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  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/05/07 Permalink
    Tags: , the inside scoop,   

    10 of The Best Political Thrillers Ever 

    When a former president writes a book, the world pays attention. When a former president writes a novel, things get really interesting. Partnering with none other than James Patterson, one of the greatest thriller writers of all time, former president Bill Clinton has cowritten The President is Missing, in which the president of the United States disappears, shocking the world and setting in motion an unpredictable swirl of events. The book is full of the sort of details only a president would know. and considering its unique combination of an expert author and a man who knows all the inside scoop (he had access to the NSA and CIA for years, after all), we could not be more excited. Here are ten more incredible political thrillers you’ll want to read next.

    House of Cards, by Michael Dobbs
    The book that inspired the British TV show that in turn inspired Netflix’s very first original series, this is the story of Francis Urquhart, Chief Whip, a cynical, manipulative politician determined to become Prime Minister. He’s willing to use every secret he knows, every pressure point he can find, and every dirty trick in the book to secure his own rise to power—and in the process confirms just about every dark and terrible thing you thought you knew about politics. Dobbs drew on his extensive real-life experience in British politics for the books, and the result is an electrifying vision of how exceedingly violent governing can be behind closed doors.

    The Manchurian Candidate, by Richard Condon
    Condon’s 1959 novel is a paranoid classic, born at the beginning of the Cold War, that continues to influence people today (the fact that Homeland has a similar concept is a testament to the evergreen nature of the device). Soldiers captured during the Korean War are tortured and brainwashed, and one, Shaw, is programmed to fall into a hypnotic state when he sees his trigger—the Queen of Diamonds during a game of solitaire. He’s programmed to forget his orders once he regains consciousness, and thus is the perfect hidden assassin, who can pass any interrogation or test. His own ruthless, power-hungry mother is his KGB handler, and relays orders to assassinate the president in order to secure the office for the vice president, who will order martial law and request emergency powers as a puppet of the Soviets. It’s creepy, tense, and still shockingly modern—and in a bizarre real-life twist, some believe author Condon subtly cribbed from Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, number 8 on this list.

    The Constant Gardener, by John le Carré
    You might think of le Carré as a writer of espionage novels, but politics encompasses espionage and crime as well as law-making and foreign policy. His novels are as much about the secret tension between ruling and governing, and the crimes committed in the name of patriotism and realpolitik, as they are about skulduggery and moles. In The Constant Gardener, an unremarkable man with a remarkable wife is jolted out of a mediocre political career when his spouse is killed, and he determines to find out why she was murdered, and by whom. For the first time in his life he’s willing to take chances—and if there’s one thing the secretive world of politics can’t stand, it’s people who have nothing to lose. The end result is a pitch-perfect thriller.

    The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth
    The Cold War politics of this classic thriller are long gone, but Forsyth’s novel (winner of the 1972 Edgar Award for Best Novel) still carries the punch of a meticulously researched story set in a very real world. It’s a novel of agonizing anticipation: first, as we follow the slow, careful preparations and planning of the titular Jackal, hired to assassinate the President of France; then, as we follow along with the equally painstaking detective work of the man charged with identifying the Jackal as time runs out. The twin stories of detective and assassin remain separate right up until the moment the Jackal takes his shot, and it’s this element of cat-and-mouse between a devious killer and a brilliant agent—plus the elevated stakes of global politics—that make this a book that still resonates today. Forsyth was working in Paris when he wrote it, and used that firsthand knowledge to choose his setting. In fact, rumor has it the assassin’s sniping spot can still be located—with the precise view described in the text.

    The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
    Clancy’s breakout novel is set at the hot height of the Cold War, but it remains a classic political thriller because it perfectly combines thrilling spycraft, visceral action, an insider’s view of behind-closed-doors political maneuvering, and global stakes. Clancy’s expert grasp of each of these aspects makes this story of a rogue Soviet submarine captain planning to steal the experimental sub he’s been assigned to and defect to the West—and the young CIA analyst, Jack Ryan, who tries desperately to convince everyone from the president down that this isn’t the Soviet Union starting World War III—just about the Platonic ideal of a political thriller. Rumor is Clancy’s grasp of top-secret technology rattled the FBI enough that they paid him a visit, and anyone who reads the book will believe it.

    The Parallax View, by Loren Singer
    Singer’s 1970 novel, which was adapted into a film starring Warren Beatty that’s become a cult favorite, is delightfully terrifying. A journalist witnesses the assassination of a president, and years later discovers that the other people who were eye witnesses to the event are being killed off in mysterious ways. His investigation leads him to the Parallax Corporation, which trains political assassins as part of a massive conspiracy to control the world—a conspiracy that truly goes all the way to the top. The book’s plot is complex, but the sense that everything is not right with the world, that things are happening beyond our control or comprehension is, sadly, as applicable today as it was back then. Any time we lose faith in our leaders and entertain the notion that the country has been bamboozled on a national scale, this book should be pulled off the shelf and rediscovered.

    Absolute Power, by David Baldacci
    Baldacci’s audacious 1996 novel pivots off a salacious moment wherein a professional thief, having broken into the luxurious home of a billionaire, stumbles onto a two-way mirror giving him a view of the billionaire’s wife and the President of the United States having a affair. The sex turns rough, and the President’s Secret Service detail bursts in and kills the woman. The thief just barely manages to escape, but the Secret Service pins the murder on him, and a game of cat and mouse ensues as the president and his team try to cover up the truth. While conceived during the go-go Clinton years, this is another evergreen political thriller that combines a thriller plot with a plausible look at what authority decoupled from responsibility might look like.

