THE MADNESS OF JULY by James Naughtie


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In his fiction debut, British journalist Naughtie offers a double-twisting spy drama worthy of his countryman le Carré.

It’s an unseasonably warm July in the 1970s. The USSR lurks malevolently. Politicians need a vacation, but Will Flemyng, a minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, faces two dilemmas: An American espionage agent is discovered dead in a House of Commons storeroom; and Flemyng’s older brother, Mungo, has uncovered evidence that their beloved mother had a long-term affair with an American. Once a spy, up-and-comer Flemyng is on the list of possible candidates for the U.S. ambassadorship. The first choice drowned his chance in Courvoisier. There’s another problem. A prominent U.S. senator’s wife has accused someone on the nominee list of raping her years ago. Naughtie lays down an extraordinarily complex narrative, including another thread involving the U.S.’s discovery that someone on its side has been feeding London secret information. It seems even friends have conflicting interests. In this narrative labyrinth, every page seems to chronicle encounters where one character or another schemes to uncover or hide evidence, all the deviousness pronounced in the right accent. Naughtie has an intimate grip on rural Scotland and London, from parks to private clubs, and his characters fit the archetypes you'd expect to find in their stiff-upper-lip, class-strangled political environment, yet in their travails, they become sympathetic. There’s more: A sometimes-estranged third Flemyng brother who chose to take American citizenship has been dispatched to London to help sort out the mess. Naughtie has a gift for colorful phrases—"a winding crocodile of taxis"—and a worldly, perhaps rightfully jaundiced view of the political world he’s covered as a journalist—"The more you concentrate on behaving sensibly in politics—rationally—doing the right thing, moving up, the more the rules of the game are bound to make you behave irrationally."

An intertwined exploration of love and family loyalty, political ambition and international intrigue.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4683-0961-4
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2014


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