The #1 New York Times bestselling author of While Justice Sleeps returns with another riveting and intricately plotted thriller, in which a blackmailed federal judge, a secret court, and a brazen murder may lead to an unprecedented national crisis.
Supreme Court clerk Avery Keene is back, trying to get her feet on solid ground after unravelling an international conspiracy in While Justice Sleeps.
But as the sparks of Congressional hearings and political skirmishes swirl around her, Avery is approached at a legal conference by Preston Davies, an unassuming young man and fellow law clerk to a federal judge in Idaho. Davies believes his boss, Judge Francesca Whitner, was being blackmailed in the days before she died. Desperate to understand what happened, he gives Avery a file, a burner phone, and a fearful warning that there are highly dangerous people involved.
Another shocking murder leads Avery to a list of names – all federal judges – and, alarmingly, all judges on the FISA Court (the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), also known as America’s "secret court." It is this body which grants permission to the government to wiretap Americans or spy on corporations suspected of terrorism. As Avery digs deeper, she begins to see a frightening pattern – and she worries that something far more sinister may be unfolding inside the nation’s third branch of government. With lives at stake, Avery must race the clock and an unexpected enemy to find the answer.
Drawn from today’s headlines and woven with her unique insider perspective, Stacey Abrams combines twisting plotlines, wry wit, and clever puzzles to create another immensely entertaining suspense novel.
Release date: May 23, 2023
Print pages: 368
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Monday, September 30
Avery Keene took the assigned seat, her mass of black hair with its tight curls tamed into a sleek chignon at her nape. The hunter-green suit she’d chosen for today’s inquisition complemented her caramel skin and clear green eyes. For jewelry, she wore department store pearls and a slim gold watch that had once belonged to her maternal grandmother—a woman she’d never met.
The circa-1920s piece kept excellent time, and the links were made of real gold. Her mother, Rita, had pawned it years ago. Fourteen-year-old Avery secretly bought it back with a sob story and $158 she had squirreled away from completing homework for overprivileged, lazy kids. She drew the line at cheat sheets and crib notes. Homework was for practice, and if they wanted to squander a chance at learning, that was on them. By then, she’d built a nest egg of $1,792, and only sentiment forced her to part with even a penny. Lucky for her, the pawn dealer hadn’t realized Rita was telling the truth about the watch’s value, which meant she got it back for a fraction of its worth.
After recovering the watch, Avery had stashed it with her emergency money and the precious few treasures she still had from her father, like the engraved knife she’d consciously left at home. On days like this, and nearly every day, she sincerely wished she still had him too. Arthur Keene had perished in a bus accident weeks after her ninth birthday, leaving her with a broken mother who’d crawled into alcohol, drugs, and destitution. Avery had decided that night at the pawn shop that she would never follow her mother’s spiral down.
She hadn’t gone down, but her life had certainly spun sideways.
Avery shifted in her seat, waiting for the proceedings to begin. She unfolded her copy of the New York Times and let her eyes scan down the front-page article that cataloged the current woes of the nation—and her own existence.
President Brandon Stokes, Removed from Office, Aims to Discredit Congressional Investigation; House Promises Impeachment Vote Within Days
By Linda Loewenthal
WASHINGTON—It has been four months to the day since the Stokes presidency was brought down by an explosive investigation begun by Supreme Court Associate Justice Howard Wynn, who currently lies in a coma at Bethesda Naval Hospital. In a controversial move, Justice Wynn’s clerk, Avery Keene, 27, was designated to hold his power of attorney, and she followed an elaborate trail of intrigue left by Justice Wynn. After a tumultuous ten-day foray, Ms. Keene uncovered shocking evidence that has derailed the Stokes presidency—including accusations of genocide, treason and murder.
Several congressional committees have convened hearings based on Keene’s revelations, and House Democrats are preparing articles of impeachment. For her part, the enigmatic Ms. Keene has become a legal pawn on Capitol Hill and political symbol around the world, from India to America. She has been interrogated in closed-door legislative sessions, lauded by a narrow majority of Americans and vilified by myriad conservative allies of the displaced president.
