The Untold Story of Imogen Trager

Since my earliest writing days, I’ve found it helpful to write the obituaries of my characters to get them fixed in my head—even when I wasn’t necessarily going to kill them off.

She still surprises me!  Early on, it was clear she was the star of the series.

Imogen.site1Imogen Trager is the committed heroine of the political thrillers, Faithless Elector, Dark Network and the forthcoming finale (as-yet-untitled). She began her fictional life as a supporting character, but as I wrote, I quickly found she was stealing scenes, growing, and I adapted the novels.

It’s important to have an outline for a novel, but it’s equally important to foster the judgment to follow the most interesting aspects of a story—even when it means abandoning or rewriting key aspects. If the story is developing in new and surprising ways for the writer, it’s more likely a reader will find those twists surprising, intriguing.

Late in 2015, around the time it became clear to me that my outline was woefully inadequate, that the book would become books, it also became clear that these thrillers were her story—The Imogen Trager series.

Since my earliest writing days, I’ve found it helpful to write the obituaries of my characters to get them fixed in my head—even when I wasn’t necessarily going to kill them off. The summary-style of the obit is helpful in establishing who the character is, and it allows him or her to come into sharper focus. Interestingly, often none of the “obit” makes it into the final draft, but the exercise itself is valuable because it informs and directs the story.

For the protagonist(s), who will have to carry the story, I’ve found biography is the best, and I write it from cradle to just before the moment when the character arrives “on stage” in the book(s). As with the obits, often none of the biography makes it onto the page, but knowing who your character is, where she comes from, informs what you do put on the page, and it informs the judgment necessary to follow what might at first blush seem to be tangents.

Imogen Trager needed a backstory, a history. The wonderful thing is, she still surprises me as I write the final instalment in this series!

Biography of Imogen Trager. The name “Imogen” came to her via her mother’s favorite aunt, who also had striking red hair. She was born in 1981, in Ripley, Ohio, a small town of 1,700 people, located on the Ohio River, just across from Kentucky.

The town was a center for the tobacco trade and had once had been an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Like a great many rural towns in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, Ripley battled with decay. It didn’t help that the town was almost five miles from the nearest bridge, stranding the town on its side of the Ohio. The businesses that stuck it out were a few tidy, venerable family-owned businesses and a smattering of chaotic idiosyncratic jumbles selling harnesses, antiques, rototillers, chewing gum, soda pop and furniture standing amidst boarded up and for-rent storefronts.

Imogen’s birth was a blessing, and a bit of a surprise to Dean and Agnes [Law] Trager, who had her in their early 40’s. She was their joy and they adored on her. She was bright, inquisitive and independent. She also had a stubborn, rebellious streak, and would have contested bitterly with her parents if it had ever occurred to them to proscribe her behavior, activities or ambition. As it was, her liberty allowed her to cultivate a strong sense of herself.

She was not a loner; nor was she gregariously popular. She preferred the company of one close friend, Marvine Ritner, a easygoing dark-haired girl who lived on the next block. The two were inseparable, and would be so throughout their schooling until Imogen moved away for university. Marvine loved spending time at Imogen’s, a white Colonial with a green roof. It was quiet there, orderly and the parents doted on them. Imogen loved spending time with Marvine’s family, whose parents coped with their large chaotic family by practicing a kind of benign neglect. With Marvine’s younger siblings locked out of the bedroom, she could lose herself with her friend. They could talk and dream and threaten the younger siblings with unspecified consequences for disturbing them.

Imogen excelled in her studies, and it was to her parents’ tidy house to which both girls returned in order to do their homework, and where Agnes kept the girls well supplied with snacks. Marvine, for all her diligent work and good study habits, did not shine academically, though Imogen did. The teachers liked Imogen, and the town librarian adored her.

Beginning in middle school she was called a “bookworm,” though she was hardly a shut-in. There was a remoteness about her, like that of someone who had found herself in their midst by accident. Boys who were interested in her—and there were many—ran up against the same amiable aloofness her FBI colleagues would find much later. She was not superior, nor cruel, just blithely choosy, and the young men she met –even those she dated—were friendship relationships. They never went for long, or very far. She talked through her misgivings and amorous frustrations with Marvine, who had had the same boyfriend, Darren, since freshman year. Darren and Marvine married a year after high school.

