Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins
A while back, I read one of these conspiracy theory books reconstructing the history surrounding the JFK assassination. Although I thought the writing good, I found the reading experience somewhat frustrating. As a Brit, I know little of the assassination and couldn’t distinguish between the actual history and the fictionalisation. Some might say this is a good thing. We’re not supposed to be reading a thriller based on a true story so we can just have the true story retold. The author must be going to add something and, in theory, it must be high praise if I can’t tell where the line is drawn between the fact and the fiction. Except I found I couldn’t care less which bits were true. Nevertheless, I decided it was distinctly unfair of me to judge the author on one book, particularly one coming so late in a series about a subject which left me cold. So here’s me picking up Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins (Thomas & Mercer, 2014).
The hero of this political thriller is the usual candidate. Meet Joseph Reeder. He’s a former Secret Service agent who took a bullet for the standing president (Agent Frank Horrigan in In the Line of Fire (1993) has comparable demons in his past). Since Reeder didn’t really like the president or his politics, and was not as shy as he should have been about saying so, he took early retirement and now runs his own security business. To equip him as a top-class investigator, he’s a long-time user of kinesics: the art of interpreting body language and drawing appropriate deductions. A homicide detective with whom he’s friendly asks for his opinion when Supreme Court Justice Henry Venter is gunned down in a robbery. He and his clerk were in a high-class restaurant when two gunmen came in with drawn guns. The initial impression is a robbery gone bad but, when Reeder reviews the surveillance records, he classifies this as a hit. As soon as this is reported to the FBI, Gabe Sloan, a longtime friend and godfather to his daughter, insists Reeder joins the task force to investigate. This leads to Reeder being partnered with Patti Rogers, a youngish but experienced agent. Together, they begin to piece together what may have happened but they are quickly distracted when a second Supreme Court Justice is shot down in his back yard. Since both the justices were on the conservative wing and the current president is a democrat, this suggests the killers have an agenda to rebalance the political complexion of the Supreme Court — assuming the president will play ball and appoint two very liberal judges to the bench as replacements. Now the challenge is to protect the surviving justices while investigating who might be orchestrating this attack on “supreme” justice or injustice depending on your political point of view.
This leads me to the first of my problems with this book. I appreciate from the news coverage of American politics that the system has become increasingly polarised. Although this is near-future fiction, it doesn’t seem as though progress has been made in defusing the conflict between the two parties. Instead, the activist conservatives on the Supreme Court have exploited their majority and dismantled several landmark “liberal” precedents. This is assumed to be provocative. All the major characters in this book have rather different shades of belief, but they all share one faintly alarming trait. Not one of these people is politically indifferent. Instead they are slightly obsessive about placing each other on the political spectrum and modifying their behaviour depending on who’s in the room. I’m not at all sure whether this is realistic for Washington folk but, if it is, this has to rank as a very depressing book.
We then come to the plot. Now I’m the last person to want realism in the books I read — I do spend many hours a week reading science fiction and fantasy. Indeed, the more realistic a book, the less exciting it tends to be. But this is a plot depending on a number of rather implausible factors. Since I prefer not to engage in spoilers, you will have to take my word for it. Suffice it to say the conspirators go through some fairly convoluted manoeuvres to set their plot in motion and then fail to tie up the loose ends in a neat pattern. People with this level of experience would not have left any chance of matters being tracked back to them. But since our hero and able sidekick have to be able to solve the case, I suppose incompetence is required. So is Supreme Justice enjoyable despite this rather weak plot? Well, the prose has that same lucidity I enjoyed first time around and, so long as you switch off your critical faculties, I suppose you might find the twists and turns of the plot surprising and exciting. Sadly, I found this all somewhat predictable and less than riveting so I can’t honestly recommend it.
For a review of another book by Max Allan Collins, see Ask Not.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.