Is there no end to the achievements of Stacey Abrams? The lawyer, campaigner and politician’s voter outreach programme is widely credited with turning Georgia Democrat. She also finds time to write novels, first writing romantic suspense as Selena Montgomery, now the thriller While Justice Sleeps.
Justice Wynn is widely believed to be the swing vote on an upcoming ruling in the US Supreme Court, in a case which could see him rule against the president. However, when he falls into a coma, his clerk, Avery Keene, learns that he has appointed her as his legal guardian. This comes as a shock to her — he has always seemed a remote, forbidding figure.
Avery learns that he was investigating the case, which involves a biotech company with strategic and national interests for the United States, in his own time. He has left Avery a series of clues to interpret his wishes. She is confronted with political pressure, the fury of Wynn’s family, and not a few issues in her own life as she struggles to do the right thing by him. It’s clear the implications of the challenge he has left her go right to the top and her very safety is at risk.
There’s a lot going on in While Justice Sleeps. There’s a political element, an action-adventure element, and the challenge of solving the puzzles which have been left by Wynn for Avery. There’s a chess motif that runs through the novel as well as cryptic clues which might appeal to crossword fans.
I must admit, I hoped for more about the law, given that Abrams is a lawyer. Although While Justice Sleeps is set in the world of the Supreme Court, there is little law or courtroom procedure in it. It’s not like the novels of Attica Locke or Scott Turow, which feature plot twists based on points of law, the theatre of the courtroom, and deeper questions about the distance between morality and law. It’s more a conspiracy than a legal thriller.
This is definitely a plot-driven novel. The characters are quite generic. Avery is the poor but driven young mixed-race woman whose drive is hampered only by her addict mother. Her nemesis is a ruthless and driven Homeland Security agent. Her friends rally to help her through this crisis, and they just happen to have the perfect mix of skills – from law to medicine to a Special Forces veteran. All to help a cantankerous but clever justice who never showed Avery any warmth apart from when sharing his gnomic reflections with her.
The writing is pacy. The language is occasionally clunky and some of the dialogue scenes are repetitive and circular. These aren’t major issues, they’re what happens in early drafts and would normally be smoothed out in editing. It feels like perhaps publication has been rushed to make the most of Abrams’ high profile after the election.
There are some things which are unresolved at the end of While Justice Sleeps, such as the reason for Wynn’s past behaviour to his family, and I still wasn’t entirely clear why he felt he had to leave Avery such enigmatic clues. Still, if you like a thriller that’s pacy and plot-driven, high concept rather than realistic, it’s an entertaining read.
I received a copy of While Justice Sleeps from the publisher via Netgalley.
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