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Sam Bourne: To Kill a Man review – the woman who fought back | reviews, news & interviews

Sam Bourne: To Kill a Man review – the woman who fought back

Sam Bourne: To Kill a Man review – the woman who fought back

A highly improbably but immensely addictive thriller on the #MeToo fallout

You couldn't make it up: political journalist turned thriller author Jonathan Freedland (aka Sam Bourne)© Philippa Gedge

Assassinate the President! Obliterate history by torching libraries and murdering historians! Crazy leaders and fake news are just a few of the subjects tackled by political journalist and thriller writer, Jonathan Freedland (aka Sam Bourne), in this, his fifth novel featuring the inventive, imaginative, intelligent trouble-shooter Maggie Costelloe. 

Maggie – see her name – is Irish turned American. Aside from an off-again on-again Israeli partner, her only relative is her sister, a school teacher computer nerd, who lives a fairly normal life in the American South with (gasp) a husband and children. Maggie often does not see the wood for the trees, but when she does, she balances certainty with an appealingly attractive ambivalence – nowhere more so than in this political thriller based on the fall out from #MeToo. And what a fallout.

The focus of Bourne's latest novel is Natasha Winthrop, a feisty civil rights lawyer making her name in the cesspit of amorality, immorality, corruption and devious dealings that is Washington DC. Having been touted as a possible presidential candidate, in a truly unexpected and shocking opening, she suffers an attack at midnight in her own home. She manages to fight back in self-defence, but with fatal results. What at first is characterised as a victory for all women subject to violent sexual assault, quickly descends into accusations of murder. Inevitably, Natasha approaches Maggie. 

To Kill A Man by Sam BourneThe novel operates on several levels. Instances of sexual assault thread the novel, as do horrifying statistics on the prevalence of (mainly) male on female violence. Yet Natasha is hardly as she seems. Events including the murder, the arrest, the potential political campaign, and Maggie’s investigation lend the novel persuasive power. But the hook for the entire mystery remains the assault. The authorial tone of icy anger renders horrifying statistics and anecdotes accessible. They remain hardly believable though we know them to be true. The realities for women, even in the affluent West (the developing world is not a focus) are the springboard for Natasha’s affirmative social media presence as the woman who fought back. 

Natasha herself is a cool character and a true outsider in the race to become her party’s presidential candidate. Her chief rival, who seriously underestimates her, is the seemingly solid, liberal senator Tom Harrison who is revealed as a creep and worse. We discover (and this is truly smart) that Maggie’s investigations are a dry run for the inescapable spotlight and myriad investigations that will take place if indeed Natasha wins: she has hired Maggie to see how far she gets uncovering her own problematic past. This also puts her in danger. In the course of Maggie’s investigations, she too is followed by a violent stalker. 

What Maggie uncovers is simultaneously plausible and deeply improbable – an extraordinary impersonation on Natasha’s part regarding her early life that calls her adult life in question, as well as the ways in which she has pursued her semi-hidden crusade against sexual violence and its consequences – including though vigilante women’s groups who take the law into their own hands. The normal suspension of belief that enables immersion in fiction wavers.  

Bourne slowly reveals Maggie and Natasha’s characters through their interactions. Maggie begins to “read” Natasha as brilliantly manipulative. More would lead to spoilers, but the ways in which Maggie and Natasha interact is crucial and leads to an ending that is fascinatingly ambivalent.

Bourne’s plain yet beguiling prose makes this complex novel compellingly readable. His knowledge of Washington’s complex cityscape and its various tribes – the journalists, politicians, investigators and their agencies, lobbyists, indeed all its myriad denizens – makes us justly feel this fiction to be a true window into hidden realities. More, please.

Natasha herself is a cool character and a true outsider in the race to become her party’s presidential candidate


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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