ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS
Freedom Hall, on Second Avenue in Bombay Beach, divides into large rooms and small. In one of the smaller rooms Jefferson Davis sits at a table with Bobby Hallstrom, a stocky man of his own age. On the table is an unregistered cellphone and a near-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. A flat-screen tv hangs on the room’s eastern wall: it shows a static image: a multi-storey building on a wide avenue. The building is the Atlanta office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Outside the building, the road is gridlocked.
A door opens. Jefferson’s hand drops to his hip. A middleaged man, Saxby Robinson, enters. Saxby’s on a Dr Bogosian high-carb diet. The doctor has recently died, weighing 310 pounds. Saxby, though not that heavy, has lost no weight.
‘You got your ass out of the house,’ Jefferson says.
‘Listen,’ says Saxby, ‘I hadda get out. Matter of necessity. She’s, what can I tell you, these days, I don’t know, she’s alla time on my case. What am I doing down the bar? Why’m I going at this hour? Well, I say, what’s anyone do, down a bar? I meet the boys, have a beer, coupla beers, maybe a shot, what’s she think – I’m singing in a choir?’
‘Let me guess,’ says Bobby. ‘Doesn’t fly.’
‘Doesn’t fly? Won’t even get off the ground. Half a time, she’s not hearing what I say.’
‘She thinks you’re banging the bargirl.’
‘Which,’ says Saxby, ‘I wouldn’t mind if I was, either. The ass on that kid, some nights, I swear, I dream about it. But I’m not. She’s got a boyfriend, he’s like twenty years younger’n me. Bigger, too. Fit. I’m banging Belle Luchese, when I can, which got nothing to do with the bar, not that often, either. So I tell the old lady, keep on like this, Miz Emily, you’re heading for a bunch a legal papers.’
Bobby empties the bottle of Jack. ‘Why’m I drinking this stuff? I drink scotch.’
‘Made in Japan,’ says Jefferson.
‘I don’t care where it comes from,’ Bobby says. ‘Mexico, Japan, I don’t give a damn. Calls itself scotch, in my book, it’s scotch. What’s the wife say?’
‘She just laughs.’ Saxby says. ‘Tells me, you can’t afford a divorce.
‘I’m guessing here,’ says Jefferson, ‘but I’d imagine she’s correct. It’s going to cost you. Trust me, you’re looking at a man’s been there. Could’ve sold my guns, would’ve been cheaper. I mean, you want, you want to plan for this.’
‘What I’m doing,’ says Saxby, ‘I’m going round the tracks, real cautious, low-level bets, lots of them. Win some, lose some. If I lose, I don’t lose large.’
The wall screen flickers white for a moment.
‘Which bargirl are we talking about, with the cute ass?’ Bobby asks.
‘Julie Mae,’ says Saxby. ‘You plan to hit on her, bear in mind the boyfriend. He done three to five in Folsom, account of what he did with the last kid, hits on Julie Mae. Gets remission, good behaviour, which is why he’s back in town. Doesn’t mean he’s on good behaviour necessarily, not alla time.’
‘I met him,’ says Jefferson. ‘Seems nice enough.’
‘What were you carrying?’
Jefferson thinks back. ‘Winchester semi, could’ve been.’
‘Well, shit,’ says Saxby. ‘You got a fucking moose gun, everyone’s going to be nice.’
‘Feds excepted,’ Bobby says.
‘What I hear,’ Jefferson says, glancing back at the wall screen, ‘they’re going to gun shows, stopping guys that’s bought anything half-way heavy. Feds, this is. Checking paperwork, want to know if you ever had mental trouble, beat on your wife, grievous bodily harm – shit like that. It’s last week, down south, Athens Georgia. ATF agents, I’m talking of.’
‘Harassment,’ says Saxby. He’s checking the time on his watch, and on his phone: two different times. ‘No question, harassment.’
Bobby upends the bottle of Jack. Again, he checks the time; pushes the phone across the table, toward Jefferson. ‘I say, do it.’
‘If they trace the signal?’ Saxby says.
‘What the fuck are they going to trace?’ Jefferson asks. ‘There ain nothing left?’
‘Yeah,’ Saxby says. ‘Yeah, okay, yeah, I see that.’
Reaching backward, at risk of tipping his chair, he takes an new bottle of Jack from a wall cupboard.
‘Scotch in there?’ Bobby asks.
‘You got eyes,’ Saxby says. ‘Look for yourself.’
Jefferson picks up the phone. Without taking his eyes from the screen, he keys in a number. The three men stop what they’re doing. They watch, in what seems like slow motion, the soundless disintegration of the Atlanta Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Half a reinforced wall at street level blows outward, spreading concrete across the car-clogged avenue. The wall above shivers, like a cold girl. The screen shows men and
women leaving their vehicles, running, abandoning cars, running every which way. A few fall.
