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Rules of Betrayal

Rules of Betrayal, the third in Christopher Reich’s absorbing (but not all that beautifully written) series of espionage novels, came out on Tuesday. I had pre-ordered it on Amazon, received it Wednesday, and finished it last night. I wanted to say a few things about it, but on re-reading my post from last August about the second volume, Rules of Vengeance, I realize that most of what I would have said is already there. I note that I read the first one, Rules of Deception, two summers ago because of a good review in the NYT by Janet Maslin. I then quote my brief description of the first one in a blog post from two Decembers ago: “Hardly a great book, but I liked it enough that I’ll probably read his next one when it comes out.” And finally I add, having read the second one, “My impression is that Christopher Reich is not particularly strong in the prose stylist department — I prefer Lee Child — but he certainly knows how to create plots with lots of unexpected turns.”

The newest addition to the series elicited the same response — not so strong as a prose stylist, but great plots with lots of unexpected turns. The books are both fun to read and completely silly. I had some specific complaints about the prose in my volume-two post from a year ago. This time let me add a complaint about accuracy.

One of the characters Reich introduces, for just a single scene, is a member of the House of Representatives who is needed because of his role as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence. He is described as “representative of the eleventh district of Nebraska.” This one stopped me in my tracks. Um, the eleventh district? I had to think for a moment about when the events of this novel are taking place. Had I missed something? Is the story a futuristic fantasy, set at a time when Nebraska has become one of the larger states in the union? No. So what gives?

I don’t have an answer. It does make me wonder how much I should trust Reich’s descriptions of various locales around the world. Has he not noticed that Nebraska is relatively empty?

Here are the facts. There are 435 members of the House, the number of members from each state being assigned proportionally to the state’s population. Every ten years, following the census, the apportionment of representatives to states is re-calculated, with each state then re-drawing its congressional districts. You can find the numbers here.

Starting in 1890, Nebraska had 6 representatives, but it dropped to 5 in 1930, 4 in 1940, and 3 in 1960. Since then, the number hasn’t changed.

What states have 11 or more representatives? At the high end, there are California with 53, Texas with 32, New York with 29, and Florida with 25. Illinois and Pennsylvania have 19, Ohio 18, Michigan 15. New Jersey, North Carolina, and Georgia have 13. Virginia has 11. Maybe I missed one, but I think that’s it. Massachusetts has 10. Washington, Indiana, and Missouri have 9. The count continues downward from there, Nebraska sharing its 3-district status with Utah, New Mexico, and West Virginia. (This is all based on the 2000 census and took effect with the 2002 election. The next change will occur in time for the 2012 election.)

Maybe Mr. Reich had some other meaning in mind when placing his character in Nebraska’s eleventh district. I would be happy to be told I misunderstood. Regardless, as long as one doesn’t take the book too seriously, it’s a welcome addition to the series. No doubt I will read the next one the moment it comes out.

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