Saturday, 28 October 2017

Wot I'm reading: Tomorrow's headlines?

SAM BOURNE: To Kill the President


A US president described as ‘a drooling sexist predator …[who] makes billions, never pays taxes, dumps his wives as soon as they sag even a teeny bit’ – we can only be thankful that this is a piece of fiction. Sam Bourne’s unnamed and unstable President is offstage throughout the book, but he wants to bomb North Korea off the map, deport Muslims and other migrants (not just first-generation migrants) and demolish healthcare to lower higher-rate taxes. Not the kind of man you want as leader of the “Free World”.

This is a conspiracy thriller with a difference. From the start we know that it’s the Secretary of Defense and the White House Chief of Staff who decide that POTUS needs to be eliminated for the good of the nation. Maggie Costello, a principled West Wing aide left behind from the previous Administration, learns of the planned assassination and sets out to save the life of a man she loathes – at great risk to herself, obviously.

Mr Bourne’s Washington is horribly believable and many of the characters are believably horrible. The President’s chief counsellor, 'Mac' McNamara (interesting choice of name), is a racist thug whose ideology comes from further to the right than the Klansmen. When the previous year's election campaign is revisited, some familiar chords are struck.

This must be the best assassination thriller since The Day of the Jackal (1971, in case you can’t remember), brilliantly plotted, tautly paced and deeply disturbing. It reads very much as if it’s ‘torn from tomorrow’s headlines’. It has – I will say no more than this – a very satisfactory ending. Watch for those headlines.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Wot I'm reading: Going, going, gone girl

EMILY ELGAR: If you knew her


Emily is a member of my Sussex Authors group and this is her first novel. 

Newly-wed and newly pregnant Cassie is in Intensive Care in a Brighton hospital after a hit-and-run accident on a country lane. Watching her are Alice, the senior nurse in ICU, pregnant herself after many miscarriages, and Frank, an alcoholic stroke patient with Locked-In Syndrome – he can see and hear but is as powerless as the comatose Cassie. Somebody is arrested for the hit-and-run but Alice and Frank think the police have got the wrong man and Cassie’s accident was not an accident. She and her baby may still be in danger …

This ‘woman-in-peril’ story inevitably calls to mind 2012's Gone Girl, which, with its unlikable protagonists, made for an unsettling movie. I was also reminded of Robin Cook’s Coma (1977), the ‘granddaddy’ of the medical thriller. If you knew her is written from three viewpoints (Alice and Frank in the present, Cassie in the recent past) but all three are written in the present tense, which I’m never comfortable with. There’s a lot of grief and perhaps too many miscarriages, but the pace and the tension are neatly tightened. This is a promising debut which would make a nail-biting movie (I hope, for Emily’s bank manager’s sake, that it does!).