Independently Published (2022)
Reviewed by Lee Barckmann for Reader Views (06/2022)
“The Plot to Save America,” is a fast-paced cautionary tale, a bit of a satire and a wildly imaginative alternative history. It is springtime, 2024 – the January 6, 2021insurrection succeeded – the rioters broke through, captured and killed Vice President Pence, set the Capitol on fire, where half of congress died, and the other half, (mostly Republican) were put in detention. By using Hollywood effects, and lots of repetitive perjury, the riot was blamed on BLM and Antifa, and martial law has been in place ever since. All illegal immigrants were either deported or executed with factory-like efficiency. Nonwhite legal immigrants lose their status. Babies born in the US to immigrants lose their citizenship. Thousands are arrested for domestic terrorism.
Fans of Phillip Roth will quickly think of the similarly titled novel “The Plot Against America.” The parallels are quite explicit. The two novels detail how history could have taken a wildly different path, and plunged the United States into fascism. But we also get a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire, as we have two imprisoned characters in Azrieli’s novel named Doctor Zuckerman and Professor Sabbath. Any fan of Roth’s will easily recognize those names from his other novels.
The story is told by “Death Penalty Investigator (DPI) #1645.” We never learn his name. He is not exactly a true believer, but he has no qualms about wearing his red MAGA baseball cap with a red SSS lapel pin on his blue suit jacket. (SSS stands for “Stop the Steal Soldier”). More satire – he has a “Q” level security clearance – the highest possible in the MAGA government.
DPI 1645 is investigating the validity of the death sentence of another Investigator, the famous Baltimore detective Tenison, who is accused of killing Kevin Pendleton, the Sergeant at Arms of the US Senate. Pendleton was a witness to and participant in the successful overthrow on January 6, and considered a “hero” by President Trump and his MAGA supporters. His notes, called “The Pendleton Papers,” are the “McGuffin” of the novel.
The Capitol is a smoking hole in the ground, and Trump has plans to rebuild it even bigger than before, with a Trump hotel adjoining it. After ICE arrested most corporate executives in the US, the Trump Organization was “assigned” to manage the remaining corporate resources “in the national interest.” Trump Prime (formerly Amazon.com), Trump GenTes (formerly GM and Tesla), Trump ExMobCon (formerly ExxonMobil and Conoco) and many other companies were taken over and reorganized. Because of mismanagement, punitive tariffs and labor shortages, the economy as a whole is anemic.
The investigator goes to Sing Sing prison to interview the condemned man, Tenison. He learns from the warden that Tenison is in a coma with radiation poisoning. The warden explains the organization of the prison, and its system badges that the inmates must wear to identify their “crimes”. Cell block leaders wear caps signifying rank and are responsible for the charges. There are at least 50 executions a day, and the warden solves this problem by working the condemned to death while moving nuclear core rods out of the Indian River nuclear plant, which is being dismantled. The parallels to concentration camps are obvious, as badges and caps serve the same purpose as the yellow stars of David that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
The story continues like a police procedural potboiler. The author writes with a wonderful sense of place, as he moves up and down the northeast from Sing Sing Prison in Ossining NY, to Chapaqua, (where the Sing Sing warden and his family occupy Bill and Hillary’s home) down to Baltimore and Washington DC. Readers familiar with those locales will feel as though they are there again.
The fast-paced story is paused occasionally by historical and philosophical discussions of books such as Pat Buchanan’s “The Death of the West,” which is read like a Bible by MAGA elites. The investigator will eventually wonder how he had been duped into working for the MAGA government. He will discover the book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust” by Daniel Goldhagen, and will begin to comprehend how otherwise decent people (such as he considers himself to be) end up doing horrible things.
My only criticism is I wanted the main character to have more self-doubt early on, because he was clearly a brilliant man. Also, except for Zuckerman and Sabbath (who were funny and relatable) his other characters and their dialog could have used a bit more paranoia, fear, and perhaps gallows humor to spice up the story.
The author, Avraham Azrieli, has an amazing legal resume and has written 13 novels and 5 non-fiction books on various subjects. He knows how to deliver a good story, and I will vouch that “The Plot to Save America” is a cleverly interlaced, well-structured tale, filled with hidden gems of satire, while at the same time packed with thought-provoking facts and ideas. I give it 5 stars.