As one of the taller girls she played center for the Ripley High School Blue Jays girls basketball team. Marvine joined, too.  Her tenacity on the court, together with a low center of gravity could be counted on for a timely screen or judicious foulImogen.site4. Imogen was noticed everywhere she went, with her deep red hair and confident, rangy stride. The attention fed her sense of herself.

Imogen’s father Dean was “in tobacco” in various capacities throughout his life. It was the lifeblood of the area. Her parents were proscribed by their circumstances and their lack of formal education; by forces that kept them striving but never quite excelling. Recognizing and admiring her intelligence, they could proudly see her as a teacher there one day. But that was as far as they could see.

Going away to university, and Ohio State in Columbus, had been a revelation for Imogen. At university she was challenged more rigorously than she’d ever been in high school. Her mind quickened, her tongue sharpened and her ambition grew. She was keen for the wider world, and her attachment to Ripley grew more tenuous. Its clean sidewalks, well kept lawns and prim, sleepy downtown came to seem quaint to her. Back in town during school breaks, her sophomoric dismissal of it all, or even the idea of coming back and settling down, baffled and hurt her parents, who worried she might be getting too big for her britches. Her friendship with Marvine frayed.

She seemed to grow brighter, and her parents dimmer as the years apart ground on. They consigned her work and who she was becoming to that growing part of their lives they no longer understood. Their experience of her success at university, and later during graduate school, was something like that of immigrant parents who wanted everything for their children, only to find they had set their children on a path they couldn’t follow.

Graduate school beckoned in 2003, and she chose the University of Washington, in Seattle, a move that took her even farther from Ripley, Ohio. While she worked toward her Ph.D., she grew impatient with the idea of becoming an academic, of teaching. In her mind, it represented a capitulation to the minor ambition her parents had sought for her. “So, a teacher?” her mother would exclaim rapturously, her hands clasped tightly together, her eyes seeming to understand.

Imogen despaired of reminding them she was in grad school to be a professor…which was, yes, a teacher, but her talk of research agendas, demographic studies and “service” seemed to get lost in translation.

But first she had to get the degree, and she foundered that first year, encountering her first setback. Initially humbled by the intellectual caliber of her peers in the early days of grad school, she had begun to rally, her status within her cohort rising when her father died suddenly, near the end of her first term. Her world and sense of herself shattered. She felt rootless, pointless, and even considered quitting altogether.

Her mother Agnes forbade it, counseling her that if she honored his memory, the worst thing she could do was quit. It didn’t matter that she and her father didn’t fully ‘get’ what she wanted to do, her mother had said after the funeral. They were proud of her and her achievements; and she needed to be getting on with that. “You can feel whatever you want to feel about things that happen in your life,” Agnes said. “The thing that matters is what you do.”

She passed a dismal second year, unable to translate her mother’s forceful words into meaningful action or progress. She failed to connect with faculty, and she felt the initial surge of ambition—both by her and on her behalf—eroding. During the difficult months and weeks that followed, she understood that while she hadn’t seemed to value her father and had discounted his proscribed worldview and ambition, knowing his support was there had helped propel her upward. With him gone, she felt like someone standing on a ladder that had lost one of its rungs.

Then, early in her second year, she connected with Professor Duncan Calder, whose renown as a scholar bolstered her own reputation; and she came to be regarded as one of the department “hot shots.” She was drawn to the puzzles he contemplated, about voting trends and power, extracted from large data sets. The work was intricate, engaging and fascinating, quietly exhilarating. She had never been much of a math nerd until she started applying formulae and code to the problems Calder posed and examined. But she was hooked. Seeing her name as a contributor on that first article had thrilled her.

