Dobbs, Michael - 'The Edge of Madness'
Michael Dobbs has written 15 thrillers, but is probably best known for his first book published in 1989 called HOUSE OF CARDS, dramatised by the BBC in 1990. The premise behind his new book THE EDGE OF MADNESS is that the Chinese have developed a way to hack into all of the worlds' computers and can do anything from interfering with incubators or automated medicine doses in hospitals, to causing meltdown at a nuclear power station. The idea is to cause chaos in the western world. The reason: so China would 'stand tall again' and crush her enemies. As the Chinese appear to be in control of so much, and could be listening in to everything, the British Prime Minister and his sidekick Harry Jones (who appeared in a previous book, THE LORD'S DAY), disappear off the radar to go to a secret remote destination in Scotland. Here they meet up with the American president and aide, and the Russian President and his son-in-law. The only communication with the outside world is via the television, because the Prime Minister decided to have the phone line cut. There is no security other than the thick stone-wall around the castle, and the fact that no-one else knows where they are. The only other residents are an elderly woman Flora McDougall and her grandson Nipper, who are responsible for looking after the party. The Prime Minister hopes to make a pact with the Russians and Americans to join forces to beat the Chinese and prevent global chaos. Meanwhile, the Chinese are already pressing ahead with their plans: Chinese troops are out in force, embassies have been cordoned off, and the Chinese have started to secretly interfere with the computers at Sizewell B nuclear power station, which will result in a massive nuclear incident. Discussions between the world leaders at the castle do not seem to be able to result in an agreed plan of action, and already the TV broadcasts appear to be showing chaos unfolding.
Up to this point, the story seems to be working well. But how do you take a story like this forward? What actually are the prospects for tackling the Chinese? The possibility of an out and out war, bombing strategic sites and hoping to take out key players, with the prospect of retaliation and a world war following is not a good one. It doesn't seem as though the Chinese would be interested in a diplomatic solution. The possibility of beating the Chinese at their own game, isn't really discussed, although computer expertise in the western world does not exactly lag behind that of China. And in any case, how can these world leaders organise anything when they are secreted away in a Scottish castle with no means of communication to the outside world other than a phone box in a village some distance away. This all seems a little unlikely. Moreover, the finale to the story is a bit of a let down, with no clever solutions. Though the idea of cybercrime is an interesting one, this isn't the first time that this type of catastrophe has been written about, and it all seems a bit old hat. I found myself wondering why any sensible world leader would secrete themselves away with their counterparts and no other form of support when something of this magnitude is on the cards. Why would any Prime Minister plan this kind of thing, and why would the US or Russian president play along with it? Even more surprising seems to be the fact than neither Russia nor America seems to have had any idea about the potential cyber threat. Or that once events seem to be already unfolding, that these leaders don't break off their secret meeting and head back to civilisation to deal with the problem immediately And as China is such a major global economic player, why would it try to destabilise the world it trades with?
A really good thriller has to have a high enough believability factor to be a real page-turner. THE EDGE OF MADNESS just doesn't have it.
Michelle Peckham, England
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