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THE SHREWDNESS, Speculative Fiction/Mystery - Amy Federman

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THE SHREWDNESS is a whodunit mystery wrapped in a post-apocalyptic conceit. Imagine the dystopian milieu of Tom Perotta's THE LEFTOVERS or Emily St John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN meets the clue-chasing of Tana French's DUBLIN MURDERS series. 

In a world remade by an invisible malevolence called The Shrewdness—anyone who gets farther away than ten feet from another person vanishes permanently. Now, two years after the disappearances began, humans are tethered together, solitude has become obsolete, and everyone must travel, live, and work in threes or more in order to survive. But life beats on; the setting maintains a veneer of normalcy even though the world has been re-imagined and life-changing rules must be followed in order to survive.

The story is told by our hero, Maya. She and her partner Roger, and their three Attendants are Testimony Takers, dispatched by the government to travel and collect the stories of people’s loved ones who have disappeared. But Maya and Roger’s interviews uncover a troubling mystery: a small group of people have gone missing and the Shrewdness is not to blame. As they follow clues to make sense of the pattern, they discover that someone wicked has been using The Shrewdness as a convenient cover for their own depraved agenda, and getting away with it. Until now.

Against a challenging backdrop where ‘safety in numbers’ is a matter of life or death,  Maya and Roger must chase a clever villain who’s always one step ahead—to save the people he’s taken and stop him from taking more. Millions of people aren't ever coming back. But can Maya save the people who it’s not too late to rescue—to get them back from a flesh-and-blood adversary and return them to their families? She’ll risk it all to find out.

Prose Sample:

It was an unseasonably chilly evening for April. Snow fell gently on the turf catching the light in an exalted twinkle. Right as the game began, the most famous quarterback in the league struck out on an unexpected tear. He’d pretended to pass the ball but instead galloped away, nestling it close to his chest. Evading capture, he weaved through mass after mass of brawn to clear his path. The defense were right on his heels—what we would later understand as close enough to keep him on this earthly plane—but not close enough to stop him. Breaking away from the pack of bodies, and now whisper-close to the end zone, he looked back and smirked just as he got far enough away from his pursuers to know the touchdown was his. He could taste it. The crowd knew it too and a din of cheers and revelry filled the stadium. Many were on their feet, arms raised above them, swept up in the noise and the bright lights and the camaraderie of collective experience. As he was about to place his front foot in the end-zone to score, victory abeam on his face, he vanished. It was so abrupt it took thirty seconds for reality to catch up. The football, no longer held by human hands, had dropped to the ground and bounced once before settling in the icy grass

Everything slowed down to a drowsy pace. Although the quarterback was gone, the crowd was still on its feet cheering for the touchdown that was imminent moments ago. The players who had been chasing him at a sprint were still slowing their runs to a stop. Stunned, the coaches and referees scanned the field, disbelieving it, searching for the athlete who must surely be somewhere nearby. As confusion set in, many of the players had spaced out, dazed. As they broke away from each other, they disappeared too, as if in a procession. One was gone, two gone, three gone, until only the players who were still clustered together remained. Silence spread across the crowd; cheer soured into worry. The disappearances defied comprehension; there was no way to make sense of it, to wrap it in the rules we understood and contextualize it.

The game announcers, experts at transforming any occurrence into inane chatter—the people we relied on to make sense of whatever happens on the field—stuttered through an attempt at an explanation. Visibly spooked, one guy, John Marquez,  was able to maintain enough of the veneer of his on-air persona to sputter through a summation to his co-anchor:

“Well, Bob, I think we can all agree, we’ve never seen anything like that before. Our local news team is investigating and we’ll work hard to get details to you all sooner rather than later.”

Fear gleamed through his stage makeup. His voice shook.


Bio: Amy Federman is a professional business writer and co-author of the WSJ bestseller, THE BLUEPRINT (Wiley, 2020). She is Director of Content for the boutique leadership firm, ConantLeadership, and writes a newsletter on leadership to over 10,000 subscribers. In her role at ConantLeadership, Amy has collaborated closely with Doug Conant and other respected influencers to produce dozens of written resources aimed at celebrating and demystifying the craft of leadership. Her ghostwritten works have appeared in high-profile publications like Harvard Business Review and the Association for Talent Development (ATD) Manual as well as across a variety of digital touchpoints in the business space. When she's not writing professionally, she's working on her debut novel, reading mysteries, rabidly consuming pop culture, or tweeting about life with Tourette Syndrome and OCD. Learn more at http://www.amyfederman.com/ 

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