One beneficiary of the current political tumult is Vice President Samantha Slosberg. In the wake of the scandal, she and a majority of President Stokes’s cabinet members invoked the never-before-used 25th Amendment, removing him from office. Slosberg has been silent about the impeachment proceedings. As the week begins, Congress is expected to hear additional evidence and move forward a vote on removing President Stokes permanently from office, which could come as early as next week. Republicans loyal to Stokes continue to rail against the confidential hearings with Ms. Keene and others, while Democratic leaders invoke “national security interests” to justify the secret interviews.
With a sigh, Avery scanned the rest of the article, tucked the newspaper into her bag, and glanced up at the ceiling. The reporter’s story was thorough, but not the end of the story. Weeks of private bickering and public snarling led to Avery being brought back to the Capitol and once again before a select array of U.S. representatives ready to prove or disprove the accusations being leveled against President Stokes.
As they had before, her attorneys sat behind her, a team led by a grizzled barrister, Patrick Guarasci—highly recommended to Avery by Chief Justice Teresa Roseborough. Guarasci was managing partner of Wargo, Maxwell, Cofrin, and Guarasci, having earned his place on the firm’s letterhead twenty years before when he saved a U.S. senator’s daughter and the president’s trade representative from extradition to Australia on embezzlement charges. For Avery’s purposes, he had also come cheap. He agreed to represent her pro bono for the duration of the proceedings: the impeachment of the president of the United States. He had two associates from his firm burning through what should have been billable hours, and one ringer—her friend Noah Fox, a trust and estates lawyer who was mainly on the team for moral support.
Guarasci leaned forward and tapped her shoulder. Avery tilted her head back. “Yes, sir?”
“You’ll need to hold tight for a while. Apparently, the minority leader is trying to get a few more of his cronies in here,” he said quietly. “The chairman is having none of it, and a press gaggle is forming.”
“Good lord,” Avery muttered. “I thought they sorted everything out after last time.”
Noah chimed in. “Last time you were here and he got kicked out, Representative Boylen raised nearly a hundred thousand dollars in twenty-four hours. He’s trying for a quarter million, I guess. The right wing has made you their number one target, and these hearings are the gift that keeps on giving.” He patted her back comfortingly. “Like Mr. Guarasci said, just hang tight, Avery. A few more hours and you’re done.”
Avery closed her eyes and bit back a sigh. While she appreciated Noah’s half-baked pep talk, her life had been in a holding pattern for more than three months. She’d been interrogated by the full might of the federal government—not just Congress, but a full array of federal agencies now under the direction of the vice president. When that failed to unearth prosecutable offenses against her or the fallen commander in chief, the Defense Department honed in on her partner in uncovering crime, Jared Wynn, a retired Navy analyst. And estranged son of Justice Wynn.
Jared had been cleared, but the interrogations had not stopped. Avery doubted they ever would.
“I demand to be admitted!”
Avery’s head snapped up, and others in the room also came to attention.
“He won’t give up,” Noah murmured. “Guess he thinks he can top two hundred and fifty thousand today with a good tweet and gotcha video.”
The man in question, GOP rising star Congressman Luke Boylen of Indiana, loomed aggressively over a Capitol Hill security officer at the wooden double doors leading into CVC 1100. The stern-faced young woman with a Glock on her hip blocked his access to the rostrum where other members of Congress were seating themselves. Busy staffers adjusted nameplates and set important-looking papers on the slick wooden surfaces and tried not to gawk.
“Mr. Chairman!” Representative Boylen spat out the title. “Mr. Chairman, I demand to be seated! I am a member of Congress and a member of the Judiciary Committee. As such, I have a right to be in this hearing. To listen firsthand to the lies of this traitor.”
From his perch in the center seat, Chairman Max Finberg refused to react to the shouts for his attention. Instead, he leaned over to a twentysomething who squatted next to his seat. With one hand, he covered the microphone, and he tapped a closed file with the other. The gold seal of the U.S. House of Representatives glinted dully in the fluorescent lights of the committee room.
“I want him removed from the room, Richman,” Finberg hissed. “I will be damned if he’s going to cause another delay in these proceedings.”
Richman purposely looked down as he asked, “Do you want Capitol Police to remove him?”
“Fuck, no!” Max Finberg barely managed not to clap his aide on his ear like his North Carolina grandfather used to do him.
After twenty-nine years in the trenches, the chairman had reached this post by knowing how to navigate both the politics and the perceptions of Washington. Politics required that Finberg deny Boylen a seat at the table that he hadn’t earned yet. Being a rump member of Judiciary after a scant one term in office got him nothing.
