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

 

 

 

Landscape as character

Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 11.21.11 AMRecently (May 2, 2019), CrimeReads did a fine piece on The Importance of Setting, but its focus was on whether it made sense to choose a real place or to invent one.

It’s an interesting read (and of course it added to my TBR pile!), but I’m fascinated with stories that use their settings almost as characters in their own right. Why did the story happen in one place and not another? Could the same story be told in a different locale? Why is this place different from any other?

Some of the most recent novels I’ve read–Buzz Killer by Tom Straw; Below the Fold by R. G. Belksy, Hipster Death Rattle by Richie Narvaez; Record Scratch by J.J. Hensley and August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones–all use the landscape of their chosen city very well.  For Tom Straw and R. G. Belsky, it’s New York City; for Narvaez it’s Brooklyn (Williamsburg); for JJ Hensley, it’s Pittsburgh; and for Stephen Mack Jones, Detroit. 

MultiBookI’m drawn to their subtly (and not-so subtly) expressed exasperation with how cities are changing. Since people started gathering in them, they’ve been a place of excitement, diversity and exchange, teeming with stories, with filth, and above all, a mixing of people. The writers listed above struggle with where we’re heading, and their protagonists and stories reflect that uneasiness.

Change has always been a constant, but this time feels different, they seem to say. In Buzz Killer, Macie Wild struggles with the notion that New York has become “a tale of three cities,” with little or no connection to one another; Belsky’s Clare Carlson struggles to synchronize a former New York’s giddy sense of possibility with what we see now.  JJ Hensley’s Pittsburgh and Stephen Mack Jones’s Detroit are wistfully rendered, detailing and juxtaposing what was…with what is. (My only quibble with Hensley is that when casting about for really violent, dangerous thugs, his Yinzers import a group of–of course!–Philadelphians, as clearly among the worst. C’mon! Cleveland’s closer. They don’t have head-breakers?)

I liked that Hipster Death Rattle focused on Williamsburg, and the fraught changes happening there. It put me in mind of where I live. When people ask where I live, I say South Philly, because I don’t want there to be any doubt about what I mean. It’s distinct from the suburbs (obviously) and from Center City, the Northeast or, say Fishtown. It’s changing, too, but it’s still a mix of people (mostly) getting loudly along. Stoop culture still prevails and a dense web of family and extended family live throughout the neighborhood, just around the corner, up the block; and that family life is still largely enacted in public.

This isn’t where I come from, but it’s where I’ve chosen to be. So far, I haven’t written anything that’s set mainly here in Philly, though parts of both Faithless Elector and Dark Network take place on Catharine Street. But, like the authors and their work I’ve discussed above, I feel that there’s something coming.

Invent a place or work with what you’ve got? There’s freedom in making it all your own, certainly. But there’s more source material in a real place.

 

NOTE: I’ve begun posting reviews of the books I’ve read, and they can be accessed here. I also post them on Amazon, Goodreads and BookBub.

 

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

 

 

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

What Matters Most

mom-JMc-John.IowaCity

My mother, me, and brother

In the summer of 1979, our family set out from our home in Iowa City, Iowa, for Seattle. My father, a professor, had accepted a position at the University of Washington, and we were leaving the Midwest for good.

The university paid for the big moving van, but we had some things to bring along that my parents wouldn’t trust to anyone, chief among them, my father’s wine cellar, which had been growing for many years. The thought of entrusting those 250 or so bottles to a moving van that was not air conditioned as it traveled across the West at the height of summer was not something my father was willing to do.

Chevy.MalibuStnWe were a two-car family. We had a 1965 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon and a 1969 Buick Electra 225. The Chevy had rusted through in some parts around the fenders, and at the back bumper. My parents had gone to Earl Scheib the summer before, and had come back with a paint job that merely sealed the rust in place and barely approximated the original paint. It was now more of a sea-foam green than the gun-metal blue of the original. There were bare spots where the painters had hastily covered up the logos, and the top coat felt scratchy, like a cat’s tongue. The Buick was still in good shape, though years of Iowa winters were also taking their toll on it, and rust was just beginning to bloom around the rear wheel wells.

It was decided that my father and the wine should ride in the Buick, because it had air conditioning. My mother would drive the Chevy, with my brother, me, and the cat. My brother John, thirteen, and I, fifteen years old, were tasked with loading the wine into the Buick.

The Buick Electra 225 was an impressive piece of machinery, more heavy gun boat than car. To sit in its driver’s seat was to be pilot of a massive vessel, the steering wheel more like a tiller or ship’s wheel. The helm answered sluggishly.

Buick.Electra225

The floor of the back seat held four boxes of wine across, with one stacked on top of each, behind the front seats. The rear seats—more a divan, really—held six more, while still leaving room for the driver to see out the back. The trunk kept six more, a total of twenty boxes—240 bottles. When fully loaded, the Buick sat low on its springs, like a bootlegger’s car bound for Thunder Road.

Contemplating the run across country, my father lived in mortal fear of being caught transporting that much alcohol across state lines. He had vivid daylight nightmares where he tried to explain to a Montana State Trooper that these 20 cases were strictly personal use. He was pretty sure it would be not a winning strategy to point out to said Trooper that 240 bottles consumed at the rate of one bottle per night with dinner was not even a year’s supply.  After loading it up the night before the move, John and I threw a blanket across the boxes in the back. I’m pretty sure I heard my father get up at least once in the night to stand at the window overlooking the driveway so he could check on the car.

