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

 

Oldthinkers Unbellyfeel Ingsoc

Contemporary politico-corporate bullshitters have weaponized their discourse…

Harry Frankfurt’s Reflections on B. S. (1986), like Corinne Purtill’s recent essay “The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck,” does a nice job of distilling the differences, nuances and attendant dangers in an overlooked lexicon.  But there’s more, piled higher and deeper.

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 16.50.40Like the differences between “shitshow,” “clusterfuck” and Snafu eloquently described by Purtill and discussed in an earlier post, there’s also a crucial difference between bullshitting and lying. As Frankfurt notes, the difference concerns truth value: one must believe that one knows the truth, in order to conceal it, to lie; whereas, the bullshitter has no necessary relation to truth.

Frankfurt notes that we have all dipped our toe in the swelling tide of bullshit (if not, er, stepped in it); and, like art, we all think we know it when we see it. Often, as the advice a father gives his son makes clear in Eric Ambler’s Dirty Story, we regard one as preferable to the other: “Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through,” says the father.ambler

So, is bullshitting preferable to lying?

I would say that now, 30-plus years on from Reflections’ first printing, it’s the wrong question: in the corporate and political realm, bullshit and lying have become the same thing. Indeed, now, it’s lying by bullshitting.

Journalist Timothy Egan weighs in on a related subject with a NY Times piece this past week on euphemism: “The most egregious of political language fraud,” Egan writes, “as George Orwell noted in his seminal essay on the subject, is used for ‘the defense of the indefensible.’ To that end, the Trump administration has been a fount of criminal circumlocution.”

politics-engl-orwellThough Egan quotes from ‘Politics and the English Language,’ he may indeed be guilty of euphemism himself when he fails to call Trump’s “criminal circumlocution” what it is: bullshit.

Frankfurt’s notion of “truth value” evokes an image in which a lie erects a wall concealing the truth, while bullshit merely litters the pasture. Today, however, contemporary politico-corporate bullshitters have weaponized their discourse, and the most adept practitioners (Mark Zuckerberg, the current president,the Senate majority leader, Lindsay Graham spring to mind) now make the wall out of bullshit to hide or obscure the truth.

“Ah, they’re just bullshitting,” we say of the politician or the corporate flack, and so they often are.  And we stop listening. More to the point, we may grow weary and stop paying attention. In either case, we’ve come no nearer to truth or accountability.

The misidentification of and our winking attitude toward bullshit carries dire consequences. In George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” (1946), he equates bad prose with oppressive ideologies, and he’s not wrong. Language exists to convey and reveal thought, and when it’s used to do the opposite, we should be concerned.

“Some comfortable professor defending Russian totalitarianism,” writes Orwell, can’t say outright: “‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.’” People would be aghast. And rightly so. To get there, you would need to hide behind opaque, obtuse language, disguising what you’re saying (perhaps even from yourself), as:

“While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods…”

The above is a species of euphemism; and it might succeed as rhetorical pabulum precisely because it conjures no concrete images, and shades its meaning with ponderous, sonorous dependent clauses, but that’s not what rhetoric does today.

I part company with Egan’s euphemism diagnosis because it sounds like “spin,” an older form of deception.  While it seeks to disguise, spin can at least be decoded by reading between lines. Bullshit in its contemporary guise, by contrast, is about overwhelming. It seeks to shift so much bullshit on everyone and anything that there is nowhere to step. If there were lines to read between, they’ve been buried under steaming mounds.

Trump-emgTrump’s speech this past Friday invoking emergency powers to build a border wall is the apotheosis (or nadir) of bullshit, and it differs from earlier bullshit only in degree. During his speech, if it can be called that, after a series of dismaying, unrelated digressions, after using the word “invasion” seven times; after flinging the bullshit every which way he can, he states that his emergency declaration isn’t actually urgent at all, but an expedient. And yet, admitting that, he will go forward.  Because….ya know.

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 16.43.43The only truth attached to this administration was scrawled on the back of the First Lady’s jacket: “I really don’t care. Do you?”

Which is the administration’s surprisingly consistent message behind all the bullshit.

