There’s a subtle art to the introduction of highly technical, complex and potentially mind-numbing subjects to a work of fiction, one that requires a bit of a high-wire act from the author, teetering between just the right amount detail to give the story authenticity and a long fall into minutiae that buries the story — and the reader’s interest.

Across the three books of his ripped-from-the-headlines Faithless Elector series, which pursues the dark machinations of a stolen presidency with penetrating realism, and in his latest work, Bastard Verdict, which focuses on chicanery in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, author James McCrone masterfully introduces the tools of a data sleuth while spinning a taut thriller full of thugs, crooked and power hungry pols and bureaucrats and dead bodies.

It’s a performance worthy of the Flying Wallendas. Without the deadly falls.

The book’s title comes from a peculiarity in the Scottish justice system, where there are three findings a jury can pick — guilty, innocent and not proven. The third choice is called The Bastard Verdict because it suggests the defendant may well be guilty of the crime but the prosecution failed to prove it.

Centerstage is FBI agent Imogene Trager, the data sleuth and heroine of the Faithless Elector series. No good deed goes unpunished — Trager has been ostracized by an embarrassed FBI, gulaged to a remote backwater of the agency in a toothless job. It’s highly suggested she take a leave of absence abroad so she snares a visiting scholar’s gig at the University of Glasgow. It’s also an unspoken hope that she uses this opportunity to leave the FBI.

She’s supposed to keep her nose clean and stick to scholarly research. Instead, she meets an older professor, Francis McDougal, an ardent supporter of Scottish independence who is convinced the 2014 referendum was stolen by the opposition, which includes the crown and the British government before Brexit fever struck.

McDougal — or Wee Frankie, a not-so-loving nickname hung on him by his academic colleagues — piques her interest with the anomalies she loves to investigate by pointing out the unexpected results in two bastions of independence, Dundee and Glasgow, where the turnout was lower than expected and the opposition carried the day.

She also meets a very suave special advisor reporting to the chief of staff for the First Minister, the head of Scottish government. Ian Ross asks her to conduct an unofficial review of the referendum results because “a number of us are convinced it was stolen last time.” And if a second referendum is conducted, “we want to make sure it isn’t stolen again.”

The hook is set. Trager begins her clandestine review. That’s when the bodies start to drop — first, Wee Frankie, murdered during a presumed robbery while walking to his car parked on the dodgy side of town, his body tossed over a fence like a bag of trash. Then Wee Frankie’s friend, a retired election official in Dundee who had hoarded his personal notes on precinct returns and ballot boxes during the referendum. He was found hanging from the ceiling in the second story office of his home, an apparent suicide.

The clock is ticking. The pace of the novel accelerates dramatically, appropriate for a race between Trager and her allies, searching for truth with regressive analysis and other tools, and the shadowy conspirators of corrupt government officials and their hire thugs, intent on killing Trager as well as all talk of a second referendum.

As is often the case, the coverup is worse than the original crime — and that’s bad enough. Both are enough to get anybody killed. The question is whether Trager and her ragtag allies find the truth before falling victim to this murderous math.

Bastard Verdict is now available in paperback and Kindle.

Jim Nesbitt is the award-winning author of four hard-boiled Texas crime thrillers featuring battered but relentless Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch. His latest, The Dead Certain Doubt is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

The author provided an advanced copy of this book for review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s