The popularity of the Netflix series House of Cards – at least until the moral defenestration of its star, Kevin Spacey – has re-energised the political conspiracy thriller across all fictional forms. The genre has also been encouraged by the scarcely credible chaos in the actual administrations of Theresa May and Donald Trump.
Well built to ride these waves is Killer Intent (Elliot and Thompson, 391pp, £12.99), a debut novel by Tony Kent, a successful barrister. No dates are given, but the story seems to take place in a near future or alternative present in which a “new wave” of Irish terrorism brings frequent attacks against London. An odd feature of these atrocities is that the capital is, this time, targeted by both nationalist and loyalist paramilitaries. Some readers may twitch at the historical improbability of unionists bombing their beloved motherland, but Kent, it turns out, knows what he is doing.
At the time of these New Troubles, an assassination attempt occurs during a joint visit by a new US president and his predecessor. These American statesmen draw vast, adoring crowds, a detail now striking a slightly sci-fi feel in a book published in the month that President Trump postponed his trip to London, apparently fearing mass protests. More convincingly contemporary is a much-reviled British prime minister presiding over an administration daily vulnerable to votes of no confidence.
The politicians, though, are just a trigger for the investigation of what went wrong in London by Kent’s intriguing protagonist Joe Dempsey, a former army star now with the UK’s “Department of Domestic Security”. Also sniffing around the conspiracy are Michael Devlin, a London lawyer whose childhood in Belfast proves crucial, and Sarah Truman, an American television reporter. Their professional efforts glimpse aspects of the web that lead the spider to come after them.
Kent has learned from Frederick Forsyth (crisply describing what the Cobra meeting room looks like) and Lee Child, but brings to the table a knotty consideration of when and whether violence can be justified. The current centrality of Ireland to British politics – due to Stormont stasis and post-Brexit border issues – makes this sharp story, in which the truth lies in Belfast, as timely as it is lively.
A political assassination attempt also sparks off Savages (Corsair, 246pp, £12.99), the first book in the Saint-Étienne Quartet by the French writer Sabri Louatah. On the day of French presidential elections, Idder Chaouch is tipped to become the nation’s first head of state of Arab descent. But, although he’s known as the “French Obama”, there are slight oddities in some of the last-minute polling, as Chaouch relaxes on voting day with his family, including daughter Jasmine and her boyfriend, a well-known young actor, Fouad Nerrouche, who comes from a complex French immigrant family.
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