She and Calder grew closer, but it was all business. She had liked his no-nonsense support, issuing as it did from a belief in her abilities and future. He could be friendly and nurturing, certainly, but there was a professional distance. He was quick to point out when her work didn’t measure up. It was not until she was defending her dissertation, when Calder’s marriage was falling apart, that she found she had feelings for him that were other than collegial.538-div2 button

Watching him silently fall apart broke her heart, and she finally had to admit to herself that more than the desire to comfort a friend and colleague, she felt desire. It wasn’t until five years later, when the Faithless Elector plot brought them together again that either would admit their feelings to the other or act on them.

As she prepared to defend her dissertation, Imogen had been contemplating and worrying about what an academic career would mean when the Justice Department and FBI offered her a job. Her misgivings about her future in academia were carried away. She surged on a wave of excitement that carried her toward the real world problems of the FBI’s Department for Voting Integrity.

FBI logoFor the second time in a short space of time, Calder was devastated. That she would choose the Justice Department over academia was almost impossible to comprehend; but she seemed happy with her choice, and perhaps she would make a contribution. He had no way of knowing how big a contribution she would make.

Her mother also worried about her joining the FBI; that the work might be dangerous. If she’d only known….

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.

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.

 

The final book in the series is due out at the end of this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noir, spy thrillers, and political history

“If I had to give [my work] a general theme, it would be something along the lines of ‘How the hell did it all come to this?’” -J-P Manchette

Crimereads features a fascinating discussion and exploration of the themes animating the final work of the writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, and why he abandoned the crime novel. Obviously, reports of the crime novel’s death are greatly exaggerated. Their number, variety and loyal followers attest to it.  But I was intrigued by the lure he felt for the fusion of noir fiction, spy thriller, and political history.

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 17.10.55Manchette cites many of my favorites, like John Le Carre and Ross Thomas as having been very influential in his embrace of a new aesthetic. As Ethan Anderson put it in his ‘Do The M@th‘ blog about Ross Thomas’s work: “Thomas’s outsized passion for the mid-century American system gave his books a unique ambience, at once humorously bitter and happily jaded.” For his part, LeCarre gave us the anti-James Bond, George Smiley, a quiet, pudgy, near-sighted cuckold.

smiley

Alec Guinees as George Smiley

When I come to write the stories that grab me, I’m drawn to this noir-spy hybrid.  It’s a rich vein of crime and realpolitic, combining detective work and contemporary politics—a “who dunnit” (and why), plus “who gets power and why.” Leavening this compelling mixture is the fact that the things government (and quasi-government) operatives do to achieve their ends are often downright criminal, adding a noir level of complexity and moral uncertainty.

Call this suspense-thriller genre “Noirpolitic.

Putting characters into a story where not only crime but competing values are involved makes for rich, vivid storytelling. The tales of Le Carre and Thomas, though exemplars of the suspense-thriller genre, are generally less concerned with the literally ticking time bomb, and more about what’s going wrong and how to right it.

quietTo Manchette’s list of influential writers in this hybrid genre, I would add Graham Greene. His “entertainments,” like The Quiet American, The Third Man, Our Man in Havana and The Honorary Consul are extraordinary. Political events are not just backdrops for Greene’s and the others’ stories, they are integral, giving deeper meaning to the characters’ struggles and to the stakes if they fail. They inform the stories and give them an edge, whether it be Viet Nam as the Americans replace the French (Quiet American), or the gullible Agency in Our Man in Havana. As I struggle to write engaging thrillers, I keep these and other works in my mind, not to copy, but as strong examples of all that’s possible.

To write now, in the context of the decline of democracy, the rise of nationalism, backlash against globalism, fraying political alliances and norms, is to stare at a reality that’s all too noir.

Situational morality, suspect propaganda and win-at-any-cost gambits used to be the province of clandestine agencies. Now it’s mainstream politics. If, with apologies to Carl von Clausewitz, “politics is war by other means,” then we are simultaneously the prize to be won and the foe.

“How the hell did it all come to this?” is a question we should all be asking.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The final book in the series is due out at the end of this year.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.

 

 

Justice Delayed, Lagging Indicators

The Imogen Trager novels are a fearless examination of our current moment, but the books were years in the making.

