C.S.A.: Confederate States of America

From the ashes of a divided nation came the Confederate States of America — and all that remains of the Union as we knew it is a disaster area called the Industrial Zone. The capital is Richmond, and the races are equal but very, very separate. That’s the premise of Howard Means’s fascinating, provocative, sophisticated new thriller.

For President Spencer Jefferson Lee — the great-great-grandson of both Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee — it’s politics as usual. He’s about to cut the ribbon on the greatest public-works project in history, but of course there’s a political price to pay. On one side, the lily-white Senate wants its quid pro quo; on the other, the all-black House has an agenda of its own. But whatever their differences, the powers-that-be in this alternative America do agree on one thing: Utter separation between the races is the key to peace and prosperity. To love someone of the opposite race is to court disaster; to act on that love is to become officially nonexistent.

But what Spencer Lee and his black friend, Vice President Nathan Winston, are about to learn is that love is beyond the law. And underneath the facade of civil order lies dissent in the form of DRAGO, a protest group made up of the “losers” of this “ideal” society cross-racial lovers and their children, social and environmental idealists led by a mysterious mocha-skinned woman known only as Cara. When two bodies are found in the grim ruins of Washington, D.C., each with a bullet in the head and all their fingers removed so that their identities can be put out on short-term loan, the stage is set for the fastest-paced, most intriguing novel of the year — a tense, breathtaking tale of a pivotal moment in a history that might have been our own.

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