John Spiegel, a retired banking executive, and his wife, Karen, a retired textbook editor, describe themselves as “committed Republicans for life.” They divide their time between a neat neighborhood in Atlanta and a waterfront community in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. “Fewer murders,” Karen explained, referring to Ponte Vedra. “And, you know, you don’t pay any state income tax.” Besides being book readers, they’re not what you’d imagine to be the main demo of “While Justice Sleeps”, Stacey Abrams’ latest work of fiction. The Progressive Democrat, who is due to run for governor of Georgia next year, has previously written romantic thrillers (“Hidden Sins”, “The Art of Desire”) under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, and books by non -politically oriented fiction under its own name (“Leader of the Minority”, “Our Time is Now”). None of these interested the Spiegels. But his new political thriller appeared on the Time bestseller list. This caught the attention of John, who viewed Abrams as an “overly outspoken and one-sided” politician.
John’s curiosity overwhelmed him. He bought a copy of the novel and finished it within days. “You’re not going to approve of who wrote this book,” he told his wife, walking out of his office. “But it’s good.” Abrams is, he said, “articulate and a gifted storyteller.”
Karen generally accepts her husband’s recommendations. What about an author whose politics Karen thinks are Marxist? She said, “I don’t like Stacey’s liberal approach to having everything free, you know. All the “give me” and “I must have”. But she likes what she calls “books that really kill” – “You know, Ann Rule, that sort of thing.”
So Karen read “While Justice Sleeps” and ended up worshiping it. “It’s a believable and interesting concept that she writes about,” she said, referring to a plot that the Time described, in mixed reviews, as “a deadly maelstrom of potentially lethal presidential machinations.” She continued, “I mean, that poor woman that’s fair, you know, sucked into this scheme, or whatever, that the Supreme Court judge had – and that’s just believable. It makes sense, and that’s what I liked. (The Time nicely disagree. “Readers looking for dimensional figures whose inner lives illuminate an ever believable narrative,” his reviewer wrote, “will not find them in this book.”)
In Marietta, Georgia, Carter Crenshaw sided with the Spiegels. He is twenty-three and is a fan of Mitt Romney and Carly Fiorina. His “Stacey-loving” fiancee gave him the book. It reminded him of John Grisham. “It was very similar to ‘The Firm’,” he said. “If you like Grisham, you’ll like Abrams.” He read it during breaks at work – he is an advisor in a health network – for four or five days. “It would be a good TV show,” he said. He compared it to “Scandal” and “24”. “These vibrations, I would say.”
The rest of Crenshaw’s family are more conservative and, in his opinion, less inclined to become readers – far fewer voters for – Abrams. “I asked my grandmother,” he continued, “who I’m really close to – but who is definitely a Trumpster, unlike me – and the idea was pretty immediately rejected.” He continued, “She pushed me away. Abrams’ name on the book was enough information for her. Although he liked the novel, Crenshaw isn’t quite ready to vote for Abrams as governor.
The Spiegels recently made Florida their official residence, so they won’t have a say in Abrams’ political future. “Unless she runs for president one day,” Karen said with a shudder. “She’s going to run for something, I know that, and she’s going to win.” But after reading “While Justice Sleeps,” she conceded, “I wouldn’t be as unhappy with her victory as before. Does that make sense? “
The power of the political thriller to reach the other side of the aisle has its limits. Hillary Clinton will release an international political thriller “State of Terror” this fall. Clinton wrote it with her friend Louise Penny, the Canadian novelist. Would Karen give him a chance? “Probably not,” she said. “I’m not even sure I believe Hillary wrote it.” ♦