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Whilst browsing a charity shop for cheap books to read over the summer, I came across Sam Bourne's 'The Chosen One' for only £1. I had read Bourne's 'The Righteous Men' a couple of years earlier and knew that he was an author of political thriller in the vein of Dan Brown. I hadn't loved 'The Righteous Men' but it was an enjoyable read at the time and a glance over 'The Chosen One's blurb intrigued me; for a pound, I couldn't really go wrong.
Irish-born Maggie Costello is a political advisor to the recently elected President of the United States Stephen Baker. Having spent a lot of her career in the poorer and more turbulent parts of the world, Maggie has put a lot of faith in Baker who, like her, is an idealist intent on improving the world's future. He also has a clean slate in terms of his personal and political life- until one man reveals two scandals about the president in two days and threatens to reveal a huge third one that will destroy the new president.
However before the man, Vic Forbes, can reveal this scandal he is found dead in his home, presumably through suicide. Maggie, disturbed by both the emergence of these scandals and the possibility that Baker could be behind Forbes's death, goes to investigate the circumstances behind Forbes deeper. What she discovers not only threatens to destroy her new President, but also her colleagues and herself.
'The Chosen One' is a well-told story from start to finish. Bourne's writing style is simple and easily accessible to a non-American reader like myself who is not that familiar with American politics (helped that Sam Bourne- real name Jonanthan Freedland- is a British journalist and broadcaster in this topic). There is a lot of suspense which I think Bourne conveys well even with a couple of red herrings at the end of some chapters to keep you on the edge. I also liked how he uses segways to different scenes with other characters instead of just following Maggie through every chapter, especially Maggie travels across the States and it would be dull to read every flight and taxi she caught. These chapters aren't just scenes with secondary characters but also newspaper articles, blog updates and even related to the ongoing story. Even the prologue details Forbes's death (though we don't know who he is at this point) rather than jumping straight in with Maggie's dismissal from work. Although I think this was a good idea to give us a break from the main character's views and show the effect certain events are having across the media, sometimes I felt these opinions could be summarized by the narrator himself.
The characters in the story are well-developed for the most part. Maggie Costello is a very realistic protagonist, a determined woman who has worked her way up to political advisor despite a growing distaste for working in the White House after travelling through Africa and the Middle East. Her investigation into Forbes and the circumstances around his death is an arduous one and I empathized with her hopes about Baker being her ideal president. She is by no means perfect, being very work-orientated and a tad idealistic for the White House meant that she has lost her boyfriend to follow Baker and her lack of family around her is something she wonders about through the course of the story. Stephen Baker certainly is presented as an ideal man through-and-through; he is attentive, humble, determined and as close to his work colleagues as he is to his family- unless you're the cynical type you want him to succeed in his goals just as Maggie does. Yet as soon as the scandals hit I began to question his perfect demeanour and wonder what the real Stephen Baker was like. Yet his character isn't as fully developed as our protagonist and he keeps his straight-laced personality throughout the story, showing no outbursts or huge waves of emotions even as his career is cracking around him.
Supporting characters do their bit and Bourne gives them all personality, although some are forgotten towards the end. These include Baker's closest advisor Stuart Goldstein, a fat but well-meaning man who also wants to keep his superior's slate clean, Maggie's journalist friend Nick Du Caines who has a bit of a crush on our protagonist, and Baker's Republican rival Senator Rick Franklin whose story of trying to get Baker impeached is told alongside the main one. Franklin might not be connected with any of the other characters directly but his role is fairly crucial to the story and it's interesting to learn about his lifestyle and actions in contrast to the other party in control of the White House. So, as I said before, it provides a bit of a break and an alternative look at the storyline.
The book isn't a perfect one unfortunately. I felt the antagonists behind the whole situation were dealt with pretty weakly because, considering the power and wealth they had across the world, they are arrested in a snap! Furthermore, other than Maggie and Senator Rick Franklin we don't learn what happens to the other powers of the West Wing despite the changes that occur. Some explanations are made but Maggie doesn't dwell on them and the penultimate chapter focuses on finishing her relationship plot -which also ended up stuck in the same place it began after all that had happened.
My final thoughts are that 'The Chosen One' is a good read for those that enjoy Dan Brown-lite stories. It definitely built up suspense and had some well-rounded main characters, but I think the ending doesn't tie up all the plot points completely and ultimately lets down an otherwise great story. I don't think it's as good as 'The Righteous Men' but it stands on its own by focusing less on action and puzzles as that book does. If you like this genre of storytelling, then by all means check out this book.
