Review published on April 7, 2018.
A thriller is often a game of two halves, and The Kennedy Moment has a long set up. That may not suit everybody but I have to say I didn’t mind one bit because the premise is so intriguing and the subject matter very important. Peter Adamson worked for UNICEF compiling The World’s Children Report, and this novel is underpinned by the tragic plight of children in the developing world during the back half of the twentieth century. As the issues raised are ones we often put to the back of our minds in Western states and the modern example of Syria shames us all, this is a topical novel. It is also clearly a heart felt novel. The characters in The Kennedy Moment, set in various locations around the world in 1980/82, are doctors and aid workers. They are faced with the knowledge of how many children die in circumstances where a cheap vaccine could save lives. They see a solution in having the will to do the job; to manage government corruption and pharma indifference. So as Adamson introduces the characters, a quiet sense of anger pervades the novel. It will make you ask questions and demand your compassion.
Oxford, late April 1980, twenty years on from their college days, Steven Walsh invites his old friends for a reunion; Toby Jenks, Seema Mir, Hélène Hevré, and Michael Lowell all accept. The get together brings back memories and old relationships reform/develop. As research/health professionals they discuss the issues that matter to them now, children’s health in the developing world; the eradication of small pox was achieved, what about the terrible human cost of tetanus, measles, diphtheria and polio killing several thousand children a day? All for the sake of cheap vaccination programmes that no governments seem willing to promote despite warm words. Disease causes poverty, hinders education and reinforces poverty – it’s a cyclical trap. When they start discussing an outrageous plan, initially as a joke it begins to gain momentum. Eventually it becomes an action plan. A daring plan to change the world. Can they keep it secret? Can their plan make a difference and how will governments react when they find out?
Adamson has taken the real events in the field of immunisation and vaccination of children in the 1980s to create a ‘what if?’ story. What if the President of the United States’ “Kennedy Moment” was brought about by a coup orchestrated by a group of doctors who care about children in the developing world? There are topical references to Ebola and AIDS too.
Adamson has created a thriller where no one else would have thought one existed and that original idea has been turned into a fascinating read that becomes an involving plot led thriller. It’s a medical thriller where doctors are not the enemy, not mad scientists, but instead the instigators of a remarkable conspiracy. The characters are strong and credible. Adamson has added two addendum – notes that explain some of the terms, phrases and events in the narrative and historical notes on the real events of the time. Both of which are interesting and useful.
The Kennedy Moment won’t appeal to everyone, it’s a cerebral thriller, but I can honestly say I learned a lot and got involved with the personal stories of the characters and their roles. If you give the set up a chance the thriller is entertaining and rewarding.
Paul Burke 4/4
The Kennedy Moment by Peter Adamson
Myriad 9780995590045 hbk Feb 2018
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