A debut political thriller delivers a plot built on right-wing conspiracy theories.
Pinsky offers a scenario where the outgoing American president dislikes the candidates vying to replace him, in a narrative that borrows liberally from the recent election. So this Democratic incumbent develops a complicated plan to generate crises that will allow him to cancel the election and become, in essence, dictator of the United States. This is to be accomplished by terrorists smuggled in among Syrian refugees, increasingly armed federal agencies, and a reduced standing military. The bombastic Republican candidate, Austin Howard, senses something is amiss, but is too busy squabbling with his many opponents to truly divine the president’s scheme. Howard feels he’s blessed with a unique vision that not many appreciate: “Howard was neither a racist nor a xenophobe. But without a national language, with nothing else to bind us together, America could, in time, become another Yugoslavia.” Instead it’s William Mendenhall, a general fired by the president, who begins to connect the dots: “The thoughts eating away at his fabric of reality would not go away.” As Mendenhall pieces together the enormity of the president’s stratagem, he gathers together a coalition of former military and militia members and Republican politicians to wage a guerrilla war against the commander in chief’s efforts to suspend the democratic process and impose martial law. Pinsky has created a well-paced narrative that leads to a climactic confrontation near Washington, D.C. He shows a deep understanding of the policies and concerns that divide this nation. His characters’ motivations are fully delineated, so that readers can understand the players’ rationales, even if they don’t agree with them. But the author draws too deeply from the endless wellspring of “alt-right” conspiracies, targeting such issues as immigration, gun control, and welfare programs as the causes of a weakened America. If this is supposed to be a satire, that’s not readily apparent. Still, the novel works as an indictment of extremism of any kind.
This cautionary tale urges an informed American electorate to pay close attention to the misdeeds of those in power.