I do like to read the occasional political thriller, and this one was novel to me in that it was written from the point of view of a newspaper man. The author, Bill Johnstone, is a print journalist himself, having worked for The Times, The Observer and the BBC plus a host of other media outlets.
There was plenty of tension in this, the sixth in Johnstone’s Mike McCabe series. The story is set in London and Washington and opens with McCabe looking forward to a leisurely day polishing his boss, off an easy piece and enjoying the evening on his barge/home. His plans are disrupted by a call from Scott Edmunds, editor of the Herald. He is sending McCabe to Washington to follow up on news he’s received from several sources, including his reporter in Washington, Brook Lawrence. US Senator Charles McKinsey has been shot in his home, apparently the victim of a break-in, and John Rochester, a media tycoon and owner of the paper McCabe works for, has been involved in a single vehicle accident and is near death.
McCabe begins by meeting with Lawrence and interviewing the detective who is investigating the Rochester accident. He also meets a young woman who is a tie between both the Rochester and McKinsey families. A Chinese spy, brought to the US under the guise of an assistant to some high level US-China diplomatic meetings, bugs McCabe’s hotel room to find out what he knows. Soon McCabe and the reader is involved in a web of political intrigue and conspiracy concerning the national debt of the US and the amount of that debt being carried and supported by the Chinese, a contemporary issue affecting the economies of both countries and the world. Are the attack on McKinley and the car crash of Rochester related? Why are the Chinese interested in what McCabe is discovering for his story? Why is the FBI involved?
There is a lot of potential in this tale of intrigue, but it took me a long time to become engaged because of the tremendous amount of backstory and “telling” at the beginning of the book. There was also a lot of jumping from one point of view to another, sometimes abruptly, which was confusing. The characters are well drawn and Johnstone’s newspaper background comes through loud and clear. McCabe is particularly likeable, as is the police detective. However, the weaving of the main plot and subplot especially at towards the end seemed uneven and, for this reader, was not particularly satisfying.
Having said that, I am very aware spy thrillers are usually written by men for men. As a woman, I look for details and this book is spare in description, something I’ve noted in other books in this genre by men. But gender aside, I think anyone would want a fast pace, taut dialogue, and lots of tension. White Collar Option does satisfy this in parts.
Bill Johnstone attended school in Scotland, where he studied engineering, but through his interest in radio ended up in journalism. After almost 20 years as a journalist, he got his Masters at the University of Westminster, London and then a Ph.D. at the University of Florida. He has taught journalism in the UK and the USA. His six novels are political thriller with the investigative journalist Mike McCabe.