Politics is not my forte, let’s just get that clear. In a perfect world, I would be King of Everywhere, using popcorn for currency instead of money and getting asylum seekers out of prison while filling the now-empty cells with people who are jerks to shop assistants. I guess I’ve worried that political thrillers could overwhelm me with smart-talking about Congress/Parliament etc, especially when someone with an actual degree in Political Science (i.e. Steve P Vincent) is the author. But lo! It turns out it’s possible to know your shit and not baffle idiot readers who can’t tell their Abbotts from their Costellos (yes, you can use that joke back in 2007 if you’d like), and craft a roaring political thriller that is unnerving in its description of how the world would go to war.
Jack Emery is a journalist who wakes at the start of the book with a hefty hangover and more than a little bitterness over his soon-to-be-ex-wife and her usurping of his job. When Jack finally gets himself up (as he lay on the ground feeling poorly, I did enjoy the line: “His voice was raspy, and he considered calling for a crime scene unit to stencil some chalk around him, haul him off and call it even”) and stumbles into work, Erin gets the job he desperately wants: a gig in China to cover the World Trade Organization Conference in Shanghai. Jack couldn’t be more enraged or freshly inebriated until word comes out that Shanghai has been the centre of a terrorist attack—and that the wife he just served divorce papers in a petulant tantrum was at ground zero. From there, he finds himself tangled in a vast political web that sends him to an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, a Chinese prison, and into the path of the world’s most dangerous woman. Michelle Dominique is a true villain: member of far-right-wing “political group” (read: batshit crazy assassins) The Foundation for a New America, crafter of a nefarious plan to grab hold of one of the world’s most read media outlets, mastermind behind catastrophic terrorist attacks, happy to stick a pen in someone’s eye, and—oh crap—running for Congress.
Almost every scene drips (or explodes) with tension. It’s the type of ebook that could almost do with being viewed in a popcorn-scented cinema for reading instead of on your iPad on the tram—it’s far too thrilling for public transport, but then, at least it’d wake you up on your commute home from work. From Michelle manipulating everyone and everything with an expert touch; to Chen, the double-crossed bomber who bombed his own country to seek vengeance against family wrongs; to absolutely-not-Rupert-Murdoch newspaper mogul Ernest McDowell, fresh off the back of some hacking accusations and a ripe target; to Jack Emery, a man who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time—this book is ripe with characters you’ll hate, or love to hate, or be surprised by your swinging emotions towards. Who expected to feel bad for McDowell’s broken heart? Not me, but then I’m always a sucker for sad people in books. Even worse is when I dropped the ball on hating Chen—a terrorist!—because he loves his wife and kids. Authors just have no qualms in toying with readers’ emotions, do they? Jeez.
There is not much of Jack’s background on display here, apart from that he’s Australian-born, and that he’s won a Pulitzer for his work in Afghanistan – but as an everyday-type protagonist (I mean, who doesn’t have a Pulitzer! I use mine for doorstops) he doesn’t need an extensive backstory to explain his motivations. You’re on his side as he does his job, tries to help out his country, and suffers unspeakable torture without bravely throwing quips around like James Bond.
Handily, there are some light moments—Jack is exactly the type of smartass I enjoy in thrillers, and everyone who ends up in a dramatic office meeting hates on modern furnishings (“Ernest wondered how many of his tax dollars were paying for the office of Senator Patrick Mahoney, Democrat for Massachusetts. The office looked as if it had been painted by a drunk spinning around on a chair and then furnished by a child.”) But, mostly, The Foundation really is intense. In case you’ve ever wondered what World War Three beginning would be like, you couldn’t really hope for more visceral terror than Emery listening to it start via radio in a helicopter out in the sea in the middle of a war between China and the United States. Missiles fly around him as their craft tries to make it to a US ship in the middle of the South China sea, and I was almost in a panic myself about it. The politics themselves feel legitimate: China vs USA isn’t immediately fuelled by nuclear bombs, but a strengthening of defences, attempts at peace, and countries scrambling to pick a side in a superpower head-on collision.
I almost wrote “this is an explosive political thriller” but surely that’s on every blurb, right? This is a jet-setting, alarming, bang-pow-kaboom read full of metaphorical and literal bloodshed, political machinations you’ll hope desperately will never become reality, and late-night giant-popcorn-wielding funsies. The Foundation is solid. You can use that joke too. Sorry.
The Foundation is available here from today!