The building’s collapsing frame buries the stragglers.
The scene is lit by the blue lights of patrol cars.
‘Firearms and Explosives,’ says Saxby. ‘Practical lesson.’
‘Why not midnight?’ Bobby asks. ‘When there’s not folk around, so much?’
‘It’s called a demonstration,’ Jefferson says. He’s still entranced by movement on the screen. ‘You don’t do a demo when there’s no one sees it. It’s coverage we want. Give it an hour, this whole ratfuck going to be on screen, there’s going to be folk in every state they’ll be watching this, they’ll be watching the re-runs, they’ll be thinking, okay, ATF screws with us, DC screws with us, here’s the deal, we fuck with them.’
‘Someone got to do it,’ Saxby says, louder now. He raises his glass in a toast. ‘Timothy McVeigh.’
The others drink to that. Smoke rises from the ruined building. Paramedics run through concrete canyons. Cops are everywhere, gong every which way.
‘Don’t talk too loud,’ Jefferson tells Saxby, in Freedom Hall. ‘There’s a guy joined up, we ain so sure about.’
‘Does he swim?’ Bobby asks. ‘How’s his heart?’
An Arresting Read
‘My adult books seem to be classed as thrillers, but I don’t really see them as such,” says The Prisoner’s Wife author Gerard Macdonald. “I don’t find most thrillers very interesting. The characters are commonly pawns, there only to move the plot. I wish there was another category for commercial fiction with strong narrative drive and complex characters…books like James Meek’s We Are Now Beginning Our Descent.”
“I was interested in the policy extraordinary rendition, in the way American agents, usually but not always CIA, picked up men and women, confining them in black prisons in a dozen countries, keeping them off the American mainland,” says Macdonald. “At the time, three or four years ago, not too much was known or published on rendition…or what happened to the prisoners. Most were tortured, a few died, and almost all were confined for years, even when the American authorities realized they had an innocent man.”
“Macdonald visited or revisited the countries in which the novel is set: France, Morocco, Egypt and Pakistan. He visited a secret prison in Cairo when he’d been warned away. Going back after the Arab Spring he found that, for a short time, anyone could wander in. “I’d booked for a final research visit to Peshawar,” says MacDonald. “My hotel was blown up the day I was due to arrive. I canceled.”
Fans of John LeCarre’s densely-plotted spy yarns will find much to enjoy here. The Prisoner’s Wife is a story of conspiracy and suspense with vivid description and strong dialogue. As a flawed protagonist, McGuire is both complex and frustrating. And there’s plenty of political details for those that enjoy them.
British Weekly, Los Angeles
Gerard Macdonald’s The Prisoner’s Wife takes a pulse-pounding look at the political intrigue in the Middle-East.
St. Martin’s Press, 8 May 2012 – Fiction – 306 pages
The Prisoner’s Wife is a political thriller ripped from today’s headlines –a tense trip through the murky worlds of state– sponsored terrorism, nuclear politics, secret American jails and lawless rendition. Shawn Maguire, unemployed American spy, has been paid to find a young Iranian now being interrogated in one of the CIA’s black prisons. The prisoner may be in Fes, in Cairo or in Peshawar, but Shawn has every confidence that he’ll find his man. Based on his time as an agent, it’s an assignment he knows he can handle. But he’s not so sure he can handle… the prisoner’s wife.
Bookish May 2012
For those who wondered where spy novels could go in the aftermath of the Cold War, John le Carré isn’t the only one providing the answers. They also can be found here and, one hopes, in a batch of sequels. Though this is Gerard Macdonald’s first adult novel, it boasts the assurance and authority of a veteran spymaster, making us feel like we’ve been reading this author for years.
Kirkus Reviews June 2012
Three years ago I planned a short series of novels based on the use, and abuse, of power. The first book – The Prisoner’s Wife – published in 2012, is ‘a love story around rendition’. We now know quite a bit about extraordinary rendition but, at the time of initial research, much was still hidden. Even today, it’s not clear that we know the location of all the black prisons into which the guilty and innocent vanished without trace or trial.
The second book – not yet published – is a fiction based on the Lockerbie plane crash, and the possibility that the British and American governments pinned responsibility for the crash on an innocent man.
The third novel will look at the war between American gun owners and their government, against a background of nuclear-armed drones and robotic armies.
There’s a problem, though, of form. Power is often violently abused, as it was, and is, in extraordinary rendition. This pushes that book, and others, toward what publishers think of as ‘thriller genre’. But the hope, at least, is for a trilogy with more depth than the standard thriller. That’s to say, we are looking at novels which are some other, often elusive, form. Writers have, of course, explored this territory – Don DeLillo, James Meek, George V Higgins, Susanna Moore, T C Boyle and others. But they have written, and write, without the established readership of more conventional novel forms. Which may account for a gravitational pull toward more established, more recognisable, novel forms.