 

 

 

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

The Correct Word(s) Makes all the Difference

The recent publication of Corinne Purtill’s “The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck,” on QZ.com, underscores the need for nuance in thinking, action, and in writing. Purtill’s essay does a nice job of distilling the differences, nuances and attendant dangers.

blog.SnafuThe three main contributors to a clusterfuck are “illusion, impatience and incompetence,” according to Purtill, and I can’t disagree. A clusterfuck is distinguished from a Snafu, for instance, in that a Snafu “refers to the functionally messy state” of many bureaucracies; whereas a clusterfuck is the result of poorly taken, badly executed decisions.

“Shitshow” can be distinguished from Clusterfuck in that the shitshow is the result of a clusterfuck, and therefore describes an end state—and this is important—is not, like Snafu, intransitive. A resultant shitshow describes a moment in time, whereas Snafu continues through time. Thus, the shitshow, resulting from a clusterfuck, may contribute to an overarching bureaucratic Snafu malaise, or it may lead to FUBAR (f’d up beyond all repair).

Ms. Purtill has done a great service to writers, thinkers and planners.

A British friend, and devotee of The Thick of It on BBC, proposes “omnishambles” as a further adjective of Buro-Political disapprobation. It’s so vivid that I feel compelled to locate it along the spectrum.Thick-of-ItDVD

Initially, I was inclined to regard omnishambles as a synonym or cognate of shitshow, an end state; but its first appearance in 2009, as Malcolm Tucker speaks to a disastrous MP candidate (below) leads me to believe it should have its own spot on the spectrum:

“Not only have you got a fucking bent husband and a fucking daughter that gets taken to school in a fucking sedan chair, you’re also fucking mental. Jesus Christ, see you, you are a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are. You’re like that coffee machine, you know: from bean to cup, you fuck up.”

— Malcolm Tucker to Nicola Murray, “Series 3, Episode 1”, The Thick of It.

This coinage conjures images of a single, out-of-control Rube Goldberg machine indiscriminately slaughtering (hence the “shambles”) innocents, rather than a bureaucratic clusterfuck. It’s therefore outside of time, carrying its threat at a vector

To sum up:

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 16.01.15

 

 

 

 

I’m open to debate and discussion, though perhaps not with Malcolm Tucker…

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, 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

 

Phone Tracking

The NY Times recently published an article, “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night,” detailing how easily someone could reverse engineer location data to identify someone and track them. While the article is correct to point out that there are few (and in some case no) safeguards regarding who can use the location data, the revelations are by no means new.Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 6.09.07 PM

In 2009 Zeit Magazine in Germany worked with the politician Malte Spitz to demonstrate how phone records could be used to track and trace someone—no apps required. Certainly no permissions.

The triangulation and “handing off” that cell towers do allows anyone with that data to reconstruct, as Zeit did here, the life and movement of any individual with a phone. It’s fascinating viewing. Link: https://www.zeit.de/datenschutz/malte-spitz-data-retention

As a citizen and phone user, I found Zeit’s trace map disconcerting. As a novelist, I was Zeit-berlin.activeintrigued to discover what happened during the times for which there’s no data. Where was he? What was he doing? The record is incomplete.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Mr. Spitz was doing anything nefarious, but as my second Imogen Trager thriller, Dark Network, began to take shape in late 2016, I saw how I could have Imogen track her quarry via their phones—and her genius is that she pieces together the trail by linking the time and location of known acts with where the conspirators were when they turned their phones are off.

DarkNet.ad-poster-WITHOUT LAWIn an early scene from the book (p. 35), frustrated at the FBI’s lack of progress and in a fit of pique at her new boss, who keeps calling and texting her for status updates, Imogen considers turning her phone off. To do so, she admits sourly, would be “like an act of treason.” She sits at her desk seething, looking over the scant bits of evidence she has—wallet, keys, drop phone: “Or,” she thinks, “if you were committing treason, wouldn’t you turn it off?”

She teams up with an IT specialist, Trey Kelly, who designs a trace very like the one Zeit created, only they overlay all four known conspirators, and look for meetings and similar times when their phones are switched off. Together, Trey and Imogen pick the lock on a door no one else thought to look for.

