Assassinations That Make Me Scared and Afraid*

As this is posted, it’s 36 years since John Hinckley, Jr.’s attempt to assassinate then-US president Ronald Reagan. It certainly wasn’t the first attempted assassination; there’ve been many actual assassinations, too.

It shouldn’t be surprising that there are plenty of such attempts in crime fiction, too. It’s a tension-filled, suspenseful main plot line, and it’s flexible enough that it can be adapted for a thriller, a traditional-style crime novel, and other sub-genres, too. There are several examples out there; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, powerful banker Alistair Blunt visits his dentist, Henry Morley. When Morley is later found shot in his surgery, the police believe that Blunt was actually the intended victim. He is a wealthy and influential man, and those in political power depend on him. Blunt stands for traditional approaches to government and finance, and that’s made him plenty of enemies. One day, he happens to be meeting with the Prime Minister when an activist takes a shot at the Prime Minister. Neither he nor Blunt is killed, but it shows just how much in danger Blunt may be. Because this is such a sensitive case, the Home Office takes over, pulling Chief Inspector Japp from the investigation. But Hercule Poirot is under no such restriction. So, he continues to look into the Morley murder and finds that it’s not as easy as you might think to tell whether this was an attempt on Blunt, or whether Morley was the intended victim.

One of the most famous novels dealing with this topic is Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal. A far-right French group called Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS) wants to plan to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle. The members are aware that they’re already known to the police. So, they decide to hire a killer – an Englishman known only as ‘the Jackal.’ No-one knows his real name or what he looks like, so he’s a good choice for the purpose. The arrangements are made, and the Jackal begins elaborate preparations for the assassination. Detective Claude Lebel has the difficult assignment of finding and stopping the Jackal, if he can, before de Gaulle becomes a victim. In this novel, it’s the ‘cat and mouse’ suspense of watching both sides that keeps the suspense going.

In Dawn Harris’ The Fat Badger Society, which takes place at the end of the 18th Century, an attempt is made on the life of the English King. It isn’t successful, but it’s clear that there is some sort of major plot in the works. Prime Minister William Pitt has intelligence that suggests that there may be a group of French supporters behind this plot. And he suspects that they have a base on the Isle of Wight. As it happens, Lady Drusilla Davanish (Harris’ sleuth) lives on Wight. She happens to be in London on other business, so Pitt asks to see her. He tells her that John Hamerton, whom she actually knows, may be a French spy, and may be in with those involved in the plot. Pitt wants Lady Drusilla to return to the Isle of Wight, and find out whether or not Hamerton is a spy, and what ties, if any, he may have to a mysterious group called the Fat Badger Society, which is suspected of having French loyalties. Lady Drusilla agrees, and begins to ask some questions. She finds that there’s a lot more danger in store for her than she thought…

Murder in the Lincoln Room is one of a series of mysteries featuring Eleanor Roosevelt as the sleuth. Her son, Elliott Roosevelt, is listed as the author. Whether he actually wrote the novels, or whether they were ‘ghost-written,’ they provide an interesting portrait of life during the Roosevelt years. And in this particular novel, President Roosevelt is holding a top-secret meeting with UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s important that this meeting be kept completely confidential. Matters get complicated when the body of Special Counsel to the President Paul Weyrich is found in the famous Lincoln Bedroom. Now, it’ll be even harder to keep the story of the meeting out of the press. When it’s discovered that Weyrich was part of a plot to assassinate the president, Mrs. Roosevelt knows that she’ll have get answers quickly, before there’s another, possibly successful, attempt.

And then there’s Leif GW Persson’s Free Falling, As If in a Dream. This story has as its focus the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. As you’ll know doubt know, there’ve been a number of theories, but Palme’s murder has never been solved. In the novel, Lars Martin Johansson, chief of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Sweden, decides to re-open the investigation. He enlists the help of a group of trusted colleagues, and together, the team starts going back through all of the paperwork associated with the assassination. Little by little, the team uncovers new leads. And that means fresh possibilities for investigation. But there’s more at stake here than there is in most murder cases. And Johansson soon finds himself caught in several moral dilemmas.

