Recurring Nightmares

Concerns and issues surrounding the Electoral College and Faithless Electors remain firmly in the spotlight with frightening implications. We’re still just over a year away from the 2020 election, and already alarm bells are sounding. The presidency remains frighteningly open to mischief and manipulation–perhaps more so than in March of 2016 when Faithless Elector debuted.

NYTimes.FaithlessOn October 14 the NY Times reported Faithless Electors’ Could Tip the 2020 Election: Will the Supreme Court Stop Them? At the story’s center, was a petition to the Supreme Court asking for a ruling as to whether so-called Faithless Electors were independent actors or whether the state laws requiring them to vote as pledged were constitutional. The petitioners noted that in the 2016 Presidential Election, there were seven (7!) such defections. Thus far in our history, no Faithless Elector(s) has ever changed what might be regarded as the result of a presidential election. But as the petition points out:

“A swing by that same number of electors [7] would have changed the results in five of fifty-eight prior presidential elections” [emphasis mine].

Cvr page-faithless-petitionTwo weeks later, Charles Lane, writing in the Washington Post, posited “A Nightmare Scenario for 2020: A Tie that Can’t be Broken.”  (It should be noted that Lane’s “scenario” ought to have come along with a royalty check to me–his opening paragraphs describe my first two thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network very closely. 🙂 )

This past Friday (Nov. 1), Brookings described the problematic electoral college math in the impeachment proceedings thus far: The States that will Decide the 2020 Election Oppose Impeaching Trump. Once again, even though majorities favor the proceedings, the opinions of staunch Republican voters in the likely swing states of AZ, FLa, MI, NC, PA and WI oppose impeachment and removal by an average of 52%. While that could change as more comes out, it is well to note that electoral math is once again not on the side of the majority., as my thrillers point out, the Electoral College is ripe for mischief. A very close election, like the 2000 Bush-Gore election (where only 5 Electoral votes–271-266–separated the two candidates) could be disastrous for the nation. And, there was a Faithless Elector in that election, too–Barbara Lett-Simmons, a DC Elector–who did not cast her vote for Gore in protest of the District’s lack of representation in Congress. If four Electors had defected to Gore over the Florida recount debacle, he’d have won.

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 10.38.34 AMThe recent petition, probably with the 2000 election in mind–and the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision halting the Florida recount specifically–notes that: “the demographics of the United States indicate that contests will become even closer, [and] there is a significant probability that such swings could force this Court to resolve the question of electoral freedom within the context of an ongoing contest.”

That is to say, if the Supreme Court does not take the case or does not issue a ruling, we could  be arguing the validity of a result in the midst of the election.

It gets worse. A more perfect nightmare would be if in 2000 only 1 or 2 had defected, leaving neither candidate with a clear 270-vote majority. As is provided in the constitution, when there is no clear majority, Congress chooses the president–with each state delegation having only 1 vote.

A set of bad actors, who wanted to sow greater distrust in the voting process and undermine the integrity of the nation and its laws couldn’t dream of a better scenario– overturning a close election for their own purposes…leaving We the People entirely out of the process, and a nation lacking “the consent of the governed.”

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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 coming soon, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .


Find them through  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.


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:




The Death of a Thousand Cuts

What would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power?

Good stories demand verisimilitude. To make them believable, a writer has to imagine them from multiple angles. S/he must “see” as the characters see, and that includes (maybe especially) seeing what it is the bad guys want and why. From there, the writer has to imagine how the conspirators would achieve their goals.

pawn-to-king-WhogovernsWhat would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power? That’s the question I set myself for the new thriller, Emergency Powers, with chillingly real implications. I find my stories once again sailing too close to the wind.

In Emergency Powers, FBI Agent Imogen Trager is haunted and undone by a case she failed to solve. When the president dies in office, she knows that the conspiracy she chased down a blind alley still has life in it–and she needs to get back in the hunt. The accidental president is no accident.

The (not) accidental president will take steps to solidify his grip on power, with deadly results. His party controls both Houses, so impeachment hearings or Senate Judicial hearings are unlikely. But he’ll need a pliant Attorney General to thwart, delay and/or make a mess of certain investigations that might bring the truth to light. Moreover, to guard his flanks, he has to secure the allegiance of the Federal bureaucracy.

It’s dismaying that a number of the key moves I ascribe to the conspirators’ playbook turn out to be exactly the kind of thing the Trump administration enacts, and there are spoilers I’m leaving out which also synchronize with both playbooks. I didn’t set out to write a screed against one party or another, nor to malign any particular politician. I wanted to tell a cracking story that would be thrilling…and plausible.

So how is it that our government consistently acts like the bad guys in my books?

Step one in Emergency Powers, after achieving the presidency, is to remove and replace the Attorney General, who will guard against any investigation getting too close. At the same time, the new administration proposes a number of federal rule changes. It’s immaterial whether the rules actually go into effect. The act of proposing them–and observing the reaction–is meant to help the conspirators sort out who is with them, and who is not.  Then, with that information in hand, they begin dismantling the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and move on to Step Two.

Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 11.12.08 AMI had all this in the first draft of Emergency Powers, which I finished in October of 2018. That same month (unbeknownst to me at the time), Jeff Tien Han Pon was asked to resign as Director of OPM. As of this writing, there is still only an acting Director, Margaret Weichart, who is also the Deputy Director of OMB.  Pon’s resignation came as the Trump administration began work to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management and to bring it under the ambit of White House administration, which folds the daily business of the Federal government into one run by political appointees: patronage politics, or a return to the “spoils system.”

February of this year, the Trump administration appointed William Barr as AG after Jeff Sessions proved incapable of shielding the president from attacks. Barr has been doggedly faithful to his president, if not to his office or the American people.Barr-AG

Thriller writers generally work in broad strokes–assassinations, a terrorist plot, a proxy war. A hero thwarts it all at the last moment. Emergency Powers has all that (no spoilers), but it also works on (and maybe gets too right) the little things.  Not only is there an ugly, violent plot, but the conspirators in my books simultaneously attack seemingly mundane institutions and/or procedures in the hope of slipping by unnoticed…until it’s too late to stop them. Or in the case of Emergency Powers, by the time anyone notices, the conspirators will control all levers of power and levels of government meant to check them. Ideally (for them), the truth may never come out.

It’s death (of democracy) by a thousand cuts, and it’s shocking how closely reality and fiction meld.


James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming soon.


Find them through  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.


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:



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:  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.



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:



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.


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  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.