Brian O’Sullivan’s Political Assassination
We know it’s coming, and yet most of us spend little to no time at all planning for the eventual period in life which finds us all: dying. Understandably, we don’t like to think about the inevitable doom looming on the horizon for us until we actually have to deal with it, and how we react to it at that stage is a complete toss-up. Some feel anger and despair, others liberation and acceptance, and anything else you might imagine in-between. I think it’s safe to say, however, not many of us would take the same path as Carter Middleton in Brian O’Sullivan’s latest novel, The Patsy. Which path is it exactly? Only the one starting with a conspiracy to murder prominent politicians and ending in total chaos.
The story wastes no time in introducing us to Middleton, the self-made billionaire diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in his senior years. With six to twelve months left to live on this Earth, he decides to make the most of it his time and begins to concoct a nefarious plan, greatly aided by the resources he accumulated over the years. The crux of it hangs on murdering two prominent liberals Middleton hates with all his guts and making it look as if a disgruntled fanatic of their own had done it. In order to set his plan in motion, he recruits Aidan Gentry, a young expert shooter who, unbeknownst to Middleton, isn’t above having ideas of his own and won’t take kindly to being used as the titular patsy. At the same time, we are also told the story of Evie and Frankie, caught in the whirlwind of celebrity after they exposed and took down a murdering mogul. Though their collision course with Middleton’s plan might be a distant one, it’s only a matter of time before they delve in and complicate things further.
The Thrill of a Proper Conspiracy
While I am not exactly an expert on this subject, it seems to me writing a compelling fictional conspiracy is harder than creating one in real life… especially when we’re talking about thrillers. From one novel to the next, we generally get very similar paintings with a few minor differences here and there… it almost feels as if conspiracies have suffered some sort of standardization. As such, you can imagine how happy I was with The Patsy when it became apparent much focus would be dedicated to setting it all up in a logical and believable manner. While this does mean the earlier chapters of this novel aren’t exactly action-packed, they definitely didn’t need to be in order to draw in my interest. It’s fascinating to watch how the pieces slowly find their way onto the board, how the fate awaiting our characters begins to take shape.
O’Sullivan takes all the time he needs to introduce us to the players of this game in much more than a superficial way. For the major characters at least, we are offered a very intimate examination of their biographies, prominent characteristics and inner worlds. I find one of the author’s greatest strengths is character creation for on some level he makes them all relatable somehow. The events ascribed to their pasts, even if on the fringe of what might be considered a normal life, are always realistic and go a long way towards fleshing them out into real people. They are all clearly distinct with their own voices and personalities, to the point where it doesn’t feel as if they were even written by the same person, which in my mind is a hallmark of excellence.
The Rotten Agenda
Once we get past the first part of the book where everything is being set up, the action starts to pick up rather noticeably as the characters begin to make their plays, and the book starts to shine in a very different way. While before the mastery was about the deliberate preparation of all the ingredients, now we start to see the real development of all the plot lines as the stakes begin to rise; essentially, we go from theory to practice. I will admit I had a bit of trouble keeping up with everyone’s machinations at once since everyone seems to have their own agenda, but the author did a good enough of job of consistently giving me enough reminders to make it work. Overall it’s nothing short of a pleasure to witness the unravelling of the best laid-plans and how everyone’s paths intersect with each other. It also helps the chapters are quite short as they generally are in thrillers, giving the action and developments a consistently high pace without ever overloading us with information.
For those of you who are familiar with Brian O’Sullivan’s previous novel, The Puppeteer, there shouldn’t be any surprise in learning this book is rich in social commentary geared mostly around the current climate in United States politics. The good news is O’Sullivan certainly belongs to the class of authors who know how to write in their own commentary without making it feel forced or ham-fisted. From what I could personally gather, most of his views are integrated into the characters and story events. While it is true there are a few lines here and there where the author’s personal voice is a bit obvious, I never found them to be problematic. I believe regardless of whether or not you agree with the points he makes, there will at the very least be some food for thought in it for you.
The Final Verdict
The Patsy by Brian O’Sullivan is without the shadow of a doubt one of the most precisely-crafted and engaging conspiracy thrillers I have had the pleasure of reading recently. The world-building, characters, action and even the political commentary all reach the same standard of excellence and come together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys thrillers in general.