03 March 2019

The President is What?


by Leigh Lundin

Patterson, Clinton: The President is Missing
Political Stew

A Patterson–Clinton recipe, serves 300-million or so:
  • Mix equal portions of John McCain and Bill Clinton.
  • Fold in dabs of George Bush senior and Barak Obama.
  • Season with Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson.
  • Add generous dollop of Ike Eisenhower.
  • Minority-whip thoroughly.
  • Press Club roast at 451°.
  • Serve dry, very dry.
Such is the pivotal mash-up in the James Patterson / Bill Clinton concoction titled The President is Missing. Some authors, myself definitely included, craft composite characters, a mix of real people we’ve encountered. President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan seems like someone we almost know. He’s reasonably fleshed out with both personal and poly-political problems.

Those problems translate into dimensions, giving a real feel to the president. Interestingly though, he isn’t the most compelling character in this thriller. That rĂ´le belongs to an assassin.

Sharon Freeman Rugg
My friend Sharon, teacher, editor, writer, selected the hardback edition for my Christmas gift, one I failed to collect until a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t my fault: at well over 500 pages, the thriller seriously weighed down the sleigh.
Kill Me Softly

I have zero patience with those romance novels where the heroine falls in love with a hired killer, a gentle guy at heart, a sensitive mind misunderstood by the world. Hello, lady! He freaking kills people.

That said, Patterson and Clinton did a credible job sketching a dimensional hired gun. In sticking with standard entertainment memes, said psychopath loves classical music, a coded message to normal folks that only bad people listen to great music. However, this writing duo crafted that tired trope in a different, fresh way, using classical music as a balm to soothe the troubled soul.

Suspension Bridge

Early on, the book bids the reader to suspend disbelief in major ways. While a president may not be an action hero, he is human, and the book successfully conveys that.

At first it was difficult to imagine even an ordinary person obtaining private access to a president. Hell, let a dopey candidate win a seat on the town council and suddenly they’re elevated far beyond the reach of the average voter. The authors eventually piece together a more-or-less coherent scenario where a hirsute dude with a gun, no less, can sit with the president. I bought in with reservations.

Traditionally, Patterson employs utilitarian prose, concise, unaffected writing smoothly machined not to distract the reader from the action. Yet one little paragraph caught my attention, a magical musing about a witch in the woods. True, it stopped my reading in its tracks, but it was worth the diversion.

Bridging the Aisle

As for politics, I remain an independent. I freely lambaste parties and politicians according to a view not beholden to any particular sect. (Hey, if one party gives me more to criticize, it’s not my fault!) It’s not possible to read the book without a consciousness of the presidential half of the writing team.

Fears about martial law and seizure of power have troubled Washington waters since at least Nixon. The story turns a bit chilling when these issues arise, albeit in the context of combatting terrorism. You begin to realize it could happen with little effort at all.

Killer App

As for the cyber-terror themes, a background in computer fraud means I can’t help but weigh in with multiple grades or a report card:
  1. A+   Our dependency upon the internet and connectivity the book got spot on. Good job.
  2. C+   As for plausible technical aspects and solution, I generously award a barely-there C+. The piles of hundreds of laptops destroyed by a virus is goofy to the knowledgeable: Simply reformat, reload, and go, little buddy. A program that activates when an attempt is made to delete it suggests some other piece of software is monitoring and has to be killed. It might be kinda, sorta possible to craft a program to disguise active files, but indeed tricky.
  3. C-   The authors don’t treat American computer gurus favorably, although worldwide, American super-programmers are still regarded the best. While the rest of the world is catching up, thanks to US training programs, but I can’t name any one nation superior to our own. Part of the reason is raw talent. Just like music, chess, or any skilled endeavor, designing complex software takes a peculiar brain. Throwing bodies at a problem won’t solve it.
  4. D+   In the discussion of state hackers, the novel places Russia at the top of the list. In the minds of computing professionals, there’s never been doubt Russia manipulated our recent elections. It’s also true that former Soviet satellite states have turned their attention to controlling social sites and pumping out fake news. My concern focuses on North Korea with Chinese support, already raking in millions from ramsomware. We buy a lot of product from China and have no clue what’s embedded in it.

Raucous Caucus

Technical quibbles shouldn’t detract from enjoyment of a story. Frankly, Patterson and Clinton got more right than the average writer.

Overall, the novel successfully entertains, the goal its authors set for it. The President is Missing might even contend for one of Patterson’s best books.

If you’ve read it, what’s your vote? And if you haven’t, give it a try.

3 comments:

Eve Fisher said...

Re access to the President - or other elected officials - let's never forget that Hunter S. Thompson actually rode with President Nixon in Nixon's limo - "One of the weirdest things I've ever done", where they discussed football. At great length. (And Nixon was perfectly aware of who and what Hunter was.) (https://www.nixonfoundation.org/2009/12/37-was-fan-1/)

As for other, lesser types of elected officials, it depends on the state. Here in South Dakota, I've met, talked, corresponded with, even hung out with more than one elected official, from local council members to US senators.

For the rest, I bow to your better knowledge, especially re computers, etc.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, as I was writing this, my mother came to mind. By the time I hatched, her family had long lost whatever prestige it might have had as pioneers and founders. She never claimed to be anything other than a farmer married to a farmer. However, she had a knack of befriending politicians of both parties. I don’t know how she did it, but they’d remember her.

Possibly it had something to do with her standing five-foot-nothing short and lecturing a governor… no, make that gently hectoring him, “Henry (or George or Matthew), I know you’re busy but you have someone see to that Blue River cleanup. Don’t make me have to call you about it again.”

Then the conversation would continue, “Yes, ma’am. I’ll do that immediately. I hear you’ve got a boy graduating this year…”

“I appreciate your asking, Henry (or George or Matthew), but let’s do our chit-chat at the picnic. You’re an important man now, but don’t be late.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Clearly that connect-with-your-politicians gene bypassed me.

Don Coffin said...

When I first saw the President Is Missing, I thought, immediately, of this:
Rex Stout, The President Vanishes
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_President_Vanishes
(Cover image here:
https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22620120008&searchurl=tn%3Dthe%2Bpresident%2Bvanishes%26sortby%3D17&cm_sp=snippet-_-srp1-_-image2

A very different book...