To Kill the President

By Sam Bourne

HarperCollins

The United States elects an unpredictable, volatile President? Someone who doesn’t operate by the normal rules? A leader vulnerable to provocation by the North Koreans? Remind you of anyone?

Sam Bourne certainly doesn’t seek to disguise his main protagonists in his latest thriller, that’s for sure. And that’s partly why this is such a page turner. Throw in large dollops of House of Cards, The Day of the Jackal and Homeland, and Bourne, the pseudonym of the excellent Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, has produced a surefire blockbuster, one primed to thrill, appal and excite readers in equal measure.

The story begins with the President – who is unnamed and unseen – throwing a tantrum in the middle of the night. The cause? An insult from the North Korean regime which he intends to deal with by launching a nuclear attack on both North Korea and China. Nuclear Armageddon is averted – but only just – and the close call is enough to persuade more moderate members of the administration to seek his removal by any means possible. Their plot, however, is uncovered by the heroine, Maggie Costello – a veteran of the both the previous administration and two of Bourne’s earlier books. What should she do? Save the President and leave his finger on the nuclear trigger or commit treason against her Commander in Chief?

Bourne may be British but his encyclopaedic knowledge of life in Washington DC underpins every chapter. The story, however, does not stay within the confines of the Beltway. Instead, we travel to India and Iceland, among others, as the narrative takes in an eclectic and interesting cast of characters, some recognisable, others less so.

Wherever the plot takes us, though, the pace and excitement remain constant. And Bourne’s skill as a storyteller is such that he manages to weave an old-fashioned suspense thriller with a fascinating moral drama, one that leaves the reader wondering what he or she would do if they were to find themselves in a similar situation.

Bourne also uses the president’s villainous chief strategist to make some prescient, thought-provoking comments on the appeal of the President and just how he was able to defeat his favoured female rival in the election: “The President is every white man in America with the filter taken off. And that’s why they voted for him. Because he’s who they would be, if they could get away with it. He makes billions, pays no tax, never pays his bills, dumps his wives as soon as they sag even a teeny bit and marries a younger model – literally! – he insults everyone who gets in his way, says whatever he damn well likes and he only gets richer and stronger.”

Interesting stuff. But this is far more than something for the psephologists among us. Instead, it deserves to be read far and wide and no doubt will be so. Ideal reading for the summer – or indeed any season – To Kill the President is the very essence of a timely novel (especially given recent headlines) and one that is a very worthy addition to Bourne’s rich literary tapestry.