Assassination attempts are, of course, awful in real life, whether or not they’re successful. But in crime fiction, they can add a great deal of suspense and tension. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Anne Clark’s Red Sands.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dawn Harris, Elliott Roosevelt, Frederick Forsyth, Leif G.W. Persson

21 responses to “Assassinations That Make Me Scared and Afraid*

  1. One assassination story that stayed with me is Death on the Pont Noir by Adrian Magson, in the series set in rural Picardie in the 1960s, featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco. He uncovers a plot to assassinate De Gaulle – and it is true that there were several attempts on his life made during those years.

    • Oh, that does sound like a fine series, Marina Sofia. The novel itself’s a perfect match for what I had in mind with this post, too, so thanks. And I like it that the novel touches on something that was really going on at the time. I think that makes a series all that much more authentic.

  2. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Terrorists begins with a successful assassination in a Latin American country and Martin Beck spends the rest of the novel trying to foil a similar one in Stockholm. Those opening chapters are unforgettable.
    Excellent topic, Margot!

    • Thanks, Christine. And thanks for filling in that gaping hole I left in my post. Of course, The Terrorists is a great example of the sort of plot I had in mind. Folks, Christine’s right, too: those first chapters are truly memorable. I recommend you read the series if you’ve not done so.

  3. The only crime novel involving assassination I can remember reading is Falling Freely, which you’ve mentioned. I love the idea of a society called The Fat Badger Society!! Is the name explained in the book?

    • It is, FictionFan. And I thought that was such an interesting choice of title! It certainly gets the attention, doesn’t it? And as to Free Falling…, great minds…. 🙂

  4. Col

    I remember Stephen King’s The Dead Zone kind of touched on the theme, albeit someone was prevented from becoming president by their actions during an attempt on their lives. I loved the Forsyth book back in the day and I’ve read some of Persson’s other work which kind of floats around the Palme assassination.

    • The Forsyth really is a well-done suspense novel, isn’t it, Col? And you’re right; Persson addresses the Palme murder a couple of times. Seems Persson has done his ‘homework’ on that, too, and I think that’s interesting.

    • I totally forgot about The Dead Zone, Col. Thanks for the reminder.

      Margot, you choose such interesting topics. Thanks for your constant effort to make us think. Love that about your blog.

  5. I must read The Fat Badger Society which is a brilliant name – I like the idea that the plot was run from the Isle of Wight; I have a fondness for small islands!

    • Isn’t that a great name, Cleo? I think you’d like Harris’ first novel, Letter From a Dead Man, too. It’s got a real sense of Wight. And yes, there’s something about small islands…

  6. As usually no titles come to mind, but I do enjoy this type of suspense in books.

  7. Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon – great book, great film (haven’t seen the remake) and very tense assassination attempt.
    Can’t believe I am daring to be pernickety with you (and twice in a week what’s more) but the Isle of Wight is very close to where I live, and for some reason it is never ever called just Wight! I am warning you in case you should bring Joel over here, I wouldn’t want him to alienate the natives…
    (In fact real locals call it The Island, rather than Wight, as in ‘I’m going to The Island tomorrow’. They know it’s the only island that counts, no need to specify further, and it’s an extra trap for the unwary as that obviously isn’t even part of the name, Isle vs Island)

    • Actually, you aren’t being pernickety with me at all, Moira. It’s something I didn’t know, and I always like learning new things. It’s interesting how the name is perceived – thanks very much for setting me right on that. And thanks for reminding me of The Manchurian Candidate. Yes, indeed, on both the tense assassination attempt and the overall quality. I’m so glad you filled in that gap.

  8. Very interesting, Margot. Murder in the Lincoln Room sounds interesting, although I have not previously been attracted to that series.

    • Thanks, Tracy. I think that series does have some interesting aspects to it. It’s not, of course, for everyone. If you do try it, I’ll be interested in what you think.

  9. So many books to read, such little time. 😉

  10. Pingback: Writing Links 4/3/17 – Where Genres Collide

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