A lagging indicator is an economic term for “a measurable economic factor [e.g. interest rates, inflation, unemployment rates] that changes only after the economy has begun to follow a particular pattern or trend.” (Investopedia.com) But there are lagging indicators in the political realm, too, where by the time something registers as an issue or problem it’s already happening, fully formed.

If the daily newspaper is the “rough draft of history,” as Philip Graham of the Washington Post claimed, then fiction, a game of “what-if?” can serve as history’s cadastral surveyor, articulating context, delineating boundaries and contending with problems.Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.47.44 AM

The Imogen Trager novels are a fearless examination of our current moment, but the books were years in the making. The outlines were there to see; and while the outcome wasn’t inevitable, the trajectory was real, and frightening. Faithless Elector, told through the story of an idealistic young researcher who’s in way over his head, spotlighted the inherent weaknesses in the Electoral College—weaknesses which remain latent and could still be exploited. Dark Network focuses on the gritty work of arresting a power grab and the forces arrayed to abet that seizure, told through the story of its feisty, committed heroine, FBI Analyst, Imogen Trager.

Imogen.site1In the real world, we’re shocked to be now confronted with authoritarian propaganda at the highest levels, dismayed by craven apologia for that propaganda; by an increasingly irrelevant, neutered main stream media, and an administration that has its hands on all the levers of power. But this state of affairs has been apparent to anyone with imagination. It’s disturbing just how much these first two Imogen Trager novels get right regarding the context and background in which the conspirators operate—a pliant media, cowed by power, machinations at the highest levels of the Justice Department; fake news, false claims of voter fraud, collusion and corruption.

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.47.11 AM

Pres. Trump, Att’y Gen., Sessions (A. Jackson)

Long before Donald Trump assumed the presidency, Dark Network grappled with the frightful possibility of a president with no check to his power aided by a politicized Justice Department. Both novels were written before the current administration. Trump and Sessions and McConnell are absent from their pages. But their outlines are unmistakable.

 

 JMc-author2.2017James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The final book in the series, is due out at the end of this year.

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 

 

 

Post-Modernist Bilge

In my Chosen Words post from earlier this week (3/16) on the difficulty of writing about what the conspirators in the Imogen Trager books want, I said, “the bright line between fact and fiction, party and faction, virtue and vice is growing dim.”

DarkNet.ad-poster-WITHOUT LAWIn the name of verisimilitude (and telling a good story), I’ve been struggling to get right the atmospherics of our time; to isolate and describe the tactics and threat posed by reactionaries. I wonder at how close I seem to be coming. In that same post, I noted the novels are “about Power,” and that where there is no law, there’s only power.

Today, two front page articles in the NY Times discuss both of my major themes:

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions
“Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.” (Christopher Wylie)

Trump and the Truth: A President Tests His Own Credibility
“Advisors say privately that Mr. Trump may not always be precise but is speaking to a larger truth that many Americans understand….To them, the particular facts do not matter as much as this deeper truth.”

This is post-modernist bilge, of a kind rightly derided on the left and right. When the rule of law is nakedly abandoned, when all facts are dismissed as subjective—as having an agenda—when truth is “provisional,” when learning and expertise are assaulted, we’re left with Power as the only true north; and power does not seek the best and brightest, nor the good to its cause; but rather the chancers, hucksters, opportunists, nihilists. Corruption is their by-word.  They leave destruction, misery (and in my books, death) in their wake.

It’s not that I’m reading the newspapers and—collage-style—cobbling together a plausible, dystopian thriller series. Our current state has been years—and millions of dollars!—in the making.  The Imogen Trager series has likewise been growing (albeit with a fraction of the monetary support).

I wrote the rough draft of Faithless Elector in 2000. It had been knocking around in my head for some years prior to that, but the Bush-Gore election demonstrated how finely poised our democracy had become.  Subsequent national elections continue to expose the problems of the Electoral College.

Since then, the threat from reactionaries has grown and has proved to be all-too real.  I followed up Faithless with Dark Network (conceived in 2015-16), about, among other things, problems at the FBI.  I’m generally worried about what I’ll inadvertently get right with this last book.

