What if the USA were on its knees?
What if it became so indebted to China that it had to allow Chinese troops and customs officials on its territory to ensure that America stuck to its repayments plan?
What if it became normal for the People’s Liberation Army soldiers to dodge US laws through treaty immunity, and for US businesses to be bought out to serve the booming Chinese economy?
It’s a paranoid scenario but serves as an intriguing backdrop to this intriguing thriller.
Our protagonist is Madison Webb, a talented and tenacious investigative journalist in Los Angeles who risks life and limb to get her stories. When her younger sister, Abigail, is found dead and police suspect a heroin overdose, Maddie throws herself into finding out the truth.
The Chinese presence and Maddie’s snooping soon collide as she begins to suspect Abigail was the victim of a serial killer and that the murders are somehow an intrinsic part of a conspiracy.
This is Jonathan Freedland’s sixth novel (the first for which he has discarded his pseudonym, Sam Bourne), and as a Guardian columnist he is at home in the political world; so added to the narrative, we have a cut-throat election campaign - another strand to the mystery. How can each campaign team use voter resentment over the Chinese garrison's possible involvement in the murders to boost their poll ratings? Is the mayor himself involved?
Freedland gives us a fascinating heroine in Maddie. Like her screen counterparts Saga Noren in The Bridge or Cath Cawood in Happy Valley, she is compelled to dig into places that have danger. In so doing, she alienates family members and her colleagues, while infuriating some dangerous political forces.
The 3rd Woman is a clever, mature thriller, light on action and cliff-hangers, but full of dark motives and ominous characters. And it has a lot of fun playing the ‘What If’ game.