Gripping yarns, addictive thrillers reviewed by Jake Kerridge
The President Is Missing ***
by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Century, £20)
This thriller, co-authored by Bill Clinton, features a deeply patriotic, ruggedly handsome silver fox of a US President who must put up with a hostile media that can’t see how great he is and spends its time focusing on his mistakes.
No need to ask where he gets his ideas from.
President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan is under suspicion of negotiating with terrorists – but the truth is far more complicated in this splendidly batty ripping yarn.
It sees the President dodging his security staff and setting off in disguise to tackle villains plotting a cyberattack that will leave the United States a shell of its former self.
The novel presents us with the alarming idea that Mr Clinton whiled away the days of his presidency daydreaming about being a Jack Reacher-style action hero.
He probably staved off nuclear Armageddon a fair few times in the course of boring diplomatic talks but it’s nice to know that even the most powerful man in the world has fantasies about being a lone wolf who saves the world after a lot of running about.
And in a separate storyline we meet a beautiful flame-haired assassin known as Bach because of her penchant for listening to classical music on the job.
Co-author James Patterson is one of the biggest-selling writers of all time so unsurprisingly the unfolding and convergence of Duncan and Bach’s plotlines is achieved with consummate skill.
Bill Clinton uses Duncan as a mouthpiece for some political grandstanding but there’s less insight into what it’s really like to be President than I’d hoped.
As a thriller it does the job but you sense that anybody who’s read a couple of presidential memoirs could have written it.
Social Creature ****
by Tara Isabella Burton (Raven, £12.99)
This debut novel tells the story of Louise, a young would-be writer in New York, struggling to get by with dead-end jobs.
Then she meets glamorous socialite Lavinia, who quotes poetry and says things like, “Do you know what Oscar Wilde says? I put my talent into my work, but my genius into my life. That’s what I want to do, too.”
Instead of running a mile, like any sane person would, Louise is seduced by Lavinia’s pretensions and party lifestyle and soon ends up neglecting her work for an It-girl existence with the wealthy Lavinia picking up the tab.
There are dark hints at the beginning of the book that something nasty is going to happen to Lavinia before it is over and sure enough, once it looks like the socialite is losing interest in her new bestie, the story takes a sinister turn of a sort that may be familiar to readers of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley.
Tara Isabella Burton’s tale is well-written (though sometimes overwritten) with an omniscient third-person narrator who makes enjoyably snarky comments about the characters.
As a thriller the book is well done but not blazingly original.
The writer is at her best depicting the apparently carefree, but actually enervating, drink- and drug-fuelled party lifestyle of young people who make their life choices based on what will look good on Instagram.
Social Creature is the perfect upmarket beach read for the summer.
Forever And A Day ****
by Anthony Horowitz (Jonathan Cape, £18.99)
We meet again, Mr Bond.
I used to think that publishing new James Bond novels more than half a century after Ian Fleming’s death was at best pointless and at worst a cynical attempt to milk the Bond cash cow dry.
But that was before Anthony Horowitz took on the job.
When he published his first Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, in 2015, I cheered.
Here (despite the terrible title) was a book by an author who clearly knew and loved Ian Fleming’s world.
Yet he didn’t just write a slavish pastiche but managed to bring Bond to life in his own way.
Now Anthony Horowitz has produced another Bond book that is even better than Trigger Mortis.
Forever And A Day is a prequel to Ian Fleming’s novels and sends Bond on his first mission at the beginning of the 1950s, newly appointed as 007 and heading to the French Riviera to investigate the murder of his predecessor.
There have been mutterings about this novel being too politically correct but Bond is the same chain-smoking, boozy sex pest as ever.
It’s just that he is paired with a female lead who stands up to him a bit more than Ian Fleming’s women did.
She is a sexy French spy mistress called Sixtine, who may or may not be an ally as Bond gets entangled with a grotesquely obese Corsican gangster.
The novel doesn’t have the same whiff of danger as Ian Fleming’s work.
The violence doesn’t have that weird, kinky quality that can make the reader feel rather uncomfortable.
But it is tremendous fun.
Anthony Horowitz has the discipline and skill of a first-class action writer but one is never in any doubt that he loves the original books and is tackling this job with all the enthusiasm of a teenage boy working on a piece of fan fiction instead of doing his homework.
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