Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Assassination Story Revised

Hilary Mantel came under fire for one of her stories that appeared in The Guardian. It's not that the critics were complaining about her decision to leave behind all things Cromwell and take at a stab at more recent historical fiction. It was her choice of subjects, and the people doing the loudest roaring were those who were fans of her short story's subject.

Ms. Mantel has no love for the late Margaret Thatcher. Economists can debate the late Prime Minister's policies in their numerical and distant way, but the people who did not prosper during her time in office look at things from their emotional point of view and decry all things Thatcher. She was a divisive sort of politician in a country that clings to its social caste system.

As an author, however, Ms. Mantel could take her fantasy a step further and write an entire story about someone hiding in a sniper's nest, just waiting for the right moment to assassinate Ms. Thatcher as she recovers from minor surgery. The PM did indeed undergo minor surgery, and the story presents a possible scenario that was well written, so well that it felt as if it could have happened.

The story can be revised now, in light of recent events in the United States. The assassin's target is no longer the British Prime Minister but the American President, and maybe the assassin isn't sitting in some hiding place but working as a Secret Service agent, supposed to be guarding but actually facilitating.

Fictional political thrillers are more believable if the author can trade off actual events to draw a reader in. It could have been, the reader will say as they turn the pages. Something in the news that stuck in their minds, and the author takes that memory and twists it until the reader is on a slightly skewed path, into make believe that contains a chunk of potential reality.

Will anyone write a short story called "The Assassination of Barack Obama" and have a group of his Secret Service agents plotting against him? What would make it seem plausible? How about a scene in which a security guard at the nation's Center for Disease Control rides the elevator with the President and his agents? The guard is carrying a hidden gun, and how did he manage to get close to the President with that weapon? The agent in charge of searching him is part of the cabal meant to put Joseph Biden in the White House.

He's not as dumb as he appears, that Joe Biden. In the story, the author could make him the brains behind the operation. Or maybe it could be his wife, who wants to bring about massive change to the national health care system.

Mad men hop the fence encircling the White House and no one stops them as they cross the lawn? There's more fodder for an author writing about a desperate plot to murder a politician. Readers could get lost in the conspiracy theories that a good author could concoct, and all of them based on real events like Hilary Mantel using Margaret Thatcher's vulnerability when hospitalized following surgery.

Of course, Ms. Thatcher is dead and using her as a subject in a short story has a very different feel than if Ms. Mantel had penned her story while Ms. Thatcher was very much alive. It is doubtful that The Guardian would have published such a tale while Ms. Thatcher was actually in hospital. A well-written story can serve to inspire those bent on doing evil deeds, and the less creative of the dangerous types would only find a brilliant idea in what was meant to be a story dealing with twists of fate and where history might have been turned by a chance encounter.

Don't expect to read "The Assassination of Barack Obama" any time soon.

But you can expect to hear a few talking heads discussing conspiracies and moles within the ranks of the Secret Service. At least that doesn't sound like rank incompetence where taxpayers would expect to see flawless performance and dedication.

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