Stacey Abrams: American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, bestselling non-fiction author AND author of pseudonymously penned romance novels. Can we stop, swoon and repeat right now? Yes. Yes, we can. Because NOW we add THRILLER novelist to her accolades. They say it’s best to write what you know, and we think the title says it all.
"Stacey Abrams is a true novelist, and While Justice Sleeps is a first-class legal thriller, favorably compared to many of the best, starting with The Pelican Brief, which it brings to mind. It’s fast-paced and full of surprises—a terrific read."
—Scott Turow, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Presumed Innocent and The Last Trial
Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together—excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn—the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases—has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court—a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.
As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth. While Justice Sleeps is a cunningly crafted, sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.
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Sirens shrilled outside the dingy casement window. The high whines seeped in, piercing sleep with pinpricks of sound. Avery Keene rolled to her side and tugged the lumpy pillow over her head. She continued to drift along the Danube, serenaded by the lead singer of some innocuous boy band clad only in his Calvin Klein finest. The sounds jangled louder, transforming into the insistent chime of a phone ring. Avery flung out a searching hand and fumbled blindly for the cell phone. Green eyes shut tight, she grabbed the device.
“Avery, baby.” A rasping cough. A sullen giggle. “It’s Momma.”
The sirens dropped away, leaving a more jarring reality. Wearily, Avery slid up to lean against the wall, braced against a raft of pillows. She hadn’t been able to justify the expense of a headboard yet. One more year. Peeling open tired lids, she tracked the neon flickers against rain-spattered glass. “Rita. Where are you?”
Another giggle. “Adams Monathalan.”
“Adams Morgan?” With her free hand, she shoved the heavy fall of black away from a smooth, caramel-toned forehead, the kinky-curly mass tumbling down bare shoulders squared with tension. Sleep cleared quickly, and she checked the bedside clock. Nearly three on Sunday, no, Monday morning. Figured. Nothing good would be happening for her mother in the Adams Morgan neighborhood at this time of night. After the well-to-do retired to their neat row houses, the clubs spewed out partyers looking for hotter action. “Are you in Adams Morgan, Rita?”
Rita Keene harrumphed. “Absolutely. I said so. Adams Morahan.”
Recognizing the rise of belligerence, Avery spoke quickly, tightly. “Are you in jail?”
“Won’t be if you come and give this cutie pie some money.”
Cutie pie? Brows furrowed, Avery puzzled over the statement. If Rita was in jail, arraignment wouldn’t come until morning. Sunday night busts had to wait until the judges arrived for Monday morning calls. But just in case, she asked, “They’ve set your bail? Already?”
A sudden shout forced Rita to raise her voice. “No bail, baby. No jail. Friend’s house. He’s a good friend. I just need to settle up. Can you come by?”
“I’ve told you before, Rita. No more.” For God’s sake, no more.
There was momentary silence. “I’m not getting wasted. I promise. But I have to be good for my word,” her mother wheedled. “I know you can spare a hundred dollars for your mother? That’s all I’m asking. If not, he might get mad.”
“Won’t,” Rita corrected. “Stuck-up bitch. Too good to help your mother out of a jam.” The cajoling tone slid into a string of expletives.
“Rita.” Avery had heard it all before, and she silently recited the Al-Anon mantra, but serenity was a slippery commodity when your mother was holed up in a crack house cursing your birth like a drunken sailor. Hearing a break in the rant, she asked quietly, “Give me an address, and I’ll pick you up.” Hell, she was going to get only four more hours of sleep anyway. Might as well kick off the week with the great whirligig of fun that was her mother. “Momma, where are you?”
“Not gonna tell.”
“I’m not going to another goddamned rehab. All I need is a hundred. That’s it. Maybe if you took the stick out your ass, you would help your mother out. Just this once.” In the background, a man asked if the daughter was pretty. “Not ugly,” came Rita’s stage whisper reply. “But you want the original, honey, not a secondhand copy. Especially when I can trade you—” The rest ended on a high, desperate laugh.
