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‘While Justice Sleeps’: 4 ways Stacey Abrams’ new political thriller mirrors reality

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Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams addresses the crowd in the early morning hours on Nov. 7, 2018, in downtown Atlanta telling supporters votes still needed to be counted.
Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams addresses the crowd in the early morning hours on Nov. 7, 2018, in downtown Atlanta telling supporters votes still needed to be counted.

Lawyer. Political leader. Voting rights activist. Georgia gubernatorial candidate. And USA TODAY bestselling author. (Does Stacey Abrams have the same 24 hours in a day as us?)

After penning nearly a dozen romance novels under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams is switching gears to a subject she lives and breathes: politics.

"While Justice Sleeps" (Doubleday, on sale May 11) is Abrams' first fictional political thriller, set in the streets of Washington, D.C., and the nation's highest court.

Avery Keene goes from young law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn to household name in a matter of days after he suddenly slips into a coma and names her his legal guardian.

Stacey Abrams new political thriller "While Justice Sleeps."
Stacey Abrams new political thriller "While Justice Sleeps."

What unfolds next is a suspenseful chess game of unraveling conspiracies as Keene tries to decipher the clues left for her. (Think "Scandal" meets "Homeland.")

Although "While Justice Sleeps" is a novel written well before the present political climate, Abrams' legal thriller eerily mirrors current events.

Here are four ways Abrams' newest novel coincides with reality:

Stacey Abrams novel ‘While Justice Sleeps’ coming May 11

1. College alumni

“They had no need for a tainted black lawyer with her druggie mom, not with so many pristine candidates vying for attention. One whiff of scandal and her Yale Law degree wouldn’t be worth the paper or the student loans. All they’d see was a darker-skinned version of Rita — a potential drug addict, not a rising star.” (pg. 118)

Abrams' own experiences in higher education inspired Keene's collegiate course.

The fictional Keene – a chess aficionado who has a "very good memory" and a troubled family history – attended a plethora of universities, including Oberlin, Centre College, Yale and Spelman College.

Abrams graduated magna cum laude from Spelman College in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies (political science, economics and sociology). She earned a Master of Public Affairs degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in 1998 and a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School in 1999.

2. The power of swing votes

“Justice Wynn goes into his third evening in a coma with the question of who will decide his fate still unanswered. He is known among Court watchers as the swing vote on controversial issues, and he is notoriously hard to predict.” (pg. 200)

Liberal-leaning Wynn is terminally ill with a genetic disease that has symptoms comparable to Alzheimer's. In his quest to research what would most likely lead to his demise, Wynn stumbles upon a dangerous conspiracy that involves some of Washington, D.C.'s, most powerful players.

Wynn serves as the critical swing vote on the Court in a proposed merger between American biotech company GenWorks and Indian genetics firm Advar. And he has an undisclosed personal stake in the high-profile case.

Without Wynn, the Court is split 4-4, making him the deciding vote in favor of the merger (GenWorks acquires India's gene therapy patent in hopes of curing "deadly diseases immune to conventional treatments") or against the merger (President Brandon Stokes says sharing biogenetic technology poses a national security threat).

After penning nearly a dozen romance novels under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams is switching gears to a subject she lives and breathes: politics.
After penning nearly a dozen romance novels under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams is switching gears to a subject she lives and breathes: politics.

Abrams is all too familiar with critical votes. She is widely credited with helping to flip the red state of Georgia blue during the 2020 presidential election after working diligently to combat voter suppression following her controversial gubernatorial loss to Brian Kemp in 2018. (She was the first Black woman to be nominated for governor by a major party in the U.S.)

Through the efforts of her voting rights organization Fair Fight Action, Abrams also helped Georgia flip two pivotal Senate seats blue during two runoff elections, giving Democrats a majority in the Senate in 2021.

President Joe Biden called Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms "twin powers” who “laid the difficult groundwork necessary to encourage turnout and protect the vote over these last years.”

3. A vacant Supreme Court seat

“You hold an enormous amount of power, Ms. Keen. One person close to Justice Wynn is already dead. You have the ability to terminate his life and open a spot on the Court. People have died for less.” (pg. 157)

Stokes desperately wants Wynn taken off life support to free up a seat on the Supreme Court to tilt the nation's highest court to the right during an election year. (Supreme Court Justices serve a lifetime tenure until they die, resign, retire, or are removed from office.) Stokes, a Republican pursuing a "second lackluster term," is so desperate to flip the court to rule in his favor that he's willing to kill for it.

In 2020, a vacant Supreme Court seat set off a similar nomination fight.

Liberal Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Sept. 18 at age 87 following complications from pancreatic cancer after serving on the Supreme Court for more than 27 years. Despite Ginsburg's dying wish to "not be replaced until a new president is installed," President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the court. Barrett was confirmed on Oct. 27 and joined the Court a week before Election Day.

Barrett's was the first nomination in nearly 30 years to change the court's ideological balance, and given Biden's subsequent election, it came in the nick of time for conservatives.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 8 books to read about the Supreme Court justice

4. ‘Stay and fight’

“I’m Justice Wynn’s guardian. Let me stand up for him.” (pg. 328)

Keene's tenacity rivals Abrams' own.

In March, Abrams urged businesses to "stay and fight" for Georgia in a USA TODAY op-ed after many corporations and sports leagues started boycotting the state over Georgia’s new voting restrictions. (For example, Will Smith pulled production of his runaway slave drama "Emancipation" from Georgia in April, the largest and most high-profile Hollywood production to depart the state.)

"I again repeat my admonition from 2019 that leaving us behind won’t save us," Abrams wrote in her op-ed. "Bring your business to Georgia and, if you’re already here, stay and fight. Stay and vote."

Although Keene's close confidants repeatedly told her Wynn's deadly scavenger hunt "isn’t your fight," the young law clerk remained undeterred in completing his quest to "expose the corruption" and "save America" despite facing intimidation.

Sound familiar?

Contributing: Joey Garrison, Jake Coyle

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Stacey Abrams' new political thriller mirrors reality

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