One day soon, I hope, Douglas Brunt’s novel US political thriller The Means will make a cracking TV series or movie. Reading through, there is scene after scene I can imagine being great if filmed, yet the reason my imagination wandered on to that is that so often the scenes don’t come off in the book.
The writing is rather like JK Rowling on a bad day. The descriptions are plodding, the exposition clumsy and the characterisation limited. It’s not prose that would have you applauding its technical skill. It still works for JK Rowling, of course, because of the brilliance of her imagination and creativity. Brunt’s problem in The Means, however, is that the plot, though good, is pretty standard fare for political thriller meets conspiracy.
Rowling broke new ground in many ways. Brunt, however, thanks to competing in an already very competitive niche, suffers more from the lack of brilliant sparkle in his writing. The frequent list of the road names characters are travelling along, for example, mean little on their own and venues are often given no more description than their name as if the reader is expected to be able to recognise already both roads and places and insert their own remembered descriptions.
Hence my day-dreaming of filmed adaptations as the plot itself is pretty good once it gets going (the first two-thirds or more of the book feels like a very gentle warm-up). The twists that come are of the best sort – both pleasantly surprising yet also honest to the spirit of the story the reader has been told up to that point.
It all hinges on a US presidential race in the near future, the incumbent, the challenger and a journalist. There are flashes of insight into how politics and journalism works – presumably the cause of James Carville’s exuberant praise for the book quoted on the cover – but there’s little in the way of biting satire or major revelation in them.
There is, however, a decent hearing given to the motivations of politicians who do bad things despite starting off with good intentions – which makes the book a more interesting one that those which simply dismiss politics as the domain of people not nearly as clever as the author.
An enjoyable read, but not the first political thriller to reach for.
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