    I, Claudius, by Robert Graves
    A historical novel? True, but also a razor-sharp story of political maneuvering in ancient Rome that involves not just murder and conspiracy, but also leverage, fake news, real policy, and power brokers. Claudius, who survives the violent reign of his nephew Caligula because he’s old and stammers—making everyone assume he’s no threat—is proclaimed emperor after Caligula’s well-deserved assassination, then proves to be smarter than anyone suspected. What makes this and its sequel, Claudius the God, so amazing is that Claudius—despite his intelligence and desire to be a “good” emperor with the ultimate goal of re-establishing the republic—is terribly flawed, continuously abusing his power in the most selfish of ways.

    Lions of Lucerne, by Brad Thor
    Thor’s first Scott Harvath novel opens with a bang: former Navy SEAL and current Secret Service agent Harvath is overseeing the president’s security detail in Park City, Utah, when a brazen attack leaves thirty other agents dead—and the president kidnapped. Harvath, disgraced and confused, goes on a one-man mission to piece together what happened and why, while the United States dithers and hesitates to meet the kidnappers’ demands, resulting in a presidential finger being mailed to the White House. While a bit more oriented towards the thriller side of things, that doesn’t mean Thor lacks a fine touch when it comes to the political side, which he renders in an equally exciting manner, leading to an explosive ending that’s not to be missed.

    The Ghost Writer, by Robert Harris
    Harris’ novel is a master class in tension. Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang is very late in turning his memoir in to his publisher—in part because his long-time collaborator and assistant has died in a terrible accident. To get the book back on schedule, a professional ghostwriter is hired to complete the manuscript. The ghostwriter struggles to figure out what’s true and what’s not so true in Lang’s notes, and then stumbles on evidence that implies the dead collaborator was actually murdered. As Lang is charged with war crimes, the stakes and the tension keep rising and the ghostwriter—appropriately never named—finds himself ensnared in the very dirty world of power and politics.

    The post 10 of The Best Political Thrillers Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 5:30 pm on 2015/05/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , kevin birmingham, , , peter finn, petra couvee, , the inside scoop,   

    Five Books that Tell the Story Behind the Story 

    Sometimes it seems like classic novels have just always existed: they were there before most of us were born, and seem an eternal aspect of the cultural landscape. But behind every novel is a second story, a sometimes-hidden one about how that novel came to be. And these stories-behind-the-stories are sometimes just as fascinating as the novels they produced. Here are five absorbing investigations into what lies behind five famous novels.

    The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham
    When people imagine the classic suffering novelist, they may not realize James Joyce is the original template. He struggled to get his work published in his lifetime, suffered myriad physical maladies exacerbated by constant money troubles, and loved recklessly. His novel Ulysses is one of the most difficult and most celebrated in the English language—and for a time was banned as obscene. Birmingham follows Joyce’s life from the initial inspiration for what became Ulysses in 1904 to its final vindication and publication in the U.S. in 1934. He takes what sounds like a dry legalistic plod and turns it into a thriller, with the Good Guys fighting small-minded bluenoses in the name of one of the greatest novels ever written.

    Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood, by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, Jr.
    More than 75 years after its publication, it can be difficult for modern readers to understand the phenomenon that was Gone with the Wind when it first published in 1936. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was an instant bestseller, and was quickly adapted into the epic film many of us probably know better than the book. Brown and Wiley don’t waste our time by retreading Mitchell’s life, but rather focus on the mechanics of how a debut novel from an unknown writer became an instant pop culture smash hit that has maintained its grip on the public consciousness ever since.

    So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, by Maureen Corrigan
    Most of us meet The Great Gatsby in school at some point, when, frankly, we’re probably too young and inexperienced to really understand it—but every year people rediscover Gatsby and are amazed at what they find. Corrigan explores the genesis of this incredible novel and how it was conceived and written by a troubled genius, who died thinking he was a complete failure in his chosen field. If your memories of Gatsby are mainly of being bored stiff in a classroom, this incredible exploration will inspire you to give the book a fresh look—and you won’t be disappointed.

    The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée
    Not many novels are used as weapons in a war, but Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago wasn’t just any novel. When Pasternak wrote it in the 1950s, he was the Soviet Union’s greatest living poet, but he knew his story of the Russian Revolution would never be published in his own country. He had the manuscript smuggled out and published in the West, where it became a sensation. And that’s where Finn and Couvée find the amazing hook for their story, because the CIA saw an opportunity to assault Soviet hearts and minds, and had a Russian-language edition printed and smuggled into the U.S.S.R. The story of this classic novel is a spy thriller that could have been told by John le Carré; as incredible a tale as the book itself.

    The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Mills
    Not many people can befriend Truman Capote, write a Pulitzer-winning debut novel, and then retire to a simple, quiet life in their hometown for the next six decades—but that is precisely what Harper Lee did (before letting the world back in, earlier this year, with the announcement of Mockingbird “sequel” Go Set a Watchman). After decades of the author refusing interviews, journalist Marja Mills contacted her, then living with her sister, Alice, in Monroeville, Alabama, and began a friendship that saw the sisters inviting Mills to move into the house next door. For nearly two years Mills spent time with them, and Lee finally gave her permission to write and publish this story, which offers an unprecedented insight into the woman who wrote one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and then promptly fell silent.

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