 JMc-author2.2017James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The final book in the series, is due our at the end of this year.

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 

 

 

When Ideologies Collide – The Imogen Trager Novels

“Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.” –Adam Smith

Dark Network, the second Imogen Trager novel, follows up on the “gripping” thriller, Faithless Elector. The quote above, from Adam Smith, is the epigraph for Dark Network.  It serves to underline the posture of both sides in the book, and it points up the dangers of the stark polarization we see in the real world: people who think they’re right (virtuous) rarely question what they do or why they do it; whereas those who admit to themselves that what they’re doing is wrong (vice) at the very least have qualms and need to justify what they do.Fe-DarkNet

In Dark Network, the bright line between fact and fiction, party and faction, virtue and vice is growing dim. Imogen Trager, the determined heroine of Faithless Elector returns, desperate to stop a murderous dark network intent on seizing the presidency. Once in the White House, with a pliant Attorney General and a do-nothing Congress there will be nothing to stop them.

But first they have to get there.

Taken together—or separately (both thrillers were created to stand alone; there’s no homework required!)—they’re stories about individual courage in the face of adversity, and about what we become in the process. Imogen will have to confront her own outlook as she chases the conspirators. The ultimate question becomes not only, will Imogen stop them seizing the presidency, but what kind of America will be left, even if she does? As she crosses the line between the need for action and her own morals and beliefs (“Imogen stared at the table top, wondering which Constitutional right she would be complicit in violating today. But just as quickly came a flash of anger. Deptford was  conspiring to subvert the electoral process and corrupt the Constitution. Now he wanted it to protect him?“), she begins to worry she’s facing a juggernaut that nothing can stop.

Dark Network is about power. The umbral conspirators are bent on taking power for themselves at the expense of everything we hold dear. The chilling, dark recognition at the heart of the plot is that the conspirators would say they were seizing power in order to preserve everything we hold dear. They are doing the right thing, they would say…for us. And people who think they’re doing the right thing are rarely troubled by scruples or conscience.

The tension for the characters in the novel centers on how far they are prepared to go in defense of their principles before they have abandoned them all.

While the thrillers Faithless Elector (March 2016), and its sequel, Dark Network (Oct. 2017) take current events as their impetus and resonate with the daily outrages and machinations of our time, they are first and foremost taut, plot-driven stories. They contend with themes that endure after the headlines have faded and events in the real world appear to have moved on. The latent weaknesses so plausibly exploited by the conspirators still exist.

The Imogen Trager stories are about courage, duty, fidelity and ideology: and what happens when those qualities and ideologies collide.

In Faithless Elector, a small, deadly efficient conspiracy seeks to overturn the result of a close election by getting a number of Electors to switch their votes, to become “faithless electors.”  The conspirators operate in the shadows, but it’s getting late in the day and the shadows are lengthening.

In Dark Network, it becomes clear that the conspirators are still trying to influence the outcome.  The protagonist, FBI Agent Imogen Trager, must fight against time, a sinister network–even her own colleagues–to find out who’s still trying to steal the election and stop them. There’s barely a month until the inauguration…

 JMc-author2.2017James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.

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 

It’s not yet two o’clock…

I’ve been thinking about moments lately as I push on toward the ending of my third Imogen Trager novel. The point of a dramatic moment is that it destroys the equilibrium that existed an instant before. At the beginning of a story, things are as they are. They may be bad or good from the point of view of the main character, but there is some sense that this is how things are, how they’ve been and will be.

And then something happens.

That something requires a choice—either go forward or retreat; follow the clues or bury your head in the sand. These moments represent a place from which the hero(ine) can’t go back – even if they’d like to do so.  Like Adam and Eve, after the fall: you can’t unknow something, can’t undo what’s happened. Gatsby is famously shaken by the sight of Daisy and Tom’s little daughter—it’s all well and good believe you can repeat the past, but quite another thing when you’re confronted with a living, breathing manifestation of why you can’t. Moments are the heart of drama, and character will be revealed in the conflict that ensues.

