In this debut thriller, a college professor stumbles on a plot to rig an American presidential election.
The presidential contest in 2016 is vertiginously close, and Diane Redmond becomes the first female occupant of the Oval Office, narrowly winning by four electoral votes. Matthew Yamashita is a political science graduate student in Seattle conducting a national demographic survey of all the Electoral College voters, the subject of his dissertation under his adviser, professor Duncan Calder. Matthew begins to discover some statistical anomalies: there’s an unusually high number of electors turning up dead during the election, all of them Democrats, all of them in states dominated by Democratic voters and without laws constraining faithless electors. He decides to call an old classmate who became a journalist about his findings; the reporter suspiciously turns up dead immediately after. Matthew then sends his research to Calder, but the grad student also dies, in a hit-and-run incident while riding his bicycle. Calder, initially skeptical about Matthew’s conspiratorial conclusions, becomes frightened after someone vandalizes his office and attempts to break into his home. He calls a former graduate student, Imogen Trager, an FBI agent already investigating voting irregularities in Illinois. Trager arranges for Calder to meet James Novaczeck, Redmond’s campaign manager, but he’s assassinated before the meeting takes place, making the professor seem like a prime suspect. Unsure how far the conspiracy has spread, Trager and Calder find themselves on the run, trying to solve the case and save their lives. In his novel, the first installment of a series, McCrone renders the unlikely in tantalizingly plausible strokes. The plot pulses ahead rapidly, and its dramatic march finds a climactic conclusion in under 200 pages. In addition, the author affectingly depicts the blooming romance between Trager and Calder, both lonely, frustrated souls who have too often sought solace in their careers. (At one point, the professor recalls: “Imogen’s voice often drifted to him, like a half-remembered scent on the air. The coolness of that voice, its dusky lilt haunted him.”) The entire book hinges on an explanation of the byzantine Electoral College, something McCrone manages to supply in mercifully clear prose that never devolves into dry, textbook-style exposition.
A gripping and intelligently executed political drama.