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It’s one of the first commandments of any creative writing class: write what you know. Robert Peston was clearly paying attention.
His debut thriller is set in the London of 1997, with a crumbling Conservative government falling in the face of a modern Labour opposition. In the middle of it all is political journalist Gil Peck. He’s a reporter to his fingertips, who would sell his granny for a scoop. He is the well-connected son of a former Labour advisor who grew up a secular Jew in north London.
So far, so good an impression of Peston himself that it’s tempting to see his protagonist as a self-portrait. But if it is, he certainly does not spare himself: Peck is thoughtless, tactless and utterly self-obsessed, until the death of his high-flying civil servant sister shakes him out of his smug little world.
Her death - and the possibility is was not an accident - pushes Peck to find out some uncomfortable home truths. The plot ticks along pretty smoothly, enlivened by a fond cynicism for the worlds of politics and newspapers, but it ties up too neatly with coincidences too easily solved and a final twist flagged up far too far in advance.
His portrayal of 1990’s London is fun and dripping with drink, drugs, private members clubs and an eye for designer clothes, while news junkies and political addicts will enjoy trying to put the real names to some of the characters. There’s also a touching reference to a pushy photographer by the name of Jon Davidson who bears more than a resemblance to Peston’s cousin - and Fleet Street legend - Alan Davidson who died last year.
It is no surprise the ITV Political Editor can write, but the real test will come with the next book, if there is one. Maybe he should write something he does not know and surprise us all?
The Whistleblower by Robert Peston (Published by Zeffre, £14.99)