But Chairman Finberg also realized Boylen commanded an army of several hundred thousand on his Twitter feed and twice that on his Facebook page. Despite the prohibitions on filming, he had to assume someone would capture the brouhaha. The public images could not include the cherubic demon child Boylen being hauled out of the People’s House.
“But get a few more bodies in here. I don’t trust him.”
Luke Boylen couldn’t hear Chairman Finberg, but he realized that without the klieg lights of cameras to back him up, he would not be joining the dais today. However, he could milk the moment for as much as possible. Beginning by undermining one of the hated RINOs that still called his party home. This dying breed of moderate, well-intentioned pragmatists had shrunk over the years. True believers like him had jettisoned their like from party leadership, except in the halls of Congress. In the House, they had burrowed their way into near-permanence, and the return of earmarks had secured fealty at home.
Nevertheless, he figured now was a perfectly good time to start the end of another RINO’s career.
“Madam Ranking Member!” Boylen took a step back and dodged right, trying to catch his colleague’s attention. More importantly, he surreptitiously angled his phone’s camera to capture her. “Representative Fairchild! Daphne!”
Congresswoman Daphne Fairchild of Arizona, ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, focused intently on her matching impeachment folder.
Boylen and his antics made for great ratings and excellent right-wing fodder, but he rarely helped anyone but himself. She knew for a fact that he despised her. Decried her politics as soft and her leadership as weak. He was an arrogant son of a bitch.
She’d been in politics since before he was potty-trained. She’d clawed her way up and served her constituents with integrity. Regardless of who they voted for, her office helped every caller. Given that her first election had been decided by thirty-two votes, she took none of them for granted.
Luke Boylen and his ilk weren’t going to jeopardize a single one, either. She typed a number and put her phone to her ear as though making an important call. On the other end, kindergartners wished her a lovely day. She’d heard about the recording from her granddaughter, and their cute little voices calmed her nerves and drowned out the noise.
Unable to get a rise out of her, Luke shoved his phone back into his pocket.
“Damn it, Daphne! I’ll remember this,” Boylen threatened as he spun around and stormed out of the room.
She believed him.
Glad of the exit, Chairman Finberg adjusted the table mike to perfectly capture and amplify his sonorous voice. Although the proceedings were not to be broadcast immediately, one day, they would air. A decade as a radio disc jockey had taught him how to command an audience and keep it entertained. Showtime.
“The committee will now come to order.” He tapped his gavel, a gift from his staff once he ascended to the throne. “Ms. Keene, good morning. Welcome again to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which, along with the House Oversight Committee, is responsible for holding this investigation. Our inquiry is simple. Should the president of the United States be subject to the gravest consequence we can offer for crimes against the state? His impeachment. Today’s deposition is a vital part of that inquiry.”
The chairman laid out the plan for the day, and he looked sternly at the small group of legislators gathered in the chamber. “The White House has repeatedly attempted to delay and interfere with these proceedings, and the administration has exerted its authority to direct witnesses not to cooperate with our inquiry.”
Furrowing his brow for effect, the chairman continued. “Other key witnesses, such as Major William Vance, have absconded or placed themselves beyond the reach of this committee. But no one is beyond the reach of the law.”
Chairman Finberg inclined his head toward Avery. “Before I recognize committee counsel to begin the deposition, I invite Ranking Member Fairchild to make an opening statement.”
Representative Fairchild offered a polite nod to the chair. “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We have before us an urgent and difficult question of propriety and power. A question that deserves the full transparency of this entire body, not the shadowy confines of this convening. While the Speaker may have sanctioned such an ignoble process, I urge the chairman and the witness to leave our politics by the water’s edge.”
Before running for office, Daphne Fairchild served as an assistant district attorney for Maricopa County. She’d faced down drug kingpins and coyotes turned cartel leaders. And yet, no one had scared her as much as the young woman seated before them. What Avery Keene knew and how she knew it had roiled Capitol Hill for months.
But rule one was never show fear. Instead, she promised, “Ms. Keene, while this body is here to understand what transpired regarding the so-called Tigris Project and the role President Brandon Stokes may have played, your conduct will also be subject to examination. Every second of it. So help me, God.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...