29 May 2015
Michael Dobbs: House of Cards
Many of you will have seen the very popular TV series for "House of Cards", the UK one starring Ian Richardson, and currently the adaption to a US environment starring Kevin Spacey. This book is what started it all and introduces the delightfully wicked and corrupt Frances Urquhart who sets out to destroy his Prime Minister. Urquhart's character and approach is cleverly described in the initials chosen by author Michael Dobbs - FU or more explicitly "Eff You"!
Frances Urquhart is a long-standing member of the UK House of Commons and has reached his peak as Chief Whip in a Conservative government with a huge majority. His Prime Minister, Henry Collingridge, has lost his eye on the ball and is about to lose most of that majority. To keep the ball moving Urquhart suggests a fundamental Cabinet reshuffle to the PM but the Party Secretary gets in first and kills the proposal and any hopes that FU would get the Cabinet post he so wanted.
FU immediately starts a plot to destroy the Prime Minister by any means possible. In his role as Chief Whip, FU has saved the intimate details of most key members and Cabinet Ministers which he uses to start the process of the PM's downfall. He also uses Collingridge's alcoholic brother Charles to bring the PM into an untenable position.
A young and ambitious female journalist, Mattie Storin, starts to find out the real story behind what is happening but she doesn't connect what is going on to Urquhart because of a power driven attraction despite their age difference.
The book is peppered with wonderful opening Chapter quotes:
"Those who climb the tallest trees must accept the consequence that it is likely to expose their vulnerable parts."
"The nature of ambition is that it requires casualties."
"Politics requires sacrifice. The sacrifice of others of course."
This is wonderful and extremely amusing "dark tale of greed, corruption and unquentionable ambition" about one of the most memorable and unashamedly wicked characters in political fiction. It was written by an author at the top of his form who had extensive inside knowledge of Downing Street having been a special advisor to Margaret Thatcher and several other Conservative Prime Ministers. Dobbs is now a Life Peer - Baron Dobbs.
Even if you have seen one or both of the wonderful TV series I strongly recommend that you go back to where it started and revel in the wicked world of Frances Urquhart. There are 2 more books in the series "To play the King" and "The Final Cut" which I look forward to reading.