In the novel 1984 Winston Smith decides to keep a journal, bringing him to the Party’s 4 booksnotice; in The Quiet American, the cynical Fowler meets the destructive innocent Alden Pyle; Ricky Tarr turns up with evidence of a mole in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy; Nick Carraway meets Gatsby. In Faithless Elector, Matthew Yamashita finds an unexplained number of deaths among electors. In Dark Network, Imogen Trager finds that the conspiracy is still at work, still trying to win.

For my characters, the need is to restore equilibrium (and the rule of law). These stories were never meant to be prophetic, but taut thrillers playing out a distressingly plausible scenario. As I’ve written elsewhere , these fictional stories have sailed just a bit too close to the wind. As I work toward the end of this third book, I worry again about what I’ll get right.

Fe-DarkNet

Because moments don’t exist only in fiction. William Faulkner has written that every Southern boy can conjure in his imagination that moment when “it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863” at Gettysburg, and everything is still possible. I re-read the passage recently, and it’s brilliant. It’s a meditation on whether the course to destruction had been set earlier and this was just one act along that road, or whether Pickett’s charge was the moment that set them on that road.

The nation is poised upon a moment. We know only that Mueller has filed indictments, is taking testimony. Will what the investigation reveals stabilize the status quo, or will it throw the nation further into upheaval? Is the coming moment one of destruction or resurrection? And for whom?

It’s not yet two o’clock, and many things are possible.

 JMc-author2.2017James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  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 

Monstrous Imagination

Wm McIlvanneyWilliam McIlvanney (Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Vetch, Docherty) still schools me. In a recent blog post I wrote about needing a new kind of imagination to write a genuinely remorseless villain. I think I was wrong. McIlvanney’s character, Jack Laidlaw, has persuaded me that I was shirking a writer’s job.

In the wake of real scandals and malfeasance the first two books in the trilogy, Faithless Elector and Dark Network, now seem prophetic. In Faithless Elector, the task of writing was straightforward: I saw the weaknesses of a system, saw how dark forces could exploit them and then put myself in the place of a group of conspirators to think about what I would do if I were them. The real difficulty was in figuring out what to do to thwart them.

For Dark Network, were I a conspirator hoping to solidify my hard-won position, I figured I’d rail about voter fraud, daze and confuse the media, and I’d install a pliant Attorney General to quash investigations—or better, allow those investigations to atrophy. Indeed, some of the tension in the story comes from the heroine’s need to get the information out before a new, pliant AG can be sworn in. She knows, as we all know now, that with a majority in Congress, there would be no check—fictionally, or otherwise. Once again, we’re seeing in real time what a power grab would look like, how it could be (is being) effected, and how little can be done to stop it.  But I kept my villain(s) largely in shadow.

My books have identified a toxic strain of contemporary cynicism, but as I come to write the final book and delve into who the perpetrators are, I find that my early drafts don’t need a new perspective, but a deeper one. Cynical, pantomime villains aren’t satisfying characters, and Imogen and Duncan need a worthy opponent. Ruthless as they are, the conspirators believe what they’re doing is right, and that the country needs it. For me, this is the most chilling aspect of all, and I should have listened more closely to my instincts.  Fortunately, there was Jack.

In Laidlaw, one of McIlvanney’s finest novels, Jack Laidlaw chides a new partner when he Laidlaw_coverdespairs of catching the “monster” who has committed a horrific crime with, “Look, other people can afford to write ‘monster’ across this and consign it to limbo…We can’t afford to do that.” In the scene he’s talking about detectives, but he could just as easily be hectoring writers (like me) looking for shortcuts.

I have to put myself back in their place to imagine what it is they want, and why they’re willing to risk so much to get it. In Faithless Elector and Dark Network I deliberately kept the conspirators in the shadows. I felt—and readers seem to agree—that fighting an unnamable post-modern menace “fit” with the times and made for a compelling story. Not knowing whom you’re fighting or what ultimately they want also makes for brooding, dark atmospherics.

But I find there’s a limit. As I tear up dismayingly large chunks of the final book draft for this series, it will be to reveal the conspirators as all-too human.

 JMc-author2.2017James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  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