Thriller and Politics

One of the reasons I've stopped reading thriller/crime novels is that they tend to be the same: The cop/FBI agent/CSI/private detective finds evidence of murder/serial killer/rapist/child sex ring. Gruesome and/or poignant scenes describe the killings/victims. The hero has some personal flaw or disorder (PTSD, alcoholism, anger issues, paralyzed) which he must overcome to continue the case. The powers that be don't think there's a crime/think they've caught the right person/feel the hero is "crossing the line" so he is pulled from the case. Another awful crime happens. Then the hero is called back to the case or sometimes he goes off on his own (or with the help of the attractive love interest) and stops the bad guy. Sometimes there's a twist where the love interest is killed or perhaps the bad guy is one of the hero's superiors/acquaintances.

But yesterday, due to getting an extra 3 hours off work, I read Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It is outstanding. I can pretty much guarantee any 440 page book I power through in one day i enjoy. The premise is that in 1953 a serial killer targets children. Normal, right? But this one takes place in the USSR, where there is no crime but state crime. So the murders are explained away as accidents, as one crazy person, as homosexual mania in their individual cases and there is no nationwide system to even discover the connections. Leo, our hero, starts as a MGB agent who investigates (if you can even call it that) people accused of being traitors. He falls from grace and then attempts to redeem himself by solving these crimes. While there are several poignant scenes where the murderer lures the children to their deaths, this book destroys the formula. It isn't so much about the murders but about life in Stalinist Russia. The paranoia, the oppression, the want and lack of personal control are far more scary than the crimes. I can imagine an America where liberals are arrested for speaking out against something (because my mind can't always run in the optimistic mode) but I can't imagine one in which my parents or brothers would be arrested or punished for my doings. I give this one a 6 and hope the author continues to write about this culture.

This morning I finished up Takeover by Charlie Savage. A completely different sort of book, it frames the Bush presidency and the decisions made over the last 7 years as based on a consistent policy of expanding presidential power. This policy is based on the Unitary Executive Theory. It basically says the president should have total control over everything in the executive branch and that is was unconstitutional for Congress to pass anything that would influence executive control. This theory, if applied, would mean that nothing in the executive branch could be apolitical or independent. If the president wants a lawyer to prosecute someone for something and he doesn't, the lawyer can be fired. If the president doesn't agree with the findings of a scientific report, he can ignore them.

When viewing Bush's term in this manner, so much makes sense. The signing statements, the purges of departments, the hiring of cronies all align with this theory. For giving me a coherent way to view Bush's bullshit, I give it a 6.


  1. i came to your blog via weekly geeks and read this post - I've added Child 44 to my list, I avoid thrillers and crime novels for the same reason as you so I want to try this one! Thanks!


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