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To Kill the President: Review

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Title: To Kill the President
Author: Sam Bourne
Pages: 408
Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers

Price: Rs. 399/-

Sam Bourne’s To Kill the President opens upon a  chilling scenario one night  – way past midnight – when the President of the United States of America decides he wants to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea and China. What is even more frightening, is that the decision has been taken, not because there is any real threat from North Korea;  not as a result of any danger to the US, its government or citizens;  but due to a  verbal slight as perceived by the President!


The aides of the President hustle and bustle to prevent him from pressing the button which could well pitch the world into a nuclear holocaust. Eventually, the President is prevented from following his chosen course of action and the world lives to see another dawn.

However, the book is not about the US-North Korea imbroglio — the real one I mean — which has been well-documented and well followed over the past many months. In the real world too when North Korea upped the ante by testing its most sophisticated nuclear weaponry to date, and the rhetoric on both sides was stepped up — the world held its breath.   Fortunately,  the situation was diffused. Tensions decelerated.  Moreover, Harvey and Irma and the aftermath of their coming, blew North Korea from the current consciousness of people, generally. But the problem has certainly has not been swept off the map! Be that as it may.

In  To Kill the President, US-North Korea relations, or non-relations, are merely a peg to hang the tale on.  A device to show how close the  American President (in the book) has come to losing all sense and sensibility;  and how prone  he is to go out of control, without a thought of the impact of his actions on the larger world.

As a result, two important members of his dispensation —  White House  Chief of Staff  Robert Kassian and Secretary of Defense Jim Burton —  come to the conclusion (after examining other methods of controlling the President)  that there is no option but …To Kill the President.

 In the book, the US President as well as the nature of the Presidency, his actions, references to his election campaign etc have been closely modelled on Donald Trump. It is so easy to see the parallel that one almost visualizes Trump and hears his voice as the book unfolds – the experience, much like a film.

Of course, there are fictional characters, events and so on. For a start, Kassian and Burton themselves. One wonders if there is anyone in Trump’s entourage who is so idealistic and so eager to be rid of him!

Then,  there is Maggie Costello. The central figure of the book, in a manner of speaking, she is part of the White House Counsel’s Office and has played an important role in the previous regime. Maggie’s politics and loyalty both remain aligned with the former President though she bears aacross– a secret – for which reason she has decided not to quit, but to stay on in an effort “to make a difference”.

There is also Crawford McNamara, the  President’s confidant and chief strategist who sits like a spider at the centre of the web, holding  many of the threads of the Presidency in his hands. Vicious, ruthless and cunning, McNamara summarises all the ills of the Presidency: the hate against sections of society;  the puerile misogynist  thoughts and actions; the diversionary tactics to deal  all criticism – whataboutery at its best — the quelling of oppositions by fair means or foul — mainly foul.

Interestingly, the President in the book has not been given a name. Like so many other works of fiction based on the American Presidency — or for that matter, any  book even loosely modelled on a political figure, is  wont to do.  This works towards further overlapping the image of Trump in one’s mind upon the supposedly fictional President, as one reads the book.

The book is not so much a whodunit or a murder mystery in the traditional sense; rather it falls well within the American thriller genre.  It is an interesting read because one is aware of so many of the  nuances which one came across when following the US election campaign, not so long ago.

Sam Bourne (a pseudonym)  the author, in his original avatar an award-winning  journalist – Jonathan  Freedland –  had a ringside seat and has seen it all first hand as he covered the US election campaign in 2016. No doubt,  his experiences and insights have added  to sculpting the characters and events in the book in such a realistic manner – so much so  that sometimes it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.  But that only adds a frisson to the experience of reading the book.