In the thriller "Kompromat," a political earthquake is shaking Britain and the European Union, a populist tide is sweeping the West and a resurgent Russia is pulling invisible strings around the world.
British author Stanley Johnson found gallons of real-life fuel for his forthcoming novel, billed as a "Brexit thriller."
As a former senior EU official and father of Brexit-backing British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, he's exceptionally well placed to turn political fact into fiction.
The book's publisher says it "explores the skullduggery that might just have gone on behind the scenes" of Britain's EU membership referendum, held against a backdrop of geopolitical cyber-meddling, online propaganda and disorienting "fake news." Its title is a Russian word for compromising material that can be used as leverage against a public figure.
Johnson's cast of characters includes a populist U.S. presidential candidate, a right-wing blogger-turned-political adviser, a female British prime minister, a Russian president and assorted world leaders, spies and political manipulators. Any resemblance to real people is, if not coincidental, at least plausibly deniable.
"My key characters are what you might call composite characters," Johnson said during an interview at this week's London Book Fair.
The nearest thing to a good guy is a British politician who's "a useful idiot. He's a good guy without realizing it, and he's basically being manipulated by the bad guys anyway." "There is no autobiographical element, I can reassure you," stressed the 76-year-old environmentalist, adventurer, ex-member of the European Parliament and - he has claimed - a one-time trainee spy.
And no characters are based on members of his high-profile family - although Johnson doesn't necessarily expect people to believe that.
"People will see what they want to see in books," he said. Johnson is the author of several previous thrillers that mirrored or predicted true-life events. "Panther Jones for President," published in the 1960s, foresaw a black president in the White House. "The Warning" was about global warming. "The Commissioner" - which was turned into a 1998 film starring John Hurt - unleashed turmoil inside the EU.
"Kompromat," which is being published in Britain on Sept. 28 by Oneworld, joins a growing crop pf Brexit-themed fiction, including Ali Smith's recently published "Autumn," Amanda Craig's forthcoming urban-rural novel "The Lie of the Land" and Mark Billingham's detective thriller "Love Like Blood," out later this year.