A likably preposterous roman-à-clef, by a former U.K. government press secretary, takes aim at spin and dirty tricks in politics.
After losing his post in a whistle-blowing scandal after he’d publicly shamed spin-doctor Jo Moore (notorious for advising on 9/11 that “this would be a good day to bury bad news”), author Sixsmith was pressured into signing a gag clause that prevented him from airing any further dirty Labour laundry. Here, in a first novel, he attempts to circumvent that restriction. The action is projected into the near future, with Labour renamed the New Project Party. The plot quickly departs from actual events, taking us to an imagined time when spin-doctoring cosmeticizes a eugenics program designed to eradicate people with genetic markers for criminal tendencies. The backroom deals and press manipulation, however, carry a strong stench of real life, and the attendant chicanery is handled with a light touch and an obvious familiarity. But the story soon escapes from the bounds of probability as the sleaze practiced by high-ranking politicians escalates to pedophilia, cocaine smuggling and murder, while civil servants are recruited to departments chiefly on the basis of their blackmail-ability. Inconvenient characters are dispensed with by their falling prey to a government-engineered scandal. The central story concerns the career of unscrupulous M.P. Selwyn Knox. Helped by his sidekick and lover, the luscious spin-doctor Sonya Mair, he rises to become head of the newly created Department for Society, intended to eradicate all undesirable social behavior from the British masses. Beginning with a wry depiction of the pair’s dirty tricks, the story eventually—and unadvisedly—becomes embroiled in psychological explanations for Knox’s foul deeds. Before long, both author and characters are delivering lengthy speeches (and sending lengthy e-mails) on moral hubris and original sin.
Witty and fascinating in its treatment of realpolitik, but quickly loses itself in a mash of excess.