While Justice Sleeps: A Novel
“Fans of light suspense thrillers will keep their fingers crossed that the adventures of Avery Keene will continue at some point in the near future.”
Stacey Abrams is a force to be reckoned with on the current American political scene. After serving more than a decade in the Georgia House of Representatives and narrowly losing a controversial election for state governor, she has emerged as a leader of one of the most important groups of voters in the United States—Black women.
Her work on behalf of the Democratic Party in Georgia proved to be pivotal not only for the presidential election but also the run-off contests for two U.S. Senate seats, both of which flipped into her party’s hands.
In addition to holding a Master of Public Affairs degree from the University of Texas at Austin, she also earned a law degree from Yale and worked as a tax lawyer before entering politics. She’s a recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Remarkably, in addition to all her various political activities, she’s also an accomplished writer. She has two nonfiction titles to her credit: Minority Leader: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change (2018); and Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America (2020). She’s also published articles on a variety of subjects, including taxation, public policy, and other similar topics.
What may surprise some readers, however, is that Abrams has also found time in her incredibly busy life to write fiction. Under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, she authored eight novels of romantic fiction. The first three were published by Harlequin: Rules of Engagement (2001), The Art of Desire (2001), and Power of Persuasion (2002), while the last three were picked up by Avon: Secrets and Lies (2006), Reckless (2008), and Deception (2009).
Which brings us to her newest novel. While Justice Sleeps is a political thriller she’s chosen to publish under her own name. It involves a life-threatening struggle that faces law clerk Avery Keene when her boss, United States Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn, slips into a coma.
Justice Wynn represents the swing vote in many important cases, including an upcoming merger between an American biotech company and a genetics firm in India. Shocked to discover that Justice Wynn has given her power of attorney over his medical and financial decisions and has named her his guardian, Avery realizes that the proposed merger involves a biogenetic virus that has been weaponized to kill anyone belonging to a specific genetic group.
With a rogue president and his Homeland Security henchman determined to silence her, Avery must figure out Justice Wynn’s cryptic chess-based clues to discover the truth before a new and terrifying horror is loosed on an unsuspecting world.
While the novel starts rather slowly, the storyline eventually picks up enough to generate the type of suspense and action readers look for in a political thriller. The organizational motif of a famous chess match—Lasker-Bauer in this case, for those interested—has been used before many times in popular fiction but is a serviceable device here to produce movement in the story.
Avery Keene is a stron protagonist who’s multifaceted and holds our sympathies throughout. Is her name a tip of the hat to Carolyn Keene, the pseudonym under which so many Nancy Drew novels were written?
Secondary characters are somewhat hit and miss. Authority figures such as FBI agent Lee and Homeland Security nemesis Major Vance are flat and predictable, and biotech executives Indira Srinivasan and Nigel Cooper could have been developed more confidently than they were.
At the same time, the author’s experience writing romances has leaked into the story through the characters of Jared Wynn, an obvious love interest, and Avery’s circle of friends who pitch in and help solve the mystery.
Her writing style, as well, still has room to develop. The first 50 pages are heavily larded with modifiers, she tends to include too many stage directions for the movements of her characters, and she occasionally commits the beginner’s error of shifting from one point of view to another mid-scene—the dreaded sin of head-hopping. A better editing job would have helped.
This novel, according to Abrams, was 12 years in the making, suggesting that she decided to move into the arena of political thrillers after the appearance of her last Selena Montgomery romance and during her run as a Georgia state legislator. A manuscript this long in incubation will naturally show inconsistencies and seams where sections have been rewritten and stitched together, and While Justice Sleeps is no exception.
Nevertheless, it’s remarkable that Stacey Abrams found time in her busy life to bring this novel to completion, and fans of light suspense thrillers will keep their fingers crossed that the adventures of Avery Keene will continue at some point in the near future.