Our story opens around the year 2030 and a lot of things have changed. Now the author does not come right out and tell us the year, so, at first, these “changes” that the characters are operating under feel confusing and foreign. However, over the first few chapters, Max Allan Collins provides us with enough clues that a bit of simple arithmetic will lead us to the year 2030.
The year, however, is not nearly as important as the societal changes. First, there is no First, as in First Amendment. Free speech, whether verbal or written, is no longer protected and to criticize the government risks unemployment and arrest. Secondly, the Fourth Amendment is gone too. Law enforcement can now enter a residence or a business at any time, in any way and for any reason without a warrant. And thirdly, Roe vs. Wade has been repealed. And with that, God is back in full force in the public arena. Prayer is back in the public schools and Creationism is practically a mandatory course.
Every citizen is aligned along one of two paths – Democrat or Republican. And within those paths, a person is either a Liberal or a Conservative, although a Centrist position is minimally tolerated. And the populace is fanatic in their orientations, with jobs and personal relationships hinging on a person’s choice.
And how did it all get this way? The Patriot Act of 2001 is the baseline culprit here. The need of the American population not to feel fear started the whole slide down the Constitutional slippery slope.
And as this slope descends, Armageddon occurs. The Heavens do not open with angels pouring out nor do plagues infest the land. What happens is two masked robbers kill a Supreme Court Justice in an exclusive restaurant while he is having dinner with his law clerk. And this Justice is an ultra-conservative, part of the reason for the repeal of Roe vs. Wade.
While the murder of the Justice appears to be collateral damage in a robbery gone wrong, Joe Reeder doesn’t think so. Reeder is a former Secret Service agent who took a bullet for the previous President. Relegated to a desk by his injuries, Reeder became increasingly angry at being lauded as a hero when he had saved a man whose conservative beliefs he intensely despised.
Resigning on disability, Reeder mistakenly tells his superior the real reason for his leaving. Like wildfire, his traitorous remarks spread through the ranks of all the D.C law enforcement agencies and he becomes a pariah. He winds up with a broken marriage and an estranged daughter. But he also winds up owning a very successful security business, since many people really do believe he’s a hero.
And it is in his capacity as CEO of that security company that Reeder enters our story. His company’s surveillance system is the one used by the restaurant where the Justice was killed. When one of his few remaining cop friends, a D.C. homicide detective, asks him to personally review the security video, it’s not just because they’re friends. Reeder has always had, even before his Secret Service training honed it, an exceptional grasp of kinesics, the ability to read a person’s body language for intent.
And the intent he sees on the video is two-pronged. First, the Justice, when he rises up to the shooter, isn’t trying to protect his clerk, who has a Glock in his face. He is trying to run. And secondly, the shooter goes into a deliberate and slow execution stance as he turns the gun on the Justice and pulls the trigger.
When the detective friend is called in the next day to be part of a multi-agency task force, he relates Reeder’s theory to the task force chief. This chief is Gabe Sloan, another of Reeder’s few remaining cop friends, his daughter’s godfather and a high-ranking FBI agent. Gabe then recruits Reeder to the task force and assigns him to partner with Patti Rogers, Sloan’s own partner for the last five years.
The next day, a second conservative Justice is murdered in his back yard. Now, with two vacancies on the Supreme Court and a Liberal President in office, Reeder speculates that there is a conspiracy afoot to stack the court with Liberals and get the country’s rights back.
In the end, this is the story of one week in a dystopian America, a dystopia that was not caused by nuclear holocaust or a biological pandemic. It was not caused by a megalomaniac here or a sadistic dictator there. It was caused by the American populace itself, a populace that became afraid to be afraid. So, now, instead of being afraid to die, they have enacted laws that make them afraid of the consequences of living.
In actuality, this tale feels more like the screenplay version of a mystery novel than like an actual novel itself. There is no character development, only background into who the people were before the first death. No one changes with the events or by the nature of the events. And there is no romantic involvement amongst the major characters, even though all are divorced or single. There is not even a glimmer of attraction written into the tale. But the tale is a page-turner, nevertheless. And the quotes by deceased Presidents and deceased Supreme Court Justices that precede each chapter are chillingly apropos to the ensuing chapter.
Unfortunately, I was able to deduce the identity of the main killer/conspirator fairly quickly. Even though the author in no way had the internal monologues of that character reveal the truth, he telegraphed the truth through one action. From that point on, it was just a matter of listening to everything this person says and watching everything this person does until Reeder figures it out.
Cover Art From Goodreads