Jussi Adler-Olsen, author of The Washington Decree–a stand alone book, has written seven books in the Department Q series ‘starring’ lead detective Carl Morck (in Danish, that o has a line through it!). I reviewed one of them last Fall. They are definitely Danish Noir, gripping and full of social commentary. Often they are laugh out-loud funny which makes them real page turners in spite of the sometimes shocking murders. If you haven’t read them, I highly encourage you to read them in order but read them!!
The Washington Decree is Adler-Olsen’s latest social commentary and he takes on the United States and it’s government. In fact, it is an American horror story. Although the way things are going in the US, it sometimes felt too close for comfort.
In the Epilogue, he explains some of his motives for writing the book. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was created during the Nixon administration primarily to deal with the effects of a nuclear war but also meant to be useful in the event of any natural catastrophe. When I lost my home in the Oakland Firestorm of 1991, FEMA was the government agency that came in and created different organisations to help us survivors out. Included were three months of support groups for those that wished to attend. At three months, we were told the money had run out and we were on our own.
According to Adler-Olsen, FEMA has a huge amount of funds, enough to build underground facilities, internment camps, train personnel to take over duties of elected officials and, it seems, an entire non-elected governing system could be established with a shadow cabinet and a shadow president.
The Washing Decree is Adler-Olsen’s attempt to describe the quick journey from Democracy to Autocrocy should such an event happen. In this book, the event was the murder of the incoming President’s wife. If it weren’t for the fact that he describes in detail all that FEMA can do and the Executive Orders at FEMA’s disposal, this book would seem fantastical, thrilling and a wonderful read but fantastical.
The book opens with a trip to China that brings five very different people together and then-Senator Bruce Jansen. After the murder of Jansen’s wife, the book jumps sixteen years and Jansen is the Democratic contender for President. All five of the people on the China trip have stayed close and stayed loyal to Jansen. One of them, Doggie Rogers, arranges for Jansen’s victory party to be celebrated at her father’s upscale hotel. Jansen is re-married to a beautiful and very pregnant wife who has charmed the American public. During the party, Jansen’s second wife is murdered. Doggie’s father is arrested and awaits sentencing. Shortly thereafter, President Jansen goes on TV and issues a Law and Order Decree that becomes known as the Washington Decree. It takes away civilian rights and installs a police state. From there, life in America descends into chaos. The vice-president resigns in protest and the chief-of-staff becomes VP. Militia groups start hoarding guns and ammunition. People in Jansen’s cabinet are being murdered. With each new event, another executive order is declared. America shuts down, no one knows who is friend and who is foe.
This is a thriller with a very bad guy. There is also a love story. One at a time, the five friends from China start getting suspicious and wonder if Doggie’s father is really guilty and if not him, who? It is a huge jig-saw puzzle to put together and each one of them starts fearing for his or her life.
I found the book slow going in the beginning. But this is Jussi Adler-Olsen! I was very willing to hang in there. And after the scenes were set, the pace picked up and things moved rapidly as I turned the pages. And always in the back of mind was the question “Could this really happen with a bad guy in charge?” It is all the more upsetting now that we have an unstable man in charge of the country.
I have looked up several websites to learn when Adler-Olsen began writing this book or if there was a particular purpose or statement he wanted to make. I couldn’t find anything. Having read all his Department Q series and one other stand alone, it is no stretch of the imagination to write that Adler-Olsen has a lot to say about the state of affairs in the world today. I find him an acute observer, an elegant writer and possessed of an amazing ability to make up stories that go right to the heart of what is happening in the world today. I am already looking forward to his next book.