[FICTION] Book Review: “The President is Missing,” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

21 August 2018

Book Review: The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Review Summary:

Positives:

  • Audible version has excellent voice acting and production values.
  • It’s what you’d expect from Patterson: a rapid-fire page-turner, plenty of action, “who-dunnit” suspense, to-the-point characterization and backstory, and plot-useful but non-threatening use of technology.
  • Benefits from Clinton’s firsthand experience as president, in making the protagonist (“President Duncan”) more authentic.
  • It’s fun.

Negatives:

  • Certain characters’ abilities push the suspension of disbelief.
  • It’s what you’d expect from Patterson: a rapid-fire page-turner, plenty of action, “who-dunnit” suspense, to-the-point characterization and backstory, and plot-useful but non-threatening use of technology.
  • Slick Willy gets a little preachy, and he gives a “thank you” at the end to Hillary. Ew.
  • It’s kinda dumb.

My Amazon Review: 3/5 Stars

Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Description (From Amazon):

The White House is the home of the president of the United States, the most guarded, monitored, closely watched person in the world. So how could a US president vanish without a trace? And why would he choose to do so? 

An unprecedented collaboration between President Bill Clinton and the world’s best-selling novelist, James Patterson, The President Is Missing is a breathtaking story from the pinnacle of power. Full of what it truly feels like to be the person in the Oval Office – the mind-boggling pressure, the heartbreaking decisions, the exhilarating opportunities, the soul-wrenching power – this is the thriller of the decade, confronting the darkest threats that face the world today, with the highest stakes conceivable.

 

“…Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown…” -King Henry IV, ‘King Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

Oval Office picture

 

Uneasy indeed is the head of President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan, the protagonist of this well-marketed thriller by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. (Of course, Patterson did the bulk of the writing, with Clinton mainly giving input on various aspects of the presidential role.)

The novel opens with Duncan facing approval ratings in the low 30-percents, and a serious threat of impeachment, led by the conniving Speaker of the House, Lester Rodes. More importantly, and directly related to the charges of impeachment, is the threat Duncan and America face from the new “Sons of Jihad” terrorist organization. This group, focused on driving US influence out of southeastern Europe and Central Asia, is led by the shadowy Turkish-born Suliman Cindoruk. The “SOJ” has recently taken cyber-terrorism to new heights with a disastrous sabotage of the Toronto subway system. The SOJ promises this to be only the beginning of a wave of attacks on Western computer networks.

Known to President Duncan and his inner-circle of advisers, but not to the general public, is a devastating plot being hatched by the SOJ, possibly with foreign-state backing. This cyber-attack threatens to turn America back to the “dark ages.” Due to the insidious nature of this threat, President Duncan, (a former professional baseball player, lawyer, Governor of North Carolina, and Army Ranger!) must take drastic, clandestine, and unconventional action in order to save the country he loves from devastation: even if it means sacrificing his political career and his legacy as president.

a cyber terrorist

It’s kind of dumb. But I liked it.

I can’t talk too much about the novel’s plot without spoiling it, but believe me when I say there are plenty of cliche and suspension-of-disbelief damaging moments. These scenes are executed well, mind you: Patterson knows how to write suspense, gunfights, and tense congressional conflicts. But certain characters have unbelievable abilities, and there are unbelievable coincidences. Everything theme wise is pretty basic, and clearly influenced by Bill Clinton: America is great but increasingly polarized and difficult to govern well, the ties that bind us to each other are stronger than the wedges driving us apart, a good president must do whatever is necessary to do his duty even if it ruins him politically.

The cyber threat presented is simple, yet, plausible. It’s scary. It made me think about what terrorists, especially state-backed ones, could do to our power grid, military arsenal, surveillance systems, banking systems, etc, in the next few decades. People with a greater knowledge of computer science than I have may find some of the technobabble simplistic and dumb. That wasn’t especially a problem for me.

Yes, the book does give Clinton plenty of paragraphs of expression of his experience as president, (to paraphrase; “An impeachment-worthy crime is whatever the party in charge of congress says it is,”) but it doesn’t get in the way of the plot. And I think it was authentic. I respect it. President is probably the hardest job in the world, and the book gets that across well.

 

 


secret service sniper on roof

Even for all the complaints one can make about this not being a “sophisticated” book, I liked it, even if it’s not a mind-blowing masterpiece.

It’s fun.

It’s (mostly) plausible, in terms of a threat America could soon face from a rival nation or a terrorist group.

The main character is cool. He uses disguises, shoots guns, and talks like a bad-ass.

The action is cool: there’s sniping, car chases, bombs, punching, underwater scuba sneaking.

I was in genuine suspense over the unfolding conspiracy. Who betrayed the President?! Why?! Who is behind the Sons of Jihad? What do the terrorists really want? Or, what does their benefactor want…

The Audible version I listened to had great production quality. As the point of view rotated between the President, Vice President, Chindoric, and the mysterious Classical-listening assassin known only as “Bach,” the narrators changed to a voice appropriate to that character. When Bach puts in her earbuds and plays Tocacata and Fugue in D Minor, the listener hears it too.

 Wrapping it Up

It’s a fun, dumb thriller. It didn’t blow my mind, but I enjoyed it. Bill Clinton did his job in marketing by having his name on there, judging from the book’s sales. And he actually did add authenticity to the protagonist by his first-hand knowledge of White House life. Not that President Duncan, the former pro baseball player, lawyer, Governor of North Carolina and Army Ranger who had his blackhawk shot down and was captured and tortured by the Republican Guard in Iraq before escaping, has much time to sit around the Oval Office looking pretty!

I recommend this book to people who like James Patterson, or James Patterson-type thrillers. If you like the TV series 24, or Homeland, the theme and plot will probably interest you too.

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated and original contemporary thriller, look elsewhere. Like Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. Or wait for the inevitable The President is Missing mini-series.

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