Paul Shemella’s second in a series, A More Perfect Union, takes place in pre-9/11 America, as a right-wing group of white nationalists plans a series of terror attacks to incite a militia-led uprising against the federal government.
Gabriele Barnes is happily married to husband Carl, but at the story’s opening, he dies trying to prevent a bomb attack in Washington DC. A white nationalist group, DEFCON One, is suspected, and academic Gabriele, along with a former Navy SEAL and Carl’s friend, Jerry Tompkins, are recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the group at their base in Wyoming. The couple marry to create their cover story and set out to ingratiate themselves with the extremists and bring them to justice.
The story is most gripping when Gabriele and Jerry are brought into the inner circle of the terror group. DEFCON members’ paranoia and bullying are well evoked, making the risks Gabriele and Jerry face clear and real. Although readers may initially question the believability of Gabriele’s recruitment by the FBI, she effectively establishes herself as the group’s propagandist, inciting local militia members with articles about government deception, taxation and the need to prepare for an uprising. Meanwhile, Jerry is forced to participate in the terrorists’ quickly escalating plans to create chaos on a national scale.
A More Perfect Union contains some well-crafted and dramatic scenes, and the white nationalists’ rhetoric feels authentic. Still, weak characterizations make much of the narrative hard to buy into, including the romance that develops between Jerry and the female FBI handler. It’s equally difficult to believe in the male FBI handler’s attraction to Gabriele and the romance that later develops between Gabriele and Jerry. Rather than adding to the depth of the narrative, these plot lines serve as distractions, breaking the natural tension caused by the protagonists’ threatening situation.
In sum, while A More Perfect Union offers rewards, eliminating the romance elements would make this a more satisfying read.