The American ideological and political landscape, once separate and now one, looks very different in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on home soil. Southern-style fundamentalism has swept most of the country, and the Elders have established their own law enforcement structure, primarily manned by home-schooled, secularly-naïve Daveys. But private eye and former Greater Middle-Eastern War soldier Felix Strange has bigger things to worry about, chief of which is managing the nameless Gulf-War-like syndrome that doesn’t officially exist but nonetheless manages to beset him unless kept at bay by a complicated and expensive cocktail of off-label prescription drugs.
Felix doesn’t work homicide cases, but when Brother Isaiah, Elder council member, is found dead in a hotel room filled with obviously planted pornography and illegal drugs, he has little choice but to investigate at the instigation of Ezekiel White, head of the Committee for Child Protection, better known to the non-faithful as the Holy Rollers. Spurred on by the carrot of enough money to pay for a year’s worth of medication, and the stick of infinite harassment (beginning with, but certainly not limited to, tax audits), Felix looks at who might have had the motive and opportunity not only to kill but also attempt to discredit America’s most trusted and beloved religious figure.
I’m writing this review almost a month after finishing The First Stone, and over many intervening novels, which means my faint recollections are going to do this first in a planned trilogy inadequate justice. Despite this, several elements of the novel remain clear, particularly the stunning Revivalist Holy Sons of American Liberty’s attack on New York’s Christopher Park, in the gay and lesbian heart of Greenwich Village, which was triumphantly overturned by the Gay and Lesbian Self Defence League. The character of Felix is engrossing and unlike any character I’ve encountered in recent memory. The noir style of dames and grittily hard-boiled detectives, usually an uneasy style in contemporary works, sits particularly well in a world where feminist equality and homosexuality have vanished. The alternate history, in which September 11 was replaced by a nuclear bomb on American soil, is fascinating, and the almost unnoticed transfer of power from a secular base to a Christian ideology as fundamentalist as any organization in the Middle East, is chillingly convincing. In The First Stone, the reality of a movement that those on the West and East coasts were able to dismiss as not really affecting them becomes overwhelming evident, and I was left with a sense of their shaken complacency. I was so captured by the premise and the writing that I borrowed and almost immediately devoured the sequel. - Alex