You can find this book for £4.69 on Amazon though it's available on the marketplace for as little as 1p new.
(Also on Ciao under the username Anti_W)
'The Chosen One' is the fourth book written by Sam Bourne. I have found each of his books to be an improvement on the previous and the topics he covers are always interesting, so I was quite keen to pick up his latest novel.
Bourne's previous books have always been standalone titles. This is the first one which picks up on previous characters. The principal character is Maggie Costello the negotiator we were introduced to in Bourne's second book 'The Last Testament' when she was involved in peace talks in the Middle East. I liked the idea of this. Costello is the best character Bourne has conceived (to date) and here he had found a fairly plausible setting for where she would be, a few years on from the last book.
Costello is now a political advisor in the White House. As well as her official role she has a personal relationship with President Stephen Baker and his family, so she can easily get to the inner circle. The story is part political intrigue, part thriller. Baker is two months into his term, which is still riding the initial wave of optimism, when a person with an unknown background, Vic Forbes, starts to reveal scandals about the President on national television. After the first revelation its damage limitation time, the second is far graver but most worryingly is the promise of a third which will force the President from office. When Forbes dies under suspicious circumstances before the third revelation the focus switches to who may have been behind the death and what was the secret which had to be covered up.
Having previously covered the Jewish faith, the Middle East peace process then the United Nations and the Holocaust this was another new setting for Sam Bourne to base a book on. Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathan Freeland, an award winning journalist and broadcaster. Freeland writes for the Guardian newspaper and was previously the newspaper's Washington correspondent so he is very familiar with the American cultural and political scene. This shines through in his writing and adds a level of authenticity to the story.
Bourne also has a great way of writing which allows you to power through the story. This one is not taxing on the brain at all. It is a much simpler read than his previous books but this means there is an element of this being a more standard thriller rather than the grand scale he worked on before. In fact it was a little disappointing the way that this story progressed. Whilst there was intrigue in who was pulling the strings and what the revelations were, the actual method of moving the story alternated between implausible and ridiculous. This got more frustrating as the story went on. Whilst you allow a fictional author a certain amount of leeway there were far too many coincidences and longshots in this one. Maggie Costello is a negotiator and as such will be a lot more persuasive than most people but she seems to have people falling over themselves to allow access to confidential material or to reveal the hidden locations of people (who have asked for this information not to be divulged). However, the most ridiculous thing was when a school teacher was able to remember a pupil from a generation ago purely by being given a fairly common Christian name (which was discovered following another very unlikely series of events). He is able to go through his memory of his classes, year by year to locate the individual. By this stage you just have to accept that these coincidences and keep reading.
A further annoyance was when a character who had just broken ribs was able to break into a jog. Anyone who has broken a rib will tell you how difficult this would be. Bourne acknowledged this with 'battered ribs complained' before making the character break into a faster jog. It just added to the overall feeling that this was very much a fictional book with little basis in reality. The ending is perhaps the strangest thing. Even Maggie has to question why the 'enemy' is treating her a certain way, there is that much bemusement about what is going on. However, the very final page did leave me with a smile on my face.
At 436 pages it is the shortest of the four books which I think is also telling. The other books appeared to have been condensed into their 500+ pages. This one felt its natural length. It wasn't padded but had none of the detail the others had.
I have probably focused on the negative too much as it is an enjoyable read ignoring these points. I just felt it wasn't up to the standard of the last two books and is more at the level of the first book, 'The Righteous Men'. I am not sure if we will see Maggie Costello again, I think she would be best left here. However, I will buy Sam Bourne's next book in the hope that this was a bit of an aberration and he will return to form.
436 pages (paperback)
Currently £3.98 on Amazon (paperback) or £3.58 (Kindle).
I have just finished this book, and really enjoyed it. I started reading Sam Bourne because I am a massive fan of Dan Brown, and the style and pace of writing are quite similar, and equally enthralling.
The Chosen One is different from Bourne's previous books, as the focus is on American politics rather than religion. It features the character Maggie Costello from the previous book "The Last Testament" in her new role as a lobbyist and adviser to a newly appointed president. She feels that she has finally found a politician (and a man) that she can believe in, but when an anonymous man appears making allegations about the new president's past and mental health, this faith begins to unravel.
The story explores the hidden world of power, and the (sometimes murderous) extremes that some men will go to to achieve it. It poses questions about democracy and free choice, and asks "are we all just puppets with the highest bidder pulling the strings?"
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book, although if you have no interest in American politics, then it probaby isn't for you. It is a real page-turner, and I had it finished in a weekend, simply because I struggled to put it down.