I admit it. The first time I started reading To Kill the President, I put it down. Too close to the bone. Too real. I think, maybe, I found it a bit tacky to produce a cheap paperback airport novel that is so clearly based on the tragedy that is the current US presidency.
So, I put it down.
I read some other stuff. Some of it good. Some of it not good.
I read Fire & Fury.
I suppose, I reckoned that if I could stomach Fire & Fury, I could manage giving To Kill the President another go.
Oh, the release. The pleasure. The sweet, sweet justice it allows you to hope for.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a paper back. It’s an airport novel. And, while ‘cheap’ might be a bit harsh, it’s not expensive.
Sam Bourne is, of course, the pen name of Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian columnist who covered Washington DC for four years (including the 2016 presidential campaign). It’s fair to assume he knows of what he speaks.
And, To Kill the President does feel very real, even as it ventures into the absurd.
But, then again, what isn’t absurd about American politics right now?
At its most basic, it’s a political thriller. Everyone is flawed. Everyone has an agenda. No one is to be trusted.
Purely on this level, it’s good. Escapism. Offering all the things you want when you delve into the swamp – murders, bullying, cyber-threats, all against a scenic DC backdrop.
To Kill the President is also, though, quite clearly set in the present day, shall we say, opening with the US president ordering a nuclear strike on North Korea – because a statement from Pyongyang hit him the wrong way.
There’s an impulsive, bullying, but incompetent president; a grotesque, misogynistic, conniving advisor; a sexy, silent, but influential daughter; a host of politicals trying to buy their way up the chain or fix what’s broken from within; women struggling to survive in a country where abortion has been outlawed; and immigrants struggling to avoid deportation squads.
And through this, Bourne offers us a bit of a salve for our current reality.
It’s close. Sometimes, I felt, too close. There’s not a major character you don’t recognise. But, it’s also fiction. 100%. Complete. Total. Fiction.
So, for a few minutes, we’re taken out of the pain of the everyday into a fictionalised world where we get to hope for what is clearly wrong, where we can address what’s brought us to discovering this ugly piece of ourselves, and where, stick with it, we reach it: catharsis.
To Kill the President, Sam Bourne (UK: HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd – 2017), £7.99