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, working title Who Governs, 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

Independent bookstores – shop small

Don’t make Shop Small Saturday be just once a year. The great buys, the rare finds—and the people who share your passion—are out there.

Local, independently owned shops are the heart of a community, and local, independent bookstores are its lifeblood. It’s a place to check in, catch up; to see what’s new, to waste time, or to get lost…and to buy books. The Shop Small Business Saturday that’s just passed was an excellent reminder of all we have.Indys-first

There are fads and pendulum swings, and fortunately, people seem to be rediscovering the pleasures and importance of independent, owner-operated stores, and that rarest of qualities—connection.

Growing up, I don’t think I considered the difference between independent and chain stores generally in any depth, beyond a vague sense that non-corporate shops seemed to have better quality and more focused (sometimes idiosyncratic) choices. And in small, local bookshops, I found a confluence of what I liked most about reading: like libraries, they had a fairly broad selection, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff—and yet they had books I could own. In those indy bookstores—then and now—you’re likely to get staff recommendations, find something quirky you may not have heard about. Your purchases are liable to elicit discussion (and follow-up reading!) when you’re checking out.

HempelYears ago (1985 or ’86), I ordered a copy of Amy Hempel’s short story collection Reasons to Live at my then-local bookshop, the University Bookstore because I’d read her short story “Going” in Vanity Fair, and I wanted to read more. When I went to collect the book, the woman at the pick up desk told me she’d glanced through my copy, been intrigued and ordered one for herself. Our paths crossed a month or so later, and we talked again about it and other books. I’d see her every so often, and she’d ask what else I was reading.

When I moved to a different part of town, I missed going to that bookshop, but fortunately I found another, a new-and-used bookstore called A Different Drummer (now gone). Though I was probably in the shop once a week, every 4-5 months I would bring in a box of paperbacks, get store credit and “buy” another 3 or 4 books with the credit, recommencing the process. It happened more than once that I would stop in and the owner would grab a book from behind the counter that he’d been holding for me, not because I’d ordered it, but because he knew my tastes and thought it was something I’d enjoy. He was often right.

Now I live in Philadelphia, and I’m spoiled for choice. There’s an excellent bookstore 5 blocks from our house (Headhouse Books), a fabulous, funky new-and-used bookstore 4 blocks beyond that, up from Headhouse on Bainbridge Street (Mostly Books). Just around the corner, Philly AIDS Thrift’s second floor has a mind-boggling used book selection. Further south, in the 9th Street Market, Molly’s Books & Records has some exquisite gems. West Philly has the fabulous Penn Book Center. And there are many, many more.

Don’t make Shop Small Saturday be just once a year. The great buys, the rare finds—and the people who share your passion—are out there.

 

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, working title Who Governs, 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

Mendacity

votingIn the Noirpolitik thriller Faithless Elector, the reason the faithless electors give for not voting as they pledged to vote (for switching) is presented as a vote of conscience. In the book, there were seeming irregularities in the Illinois vote count, allowing each faithless elector to say their switched vote was cast as a vote of conscience for the candidate who should have won the presidency.Illinois

It’s Imogen Trager’s enlightened, careful investigation and analysis that brings the surprising truth to light…and puts her in mortal danger.

I was intrigued by the notion of an anti-democratic power grab that exploited administrative and procedural weaknesses with deadly consequences. I was excited as the characters and the real story of how they try to oppose such a conspiracy took shape.

In the original draft of the book I chose Illinois as the site for the fictional malfeasance because I had in mind the disputed vote count there in the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy. Many contend the Daly machine rigged the vote. I hoped that setting the disputed votes in Illinois would give the novel some verisimilitude. As I’ve noted in other posts, readers will sooner believe the fantastic than they’ll accept the implausible.

FLA-hanging chadPerhaps I should have chosen Florida, particularly since the scandal, irrespective of the truth remains a volatile point of contention across both (now, all three) books and Florida is back in the news again…and likely, again.

 

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, working title Who Governs, 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