Review published on July 29, 2017.
The thriller writer Sam Bourne, the nom de plume of the journalist Jonathan Freedland, has revived the political thriller with this brilliant outing To Kill the President. Especially when the President in this book could so easily be the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, thin skinned, not known for paying his taxes, fake news, oh, and a presidential daughter.
Maggie Costello works in the White House, and is a remnant of the previous incumbent of the office of President. The current team know she is not ‘one of them’ but she is respected for being a stubbornly honest and principled operator in a White House that is somewhat chaotic, very misogynistic and good at ignoring the facts.
A call to the Bob Kassan, the President’s Chief of Staff, in the early hours to tell him the President is screaming in the White House Situation Room, demanding the access codes to the nuclear war heads. He has decided to attack North Korea for insulting him, and now that country must be levelled. Kassan is trying to get in touch with Secretary of Defence Jim Bruton, to see what they can do to stop him blowing up the world, one thing they do know he is nobody can actually stop him in his decision.
Somehow the President has been talked round and no nuclear weapons are launched, but both Bruton and Kassan are concerned about the commander in chief. They both visit the President’s doctor to try and enforce him to say he is not mentally fit for the job. He listens but does not respond to their request.
The following day the President’s doctor is found in a Washington DC park, dead; was it suicide or was it murder? The President’s right-hand man Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara decides that it is best that Maggie Costello, the independent counsel, investigates the matter to make sure nothing hurts the President.
In the course of her investigation, unexplained things happen to Costello, especially when she discovers that there is a plot to assassinate the President. She has a dilemma, should she save the President she hates, or allow the murder to continue and let the unknown Vice-President take over.
At the same time, various murders are taking place, some in countries that are seen as friendly towards the United States. They all seem to have a connection and will Maggie be able to see it in time, she is not sure. The more she investigates the more the threats towards those she loves, but will she be able to save them and the President?
To Kill the President really channels the current anxieties, especially concerning the current incumbent in the White House. This is a brilliant revival of the political thriller, with plenty of murder mystery thrown in too; To Kill the President is a book for our time.
Paul Diggett 5/5
To Kill the President by Sam Bourne
HarperCollins 9780007413720 pbk Jul 2017