by James McCrone
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Political
Print Length: 302 pages
Reviewed by pine breaks
A slow-burn thriller that really pays off
This fourth installment of James McCrone’s Faithless Elector series deploys Scotland’s 2014 Independence Referendum as its backdrop. Eight years after the event, the chief protagonist of these books, FBI agent Imogen Trager, arrives at the University of Glasgow to take up short-term scholarly residence as Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences.
What unfolds is a series of twists and turns involving a shadowy cabal nicknamed “the triumvirate,” with links to the Westminster government and the UK’s secret service machinery, and whose clandestine interference sabotaged the 2014 “Yes” vote.
What Agent Trager stumbles into, following the death of a university colleague, is the cover-up of the cover-up in the lead up to the King’s Speech opening Parliament, and the announcement of the government’s legislative agenda, which will once and for all limit sovereignty calls for the nations of the United Kingdom.
Much of the first quarter of this book introduces the parties that will play a part in this unfolding narrative. The Madmen crime syndicate and its head Buff Lindsey, plus Ewan Johnston, an unsuspecting lawyer drawn into the events because of the murder of a close friend and mentor. Then we have those in the shadows connected to or operating the levers of power. It’s a long cast list that can be a struggle to keep up with at times, especially when timelines unfold at different rates.
But trade-offs abound. McCrone does such a wonderful job capturing the British Isles’ northern reaches. We encounter lovely little lines such as, “The fog was bright and vague” or “Low clouds and rain obscured the tops of the hills…” If not enough to signpost the work as steadfastly of the Land of Robert Burns, the author offers renditions of local vernacular that feels both colorful and authentic to my lifelong UK experience.
The topicality of the work is also another plus, with democratic elections around the world, whether rightly or wrongly, called into question, because of a belief nefarious actors somehow interfering with the process of citizens exercising their rights. Conspiracy theorists may well not know what to do with themselves. The tempo ramps up when different groups realize the meaning of events in their own narrative stream, and a satisfying reading ensues.
Under Scottish law, a Bastard Verdict refers to a jury decision where they believe the accused is likely guilty, but the prosecution has not provided sufficient evidence of guilt to warrant conviction. The satisfaction of the outcome depends upon the side one sits. For fans of McCrone’s work and slow-burn political thrillers, this one is sure to satisfy.
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