might go about staging a coup. I had to consider which tools were at hand, which key institutions and offices could be undermined, corrupted or hollowed out. And as I worked on the second draft, I stumbled onto things I had written that were really happening. (I should say that I never saw the Jan. 6 capitol riot coming; and even if I had my editor would have axed it as too far-fetched.)

But I did see that a pliant, corrupt Attorney General would be the key to covering up and legitimating a coup; that cabinet positions–even whole departments–could be captured or rendered ineffective through second-in-commands and “acting” heads; that hollowing out the civil service by putting the OPM (Office of Personnel Mgmt) under the ambit of the White House and returning it to a “spoils” system would make a cover-up more complete. And I saw that this state of affairs–a true conspiracy with many moving, coordinated parts–would be hard to stand against, much less defeat. But if anyone could, Imogen would be the one to do it.

Thrillers are meant to be an escape, but not an escape from sense. The gray eminence presiding over the coup (“The Postman”) is concerned with private power, exercised through public means. In the past, he tried to get himself elected, and tried to buy politicians, but his ideas are unpopular and can’t win in the public sphere. Like a lot of frustrated suitors, he thinks it’s because the game is rigged. Well, two can play at that game…

His henchmen are not James Bond automatons, but have real (if misguided) reasons for signing on with the Postman. A great many of us bemoan the level of discourse on social media, but confronting (and considering) some of the ideological rantings there has given me insight into what ideas they hold and what they might be capable of doing.

It makes for a thrilling story–all the more so because much of it could really happen.

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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.

Sharing Space, part 2

The response to the launch of Emergency Powers has been tremendous, and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve noted before how fortunate and honored I am that others will lend me space on their blogs to write and post about issues and ideas that matter to me. In the first month since the publication of Emergency Powers, I’ve had the opportunity to write about an array of topics here and as a guest blogger.

Earlier in the year, I’d been hosted on ‘Writers Who Kill’ blog, on Art Taylor’s ‘The First Two Pages,’ and others. Here’s a listing, with snippets and links from the more recent guest posts and interviews. You can click the blog link to read the whole post.

The Reading Cafe – Isolation and Conflict – (Oct. 1)
“I’ve been thinking about isolation recently. (Can’t imagine why.) And I was struck by a theme in my thrillers, one I hadn’t necessarily intended, but which is there nevertheless. That of isolation. In my thrillers, the asymmetry of information—and the danger of sharing what you know—is the core of the tension, and suspense…”

The Book Divas Reads – Blurred Lines: Separating Fiction from Reality (Oct.9) “Recently in an interview, I was asked: ‘How do you keep your written world from encroaching on your life?’ I have the opposite problem…”

Avonna Loves Genres – Becoming a Writer – (Oct. 15) “I’m often asked how old I was when I first realized I wanted to be a writer? It’s a difficult question for me because I honestly can’t think of a time when I wasn’t writing stories…”

Murder is Everywhere – Electoral Appliqué – (Oct. 19) [on the Electoral College]: “I’m struck by the patchwork uncertainty of it all. I can’t shake the image of 2020 America as some shambling Akakii Akakievich, from Nicolai Gogol’s fine story The Overcoat (1842), as he pleads with the tailor Petrovich to patch his winter coat…”

Quiet Fury – Your Book is a Movie – (Oct. 20) “With film studios shuttered in response to Covid-19, is it still relevant to think of who should be cast in the movie if the book makes it to the big (or small) screen? Of course it is!”

As we move into November, I’m excited about the upcoming appearances and potential for sharing further.

You can keep up with my journey on the ‘author‘ page of my website. Or keep reading along here! I’ll be at A Novel Idea on Passyunk bookstore on Thursday, November 12 at 7pm. It’s free, and you can get a signed copy of Emergency Powers…but you do need to Sign-up/RSVP.

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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!
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. 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.
James is a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.