“Book Review: Emergency Powers”
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
A rapid-fire FBI investigation exposes lies, money, and violence behind the American presidency
Set in an alternate 2017, James McCrone’s third novel in the Imogen Trager series follows the FBI’s pursuit of an elaborate scheme tied to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Emergency Powers continues the story of a conspiracy to install a president by illegal means. As the thriller opens, the new president, Diane Redmond—her name surely meant to evoke Hillary Clinton’s middle and maiden names—is already dead. She ran as a Democrat, and her vice president, a Republican, takes office.
Though the official explanation is that the president died of natural causes, the FBI’s “Faithless Elector Task Force” knows there is nothing natural about it. They know a shadowy criminal network is behind the bid to seize power, and the president’s death is only the first act in that scheme. The network may self-destruct violently and erase information to cover its footsteps. The FBI, with Agent Imogen Trager in a key role, races to identify the criminals before it is too late. Pulling agents from their work across the country—from towns where “winter-hardened corn stalks razored to an inch or two from the ground, indifferent as only the dead can be”—the chase unfolds from the East to the West Coasts and places in-between.
This is a fast-paced, action-driven narrative with gunfights, assassinations, and strong, heroic women. There are around five dozen named characters, a handful of whom also have street aliases and organizational codenames, and the reader’s tracking of this information adds to the suspense. By contrast, little is divulged about anyone’s deep personal feelings because the characters ruminate mainly on details of their investigation. Nor is there much about the political pulse of the American public; ordinary Americans generally remain “off-camera.” Lovers of thrillers may prefer this approach because the tension stays high and there is no time to lose. The tale is told like a police procedural with an insiders’ view of how the criminal enterprise might unravel.
Apart from the woman president (who dies in the book’s opening page), there are three tough female characters that steal the show: FBI agents Vega, Sartain, and Trager. Vega posts photos and codenames on a “crime board” on her office wall. Sartain traces the finances. Trager interviews the bad guys. Overall, the power dynamics of these women with the rest of the cast are something special to pay attention to. Trager has a lover who devotes himself to her cause. As an academic who studies elections (and who learns to fire a gun), he has a personal interest in the case, but he positions himself in a support role. These strong women shoulder much of the burden in this novel and deserve a large credit in why it succeeds.
If you want to know more about what’s at stake in this fictional political coup, it might make sense to begin with the earlier books in the Imogen Trager series: Faithless Elector and Dark Network. But if you’re willing to fill in a little of the background with your own imagination, then this book, Emergency Powers, can stand on its own. Here, we find out whether the courageous, clever investigators can jam the gears in this criminal enterprise so that the pretenders cannot further entrench their power.
Paperback: 312 pages
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