The Madness of July, by James Naughtie (Head of Zeus, £12.99; ebook, £6)

 

Despite being somewhat older than the average first-time novelist, James Naughtie sticks firmly to the rule of writing about what you know. The main character is from the Highlands (where Naughtie grew up) and works in the Westminster of the 1970s (where Naughtie cut his journalistic teeth). He’s also an ex-spy turned junior minister, which is why he’s called in when a dead American spook is found in the House of Commons.

Needless to say, how the man got there and how he died are matters of some urgency to the Government. But, as it turns out, the book itself is in no rush. Fortunately, it does keep the plot bubbling along nicely while it carefully builds up a picture of politics as a profession that provokes more genuine madness than the public ever imagines.

Naughtie’s writing style is punctilious rather than elegant (“Little Simon, than whom no one was more junior…”). He also leaves the chief suspects so sketchy as to feel interchangeable. Nonetheless, the combination of insider knowledge, essential kindliness and a satisfying denouement means that the result is not unlike Naughtie’s famous questioning style on the Today programme: overlong, occasionally clumsy—but ultimately highly effective.

 

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