Heat snapped through Avery’s veins, seared her cheeks. She wanted to disconnect the call, but the shaky laughter signaled that her mother was nearing a crash and worse. Years of training had her tamping down the riot of emotion she swore each time would not return. For an instant, she wondered how different life would be if her father were alive. With his deep brown eyes that crinkled at the corners and his hickory skin stretched tight over a square jawline. His ready patience and easy smile—she’d inherited neither of those traits. Who would Rita have been if he’d survived?
Cutting off the useless musing, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. Dad was dead. Rita was high. And she lived stubbornly in reality. In the dark, she felt around for her tennis shoes and a baseball cap. Luckily, she’d chosen to sleep in running shorts and a tank, a vain attempt to stave off the coming DC summer heat. “Rita—Momma, tell me where you are.”
“No. Stuck-up little bitch . . .” Just as quickly as the venom poured, sugar followed. “Baby, I didn’t mean that. I love you. My one and only . . . I’m so proud of you. My brilliant lawyer baby. She works at the Supreme Court,” she told the dealer.
“Momma.” Avery bit off the word, her eyes desert dry. She’d grown accustomed to the balancing act, keeping her mother’s demons partitioned away from the world she lived in by day. Bail and rehab versus drafting memos and hunting for precedents. Fighting for patience, she swigged from a bottle of water that sat on her nightstand. The taste of sleep swished for seconds, then disappeared.
“Momma, you there?”
“Where else can I go?” A tiny sob hitched on the line. “Don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“You can go back to the rehab, Momma. I’ll ask them to let you come back.” Again. She’d spent her last chunk of savings on the in-patient facility in February. Rita had lasted twelve weeks, a personal best. But the fee had cleaned out her accounts and maxed out her cards. She’d gotten the meager balances down, as was her habit, but until she hit pay dirt with a job at a fancy law firm, she’d be living very frugally—especially if Rita wanted to return to rehab. And Avery’s boss forbade interviews until the close of the session, so she had only the illusion of employment to tide her over. “Do you want to try again?”
“At that shithole? No way in hell.” More brittle laughter. “I don’t need to get clean, and I don’t want your fucking charity.”
Which defied the call for money, but Avery knew better than to attempt reason. At this stage, placating worked best. Slipping her feet into the shoes she carried, she squatted to tie the laces tight. No telling if tonight’s excursion would include a flight from danger. Always best to be prepared. “Tell me where you are, Momma.”
“So you can come and preach to me? No way.”
“You have to.” Rising, Avery’s hand slipped into the drawer of her nightstand and pulled out a small knife. It was illegal to carry a switchblade in DC, but old habits had died hard. She didn’t like guns, but she couldn’t afford to go to her mom’s preferred haunts without it. One of the few precious inheritances from her dad that her mom hadn’t pawned along the way. Mother-of-pearl handle and their initials engraved on the hilt. Her father’s cosmic joke—Avery Olivia and Arthur Oliver—AOK.
The palm-sized knife wouldn’t stop a drug fiend, but it might slow one down if she ever had to use it. The weapon went into the pocket of her shorts. “If you don’t tell me where you are, I can’t bring you any money.”
“Really?” Hungry to believe, Rita hissed into the phone, “Gotta come soon, though. Real soon.”
Avery headed for the living room, grabbed her keys, and yanked open the front door. Keys. Cell phone. Wallet! She’d forgotten it. Twisting, she kicked at the closing door and rushed back inside. She juggled the cell, hoping Rita wouldn’t hang up before she could get better directions. The signal would die as soon as she entered the stairwell. “I need an address, Rita. Now.”
“You’ll really come?” The wheedling tone begged for a lie. A promise. “You’ll come for real? Bring me some cash?”
Avery stared at the threadbare wallet on the table and contemplated bringing her last fifty to the addict who’d grudgingly given birth to her twenty-six years ago. Screw that. She slipped a ten into her pocket and tossed the wallet onto the table. “Sure, Momma. Just tell me where I’m going.”