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The Washington Decree


The Washington Decree

The idea of a top-notch Danish thriller writer setting his sights on Washington seems like a good one, but it turns out that tackling unfamiliar turf is a lot harder than it may look from across the ocean. Add to that a translator who lives in Denmark, and the result is a paranoid thriller that, while echoing some current policies and politics, seems to have been created by someone with little inside knowledge of the way Washington, or colloquial American English, works.

Jussi Adler-Olsen, known for his Department Q crime series, sets THE WASHINGTON DECREE in the present, though it starts with a flashback that explains how an unlikely group of people --- including a sheriff, a brainy little girl, a Virginia governor and a black mother from the Bronx --- first meet up in China in 1992.

"The enigmatic ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel or maybe even a series."

In the present day, Bruce Jansen, the Governor of Virginia, becomes President, and the girl, Dorothy “Doggie” Rogers, ends up working for him in the White House. Her father, a diehard Republican, is appalled but immediately seizes on the opportunity to pitch an inauguration party at one of his hotels. The evening of the party ends shockingly, setting President Jansen on a path that paralyzes the country: airports are closed, prisons are emptied of most of their prisoners, and ammunition is confiscated, which provokes militia groups onto the streets. It’s all part of a nefarious plan that involves his right-hand man, Thomas Sunderland, whom Doggie and others begin to recognize as the master plotter. They must bring him down before he takes over the White House. But how?

The denouement comes while the British Prime Minister is visiting a locked-down DC, but not before bodies are strewn all over. When the dust settles, it looks as though the good guys have taken back the reins. Or have they? The enigmatic ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel or maybe even a series.

The book has its fair share of issues --- including a foreword by the author with a date of 2007, though it refers to Brexit; odd idioms such as “it titillated the back of his mind” and “his legs were tripping nervously”; and a reference to a “geographical show” that mimics NatGeo’s geography bee. But the real problem is a plot that reads like a screenwriter’s fantasy of political Armageddon: outrageous coincidences, bizarre character motives, tanks and bodies in the streets, and an outcome that strains the credulity of even the most avid disaster movie fan.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on August 10, 2018

The Washington Decree
by Jussi Adler-Olsen