This is a very interesting and skilfully crafted book. If you enjoyed “The West Wing”, you’ll love this. It has so much more to offer. The author takes you inside Downing Street as well as the West Wing (and the British Ambassador to America moves seamlessly between the two). We see the see American security forces dealing with a crisis (as well as trying to instigate and/or avoid World War III), the British security forces dealing with terrorism, we visit a grouse shoot in Scotland, and make an historical journey to the British forces in Northern Ireland.
My previous reading of Gavin Esler had alerted me to his ability to deliver sharp, witty prose, with pithy observations about political life, and this book delivered in abundance. And the political worlds that he describes in such detail provide a fascinating and authoritative backdrop to the action. I found myself laughing out loud at one point reading about the American reaction to a major event in the book, thinking it was so over-the-top to be absurd, and I had to remind myself that as a former BBC correspondent in America, the author knew precisely what he was writing about. It is this convincing detail of the political worlds involved that provided much of the pleasure for me.
Although I have criticised the author’s handling of the plot in a previous novel, I didn’t feel this train bumping, coming off the rails, or giving me unconvincing surprises at any point. All the different elements were successfully integrated together to make a compelling whole. We are driven through the book as we seek answers to several questions: What happened to the Vice President, and will he be found? What did the Ambassador do in Northern Ireland and will he be found out? Will the American woman walk away? Will the terrorists succeed in killing 80,000 people? By the end of the novel, the author has allowed us to discover crystal clear answers to some of the questions. Other questions are answered, but the revelations contain a degree of ambiguity.
At first, parts of the ending slightly (honestly, only everso slightly) annoyed me. I was given answers, but some of them came with more questions. I told myself I would only give the book four stars as a result because of the author having the audacity to leave me wanting more and to leave a possible opening for further development in a future book (or second TV series). However, the more I reflected on it, the more I came to appreciate the skill of what he had done. I came to see the overall unity of the book and how the ambiguous parts of the ending fitted perfectly with the overarching theme.
The novel is called “Power Play” and has been crafted to display that power play at so many levels – the US President and Vice President ‘wrestling’ together, the Republican President struggling against the electorate and the Democrat leader of the House, the Americans and the British trying to get the upper hand over each other, the Americans and the Iranians dancing round each other, the press trying to outwit the politicians and diplomats, the security forces (present and historical) using subterfuge to try to stop the terrorists, and finally, the power play of the Ambassador and his lover (literally embodied in the sex games of their encounters).
The title provides a unifying image that determines how the author chooses to describe the many conflicts and successfully brings the many disparate elements together. When I understood this, I understood the appropriateness of the parts of the ending that are slightly unresolved. The author is teasing the reader and demonstrating his superiority in the relationship. He is demonstrating his power by allowing us to get to the end thinking that we have won, and yet at the same time he is retaining control. He has given more than enough to more than satisfy, but we know he has more, and we want it.