We set out from Iowa City on a warm, clear June morning. We headed slowly out of town, past John’s and my school, past downtown, past City Park and then joined the stream of cars on I-80, heading west.

Our cat, Wayne, was a seal-point Siamese. He was normally sixteen pounds of yowling, marauding menace, but car rides reduced him to mute terror. On the veterinarian’s advice, we’d slipped him a sedative. We put a tension bar across the two side windows of the “very back” of the station wagon and attached his leash to it, so he could move about, which we had hoped would help him cope.

John-JMc-Wayne.IowaCity

John, Wayne & me

What became clear, even before we had passed Coralville, was that far from sedating him, the drugs had only served to make Wayne feel trapped, like someone in a dream from which they can’t quite wake up, the “witch’s ride,” where you feel paralyzed to move and unable to end the dream, hovering in some trance. The poor cat was a drug-induced prisoner in his own body—and deathly afraid.  His eyes were glaucous, mucus-filmed and his nose drained like someone with a bad cold. Barely ten minutes into the trip, he had succeeded in pulling the tension bar out. I reached back, unhooked him from his leash and put him in my lap. He struggled out of my grasp and onto the floor where he crawled under the front passenger seat, where he stayed for the duration of the trip.

Which was long—four days and three nights across the vastness of the West. It was made longer because my father refused to drive even one mile over the speed limit, once again hoping to elude suspicion. John and I argued, my mother tried to make us feel we were embarking on a great adventure, and the cat cowered under the front passenger seat. Seven hours later, we stopped for our first overnight in Mitchell, South Dakota.

I went into the lobby after my father, because I wanted out of the car. He was standing at the front desk.

motel.generic

“Do you have a ground floor room?” he asked. “Something out of the way?”

They had indeed, and we drove to the back of the motel, where the asphalt parking lot opened out onto the vastness of South Dakota scrubland. My father backed the car into the parking space right in front of the door. Dad went in and cranked up the air conditioning as my brother and I unloaded the Buick and brought the boxes into the motel room, stacking them neatly, under my father’s direction, against the near inside wall. A quick trip to McDonald’s across the parking lot, and John and I went to the tiny motel pool. My mother and father sat vigil in the motel room with the curtains drawn.

In the morning, John and I began loading the car. It was barely 7am, but already the heat was rising, and the dun colored landscape seemed to buzz with latent malice. My father had taken the extra precaution of starting the car and running the air conditioner as we loaded. “Keep the doors closed in between loads,” he advised from the bathroom as he shaved. We put a blanket on top of the boxes, and we set out, a mini wagon train crossing the prairie.

iowa-cornAs the elder brother, I regarded being able to sit in the front passenger seat as my prerogative, and my mother allowed me, if only to keep me and my brother apart. Where the first day had failed to instil any sense of a grand adventure—we’d been over much of this ground before on a trip to Colorado two years before—the second day at least held a kind of rhythm and sense of progression. Cornfields slowly gave way to dry pastureland, which gave way to the badlands and dizzying heat.

NE.pasture

Even with all the windows down (there was no danger of the cat ever coming out from under the seat), traveling at exactly 55 mph, the heat was scorching, the car seeming to roast us as we stuck, slipped and melted into the vinyl seats. John and I did discover a trick to cool off—even for a moment: all it took was to lean forward in your seat, grab a bit of sweat-soaked shirt and tug it away from your back. Leaning back again, the shirt would give a pleasant chill. He and I worked it out that waiting eight to ten minutes provided optimal chilling effect.

badlands.SDAs the sun pounded the car, and I counted the minutes till the next time I could cool down, I would stare at the back of the Electra 225 directly ahead of us and wonder how much nicer it must be in there, sitting on cloth seats. Its Goddamned windows were rolled up! There was an FM radio too.

The jolt of cool, ozone-scented air the Buick exhaled each evening when we’d unload it was the closest we came to knowing those first few days. Strangely, John and I never quite resented the wine or the arrangement. It was more an obligated nuisance, like making allowances for a grandparent—of course grandma gets the comfy chair in the air-conditioned living room where we can’t watch afternoon cartoons on the TV.

The third night, on our way to Missoula, the Chevy died less than ten miles away from the Little Bighorn battle site. We sat by the roadside with it while my father drove to Billings, an hour away, to rent a car. He came back with an Oldsmobile 98. Since the Olds had a much newer, better air-conditioning system, John and I dutifully loaded it with the wine from the Buick.

The fourth night, we were in Seattle, at our new house in the Montlake District, just south of the University of Washington campus. John and I unloaded both cars this time before we were allowed to explore the new house, which, it turned out, already had a space for a wine cellar.

JMc-9thGradeBeginning the next year, with my 16th birthday, we would drink a Chateau Latour, Margeaux or Lafite from the year of my birth, 1964; and beginning with John’s 16th birthday, we’d drink a ’66 from one of those chateaux. I was glad my parents had had the foresight to take care of the wine, glad to have played a part in it, and glad to share in it.

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, 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