So, a Conservative government full of deeply unpleasant self-servers is driving the country towards Brexit, while the Labour opposition is failing miserably to oppose under the leadership of a principled man with no leadership qualities whatsoever. Is this beginning to sound in any way familiar? The book, of course, begins with a statement that "Any resemblance to any real person is purely coincidental." The thing is, if it didn't draw so much of its inspiration from real events then the background would be scarcely credible to anyone who hasn't lived through the last couple of years of UK politics.
Bob Skinner, one-time chief constable of a Scottish police force, has been invited to Westminster to consider whether to take up a peerage, on offer by an opposition in the House of Lords determined to make up for their feeble presence in the House of Commons. But Bob doesn't think of himself as a political animal, and has many reasons to prefer to stay in Scotland, not least the imminent arrival of a new child.
And then... hours before she is due to make a hugely important defence statement in the House of Commons, the prime minister is found in her office in Westminster with a letter opener driven through her skull. Bob Skinner is asked by the head of MI5 to investigate in the utmost secrecy, and recruits his old friend and colleague Neil McIlhenney, now a commander in the Metropolitan Police, to help. They have just 48 hours before the news will be released, and have to decide whether personal or political motives drove the prime minister's attacker: or was terrorism the cause? Skinner and McIlhenney trawl Westminster and Whitehall for clues as the clock ticks and the list of suspects steadily diminishes.
The highly condensed timescale in which the actions take place and the tightly constrained geography of much of the book give it a very "country house murder" feel. We were beginning to think "Agatha Christie" when the author's own analysis popped up, through the mouth of Bob Skinner talking on the phone to his daughter: "'It's ... Holmesian,' I murmured. 'Not quite a locked-room mystery, but near as damn it.'"
The end result is a gem of a book. It will be enjoyed by the army of fans who for years have eagerly awaited the author's next outing for Bob Skinner, and by anyone else who is looking for a fast-moving sharply-twisting political thriller. Like many gems, it's not wholly free of flaws. We stumbled slightly over the apparent supposition, needed to make one bit work, that CCTV footage from the most sensitive parts of the Palace of Westminster is not timestamped, but's not a big deal and besides, the ability to induce a willing suspension of disbelief in his or her readers is part of the art of any good author of fiction.