Bantam Press | 2019 (14 November) | 407p | Bought copy | Buy the book
Josh Cain, ex-military and doctor to Robert Thomsen, President of the United States of America, is summoned to a church tower close to the White House. An ex-Marine stands ready to leap to his death. He seems to know who Cain is and he has something important to tell him. There is a plot against the President’s life and Cain must leave no stone unturned to protect him. Seconds later a sniper’s bullet to the head kills the unknown man instantly. The President receives death threats every day but there is something chilling about this warning and it speaks to Cain personally, reminding him of his own loss, that of his beloved wife. The dead man had asked if Cain believes in God. Cain’s mind is filled with questions about the gap, so small, just an instant away, between death and life. The President has his own death on his mind. He dreams about his own death time after time. It always happens the same way. It feels completely real. Cain must wonder if the President’s dreams and the plot are connected, that they are linked by a new threat, one that can manipulate the human mind.
I love political thrillers and I also can’t get enough of speculative or techno thrillers and when the two combine, as with Nick Cook’s The Grid, I cannot resist. The opening chapter has quite a hook to it as Cain tries to save the life of someone he cannot understand but desperately wants to. We’re immediately plunged into a mystery that’s both intriguing and sinister. At the heart of it is Cain and the novel is told in his words as he endeavours to unravel a complicated plot against the President. As it becomes ever more apparent that the plot might be closer to the President that he might like, Cain also has to navigate the complex structure of security agencies that work in secret to keep the President and the country safe. It is a minefield. And the more he digs the more the personal danger for Cain, and his helper Special Agent Hetta Hart, culminating in one absolutely terrifying moment.
The thriller doesn’t just stick to Washington DC and Camp David, it also takes us to Jerusalem and Moscow. The Moscow chapters are among the most fascinating of the book as the leaders of America and Russia try to develop a relationship that might just save the world, or not. I loved the mood of this, the move between offices (including the Oval Office), cars and planes. It’s all so official and yet it’s absolutely deadly.
I did have some issues with the novel, mostly to do with its huge number of characters, each working for different agencies, in America and elsewhere, meaning there is also an awful lot of acronyms. If it weren’t for the dramatis personae at the end of the novel, I would have really struggled, not least because sometimes characters are called by their first name and then later by their surname and it isn’t easy at all to tie the two together. I did find the nature of The Grid itself a little baffling but I don’t mind that in a techno thriller, I find keeping track of a multitude of characters much harder. And there are so many agencies! Fortunately, though, the second half of the book was much clearer and so I’m glad that I decided to stick with it. Because the latter stages are utterly compelling and gripping. They’re also quite haunting and emotional as Cain faces his own past, just as the President must face his.
There are some messages here that I like, especially the importance of being kind. You never know when life will end and perhaps the final judgement will come not from God but from yourself. How would you wish to be judged? The most important thing is love. It might be a complicated thriller but its prime message is a simple one and it’s very effective.