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Executive Order by Max Allan Collins

Published by Thomas & Mercer on April 11, 2017

Executive Order is the last of a trilogy involving largely unrelated stories that focus on the three branches of government. The first two are Supreme Justice and Fate of the Union.

I’m not generally a fan of “massive conspiracy of hidden government employees in all branches of government who plan an overthrow” novels, unless they were written decades ago by Robert Ludlum or Fredrick Forsythe. The subgenre has pretty well run its course and it is increasingly difficult to believe that the self-proclaimed “patriots” who would engage in such a conspiracy are capable of ordering lunch at a drive-thru, much less organizing hundreds of conspirators at the highest levels of government (and keeping it all a secret). Executive Order isn’t a particularly plausible conspiracy novel, for exactly those reasons, but I enjoyed it anyway.

In 2031, the Russians are threatening to invade Azbekistan and the CIA has sent four operatives to watch. They get caught in a firefight, which cheeses off President Harrison, who ordered the CIA not to send operatives into the potential war zone. Harrison wants to know who violated his orders by sending CIA operatives to die.

The answer involves a conspiracy to provoke a war with Russian on the ground that Harrison is a “tepid” president who will not take action unless he is forced to do so by right-thinking patriots who do not feel bound by the constraints of democracy or morality. To that extent, the novel has political overtones and might not be appreciated by readers who believe that defending freedom means taking it away from everyone they don’t like.

Realizing he can’t trust the CIA director or the military, the president asks Joe Reeder to find out who would be so foolish as to want to start a needless war with Russia. Meanwhile, Reeder believes that the Secretary of the Interior, who died of a food allergy, was murdered. He passes that tip along to Patti Rogers, who needs to find and solve a high-profile crime to assure that her elite FBI unit will continue to be funded.

With that background established, Reeder and Rogers and a handful of good guys begin an action-filled race to learn the truth before full-scale war breaks out. The plot isn’t special — it’s a little late in the day for a conspiracy novel to feel special, unless it contains original elements that Executive Order lacks — but it moves quickly, the action scenes are mostly credible, and the Reeder/Rogers team is an easy one to like.

Sometimes a novel that requires a small number of heroic figures to defeat overwhelming numbers of adversaries with military training are fun and sometimes they’re preposterous. Executive Order is both. My “aw, c’mon” reaction as Reeder breaches some of the world’s toughest security was stifled a bit when Max Allan Collins later provided a plausible explanation for Reeder’s success. The explanation only makes the whole scenario slightly less preposterous, but the book is still fun. Executive Order stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief, but in the end, I enjoyed the story.


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