It is easy, out of perverse envy, to harp on shortcomings. McEwen’s Baxter, the thug of this novel, is literally and figuratively sick. He’s not entirely credible. But consider the task: to write a post-9/11 novel bearing universal menace.
McEwen succeeds by looking inward. Henry Perowne, in his late 40s, is a brilliant and successful London neurosurgeon who can’t believe his good fortune, and doesn’t trust it. One night, seeing a jet approaching Heathrow that appears to be in flames, his life bends and we’re let in.
We get a day with him: his jazz-playing son, his poet daughter, his doting wife, his fragile patients. These close-ups gradually provide insight into a “community of anxiety.” All is not well. The world is not stable. A war looms.
Then comes a minor car accident and Baxter (with Nigel and Nark) rushes headlong into Perowne’s protected realm. “Saturday” makes global threat personal, a family affair that can shove pacifism aside. “Hearts this age can’t race,” Perowne says of himself, trying to remain detached. But it is racing. That’s because detachment as we know it has vanished.