To Kill a Man, by Sam Bourne

Summary: a meditation on the debasement of justice disguised as a pageturing thriller

Natasha Winthrop is a big deal. A high-profile Washington human rights lawyer who has just gained national attention as Democratic counsel in televised Congressional hearings.

Then a man breaks into her apartment intent on rape. This is the man’s last big mistake as Natasha manages to kill him in the course of the attack. The cops though… the bleeding cops! They never liked Natasha. It’s getting like they can’t murder black people in broad daylight any more without some bleeding-heart lawyer like her taking a law suit against them. So, if there are a few discrepancies in Natasha’s story, well then there’s no doubt that she’s going to get the benefit of. 

Natasha though, she’s a smart enough cookie to know when she needs reinforcements. So she picks up the phone to Maggie Costello, sometime international peace mediator and counsellor to presidents, but full-time Dublin street fighter who’s never seen a trouble she couldn’t shoot. 

Sam Bourne’s (Jonathan Freedland) Maggie Costello series is set, for the most part, in Washington DC politics. This is a subject that Freedland knows well as a former Guardian correspondent. The series specialises in plots that resonate with major contemporary issues. These have included having a megalomaniac imbecile in the White House, and the undermining of the factual framework for public discourse. It also should be said that, while not the main issue, a not inconsiderable achievement of these books is that Freedland captures the cadences of Dublin speech so well. Maggie’s exchanges with her sister are a particular pleasure, note perfect in the rhythms of Irish sibling banter.

This episode of Maggie’s adventures focusses on the disturbing fact that in the US, similar to many other places, less that 1% of perpetrators of rape or sexual assault ever see the inside of a prison cell.  Given this, the book ponders, is society saying sexual violence is actually now as acceptable as speeding or doing weed?

To Kill a Man is a deeply satisfying, thought-provoking thriller and meditation on the state of the Brexity, Trumpton world in which we live. It is, paradoxically, a perfect summer distraction from the insanity of that world which, nevertheless, reminds the reader of just how insane it remains.

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