Century | 2018 (4 June) | 515p | Bought copy | Buy the book
President Jonathan Duncan is in trouble. Cyberterrorist attacks are on the rise and the President is about to face a special hearing that will accuse him of negotiating with the most feared and hated terrorist of them all, Suliman Cindoruk. The odds of the President being impeached are high. But no matter what his people advise, Duncan’s mind is not on the hearing. Something terrible is about to happen, a countdown to disaster has begun, and the President is going to need all of his wits and cunning to confront it. He has just three days. And it’s a battle he must fight almost on his own because there is a traitor in the White House and Duncan knows that, whoever it is, they must be close to him. With so few to trust, and a lethal assassin on the loose, the President must break all of the rules.
The hype surrounding the launch of The President is Missing has been such fun that I couldn’t resist buying it the day the book came out. I love political and action thrillers and so I wasn’t going to miss out on this one (and the Waterstones edition I bought had red sprayed edges – irresistible). This is presented as Bill Clinton’s first novel but I’m sure I’m not the only one to speculate about how much of this is actually written by Clinton and how much is the work of old master James Patterson. But more than who put the words on the page, what fascinates me, and what especially drew me to the book, is the thought that here we might have a firsthand look into the workings of the White House inner sanctum. While I don’t think that I actually gained any more insight than I would get from watching a series or two of The West Wing, I did like the feeling that the small details were probably accurate, such as the descriptions of the President’s early morning schedule. The little things like that.
Now and again, though, the presence of Bill Clinton is keenly felt and most especially during the intermittent Presidential info dumps. Passages in which Clinton has his say about how the office of the President should function. There is also at one point a long speech. But these moments are few and far between (although I think we could have done without the speech at such a crucial point) and don’t slow the action down too much. And after all, it would be hard to deny Bill Clinton the chance to have his say in what is his book. Party politics, though, doesn’t play a part, although it’s not hard to guess which party the bad guys in government represent.
But of course much of the action of the novel takes place far outside the comfort zone of any President – fortunately – and so most of the time we’re in more conventional thriller territory and it is undoubtedly thrilling! This is one of those books that you keep on reading very late into the night, saying that you’ll read just one more chapter. But, because the chapters are so short and numerous, it’s so hard to stop. Much of the narrative is told by President Duncan in the present tense. This pumps the action along, with the tension ramped up even further by the continual ticking of the countdown clock.
The plot is timely and frightening. Cyberterroism, hackers, saboteurs – these are all fearful beasts – and the stakes here are enormously high and they feel real. There are minor confusions in the plot, there are occasions when we don’t know if a twist is a twist or just a ruse, and that irritated me a little. We also have our conventional thriller types, such as the glamorous and deadly female assassin, and sometimes there is a slight feeling of an anticlimax. But having said all that, I went into The President is Missing with an open mind and, as a thriller lover, I found so much to enjoy here. The pages flew through the fingers and I read all 500 pages or so in a couple of days. If I’d have been off work, I’d have read it in a day. The President is Missing is the very definition of a page turner as all good thrillers should be and I’m really glad I read it. I’m not so sure that the title is a useful one, though, but that’s another matter. If you enjoy action thrillers, give it a twirl! And look out for the editions with the gorgeous red sprayed edges.
James Patterson with Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5