Stacey Abrams concocts a twisty, suspenseful legal thriller

The American politician and activist’s legal thriller, “While Justice Sleeps,” explores themes of power and greed through colorful characters. 

Penguin Random House
"While Justice Sleeps" by Stacey Abrams, Doubleday, 384 pp.

To say that Stacey Abrams has been busy lately is an understatement. As a lawyer, an advocate for voting rights, a former Georgia state representative, and a leader in the Democratic party, she has a keen understanding of the complexities of high-stakes politics. She’s brought this background to her latest novel, “While Justice Sleeps,” which offers twisty good fun and a dense and, at times, over-complicated plot.

Abrams is already a best-selling author (for two of her non-fiction books, “Our Time Is Now” and “Lead From the Outside”), and she’s penned eight romance suspense novels under the name Selena Montgomery. Her political activism has garnered her a 2021 nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. “While Justice Sleeps” has been picked up for a television series, and there’s already talk of a sequel.

Her latest book opens boldly with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn staging an “epic meltdown” at American University, in which he publicly shames U.S. President Brandon Stokes, declaring that he “reveled in swatting down his initiatives and eviscerating the laws signed by his administration.” After storming off stage, Wynn later exclaims to his private nurse, “That was no tantrum.... It was strategy. It’s all strategy. Opening move of the King’s Gambit! Every breath is a movement toward the endgame.” And is it ever.

That night, Wynn, who happens to be the court’s swing vote, falls into a mysterious coma. Washington goes on high alert. Wynn’s death would leave an empty seat on the high court and change the outcome of a controversial case involving a merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm.

Wynn’s brilliant law clerk, Avery Keene, soon finds herself swirling in Washington politics and international conspiracy when she discovers her cantankerous boss has appointed her his legal guardian and power of attorney, leaving her a trail of cryptic, chess-like clues. To complicate matters further, Avery is dealing with her drug-addicted mother, who could potentially threaten Avery’s promising career. But is there ever a perfect time to step in and save the world? Of course, having a photographic memory and a cluster of highly intelligent cohorts doesn’t hurt, either.  

“In a game of strategy, the king is a figurehead, unable to save his own life without the aid of others. The queen is powerful and dynamic. She will protect the king, but not because of weakness. It’s because that’s what she’s supposed to do.” Avery’s words to her temperamental, chess-loving boss in an earlier encounter seem prophetic. “He’s an honorable man… You can argue with him, but you can never question his logic and his values,” she says of the justice. Brilliant minds think alike, and Wynn knew this when he chose Avery.

“While Justice Sleeps” features a boatload of colorful characters, including a resentful wife, an estranged son, law associates, FBI and Homeland Security agents, media personalities, high-tech engineers, and a female chief justice.   

As the stakes rise, and murderous villains lurk, readers come to understand that horrific moral and ethical boundaries have been crossed. The unfolding morality tale, “the labyrinthine game the law demanded,” plays out in the final fireworks scene at the Supreme Court. Abrams plays it to the hilt. 

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