Well then, Max Allan Collins’ 2014 book, Supreme Justice, turned out to be oddly … timely, but hopefully not prescient.
The set-up of the book is that someone, presumably an extreme leftist, or group of extreme leftists, are assassinating the far-right conservative Supreme Court Justices in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Not only for that reason, but in the hopes that by killing conservative Justices while there is a liberal president, the Justices will be replaced by liberal Justices, thus tipping the balance of power of the Court back to the liberal side.
Yeeeeah. And I read this the weekend after Roe v. Wade was legitimately overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
On the hunt for the assassin(s) is Joseph Reeder, a former Secret Service agent, who took a bullet for a conservative president, much to his chagrin as a liberal. He ends up becoming a pariah among federal law enforcement because of how outspoken he is about being a liberal and hating the president.
Reeder teams with FBI agent Patti Rogers (who shockingly didn’t know about the DC Snipers in Washington D.C. … as an FBI agent?!), and both are part of an overall task force formed after one, then two Justices, are assassinated, and more seem to be targeted.
Aside from being a gutsy guy, Reeder, who I kept mentally calling Reacher, is also someone well-versed in kinesics, the study of body language and movement. He’s known for reading people well (Reeder!), and has the nickname, Peep. Also part of the task force, and leading it at that, is the Special Agent In Charge Gabe Sloan, who is Reeder’s longtime friend and godfather to his 19-year-old daughter.
Sloan, a conservative, has a sad past, where his daughter died when she tried to get an illegal abortion after Roe was overturned. Reeder thinks it odd, somewhat, the he remained a conservative thereafter.
Well, this is not one of those whodunit plots that fooled me. I pegged Sloan as the assassin right away because a.) he is Reeder’s friend and b.) the daughter dying of an abortion. Somehow, much to Reeder’s shock, he doesn’t see it coming, despite being the people-reader. He acknowledges this failing, though.
That said, even though the killer was predictable, I enjoyed how Collins used the Reeder character to unravel the conspiracy and the plot against the Justices. Reeder is the one who even gets the task force to realize it wasn’t the robbery-gone-wrong that the first assassination appeared to be, but a targeted assassination plot. Reeder picks up on subtle clues such as that throughout the book, like that the shooter shot with the opposite hand than the supposed suspect they had in custody.
Or the most obvious, that when someone kidnaps Reeder’s daughter, the kidnapper refers to her by Ames, which is him and Sloan’s nickname for her. That leads Reeder to realize without a doubt that Sloan is the assassin and the kidnapper. Sloan attempts to get Reeder off the case with the kidnapping, and then just tries to frame Reeder entirely for it. That aspect doesn’t develop all that much, because Reeder has Rogers on his side, and the climax comes fairly quickly thereafter.
I also enjoyed Collins conveying, if a bit on-the-nose with the politics, that the Supreme Court is really freakin’ important! That decisions that come from the Court can affect the lives of millions of Americans for years and years to come. In fact, Collins uses interesting quotes from past Supreme Court Justices, or from JFK (he seems to have an affinity for JFK and Arlington National Cemetery, which is expressed through the quotes and the Reeder character) to introduce each chapter, and the first quote is from William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the U.S., tenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and who is buried at Arlington, “Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.”
For the record, Taft is from my city and state of Cincinnati, Ohio, and is thus far, the only president to serve a term as president, and then go on to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (or on the Court at all).
That’s a great quote, though, and the other part of the current of this book is true, too: Political assassination lives forever, hence the fascination with Kennedy’s death. Undoubtedly, political assassination alters the course of history, just like Kennedy’s assassin, and just like the fictional assassin in this book.
One thing I’m surprised about: Through the Reeder character, Collins talks about the soldier at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and how they take 21 steps down the mat, face east for 21 seconds, turn and face north for 21 seconds, and so on, representing the highest military honor, the 21-gun salute. And yet, Collins finished with 22 chapters! Was he messing with me?! I thought for sure when I got to Chapter 21, which seemed close to the end, that he would end on that note as a small homage of sorts to that sequence. Dream deferred.
Anyhow, this book was an easy read, a predictable read, almost a quintessential “beach read,” if I was at a beach instead of my recliner, but still, it was a fun read all the same. I just like anything having to do with the courts, especially the highest court in the land, and I was tickled (in an uh, unpleasant way because of the timeliness) by how its plot was literally driven by the overturning of Roe.