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Why it can be better to have a baddie.

Francis Urquhart chilled the collective blood of the nation. Not simply as the sinister anti-hero of Michael Dobbs' first highly successful political trilogy but in Ian Richardson's brilliant televised personification of the coldly-calculating parliamentary whip who connives his way into Number 10 and murders to stay there.

Tom Goodfellowe is an altogether different Westminster habituee. Less ambitious'- a Ministerial job in the Foreign Office is the highpoint of his aspirations - overworked, good natured and reasonably well liked by his colleagues, we first met him in Goodfellowe MP, when he set out to topple a new Press Bill supported by a particularly unsavoury Press baron.

Now he's back in volume two of what promises to be another trilogy, with an altogether different mission to accomplish.

This time it is the Tibetan question - China's cruel and volatile occupation of the mountain kingdom; further exacerbated by the death of the Dalai Lama, and the search for the next reincarnation. Add to that a protracted row with a teenage daughter; a wife in a discreet nursing home following a breakdown after the the drowning of their son; a new feisty Jewish secretary and a new love who feels neglected, and you realise exactly why Goodfellowe bumbles from one crisis - and one bed - to another.

There are even musings that Westminster's whirlpool of sexual activity is all due to the geographical location of the Mother of Parliaments.

Apparently a couple of very important ley lines cross not a stone's throw from the Chamber. Goodfellowe feels it must have a profound effect on the men and women in such close proximity with primeval forces.

But these are all side issues to the main plot - the search for the elusive baby destined to become ruler and spiritual leader of Tibet.

Rumour has it the child has been born and smuggled to the West well out of the way of Chinese assassins.

Initially, Goodfellowe finds it all a little tedious. Until he meets Kunga Tashi, an old, crippled and extraordinarily perceptive Buddhist monk who has links with both the dead Dalai Lama and the infant God King.

Inevitably, Goodfellowe is drawn into the international chase. Surprisingly, it is all resolved very much nearer to home. In between we have a fast-moving saga of international politics, villainy and, inevitably, sex.

Like all Dobbs' political thrillers and let's face it, having advised both Thatcher and Major during their tenancies of Number 10, he does know rather more than most of us about the wranglings in the Cabinet room - the latest Goodfellowe is destined to be a best-seller.

The writing is fresh and imaginative and the set pieces like the early sacking of the monastery beg to be filmed.

By next year, with number three of the series under his belt (it is promised for the autumn) we shall probably hear of a TV series.

But somehow Goodfellowe has less appeal than Urquhart. Perhaps we all secretly love a bastard.
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Author:Barker, Christine
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 24, 1998
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