Book Review: “The President Is Missing”

So, I haven’t posted a book review on this blog in a while–been meaning to–but today I’m doing just that with Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s novel, The President is Missing. At the same time, I’m debuting a new feature for Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm that probably should’ve been introduced a long time ago: a recommended latte at 1pm! Or, just coffee, really. Or, some other lunch or beverage item to enjoy while reading this blog. Depends on the day. Let me know if you like this feature in the comments below. Hope you’re hungry.

Today’s 1pm Food and Drink Item:

Roast turkey on panini (grilled bread), with a slice of provolone (cheese), some lettuce, black olives, mayonnaise, mustard, and oregano, served with a dill pickle. Enjoy with a hot medium (or Grande) cup of chai tea latte. Let me know if this works for you.

Today’s 1pm Book Review:

Title: The President Is Missing

Authors: Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company and Knopf; First Edition (June 4, 2018)

Pages: 528

Review: (5 out of 5 stars, with caveats)

Note: This review is cross-posted from Goodreads.

Okay, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but here it goes: In spite of my enjoying a good, page-turning thriller by a popular novelist, and in spite of James Patterson owning about five percent of the real estate in every American bookstore, I still haven’t read any of his novels. Sure, I’ve had opportunities to get some of them, including one set in my hometown, and I’ve even seen a couple of movies based on his work. Heck, if that’s not ridiculous enough, I have at least one friend who doesn’t read fiction who has read a James Patterson novel. But, not me. Maybe I’ve rebelled. Maybe I believe in giving the little guy a chance. The fact is, I just never got around to sitting down and reading his books for myself. Until now…

Or did I?

So, as it turns out, The President is Missing is actually President Bill Clinton’s first novel, with James Patterson taking co-author credit (I’ve read somewhere that he usually takes over pacing and editing duties when he co-authors with someone, in effect leaving the main story in the other author’s hands, which I’m sure is the case here), so comparing this to other James Patterson novels is a nonstarter for me. I don’t know how much of his hand has touched how much of this book, or how this final version compares to his other novels. What I do know is that our former president has a decent command of the traditional political thriller while infusing potential real-world scenarios and potentially threatening situations into a terrifying warning about what could happen if we don’t guard our every door.

Before I go any further, I want to alert readers to potential spoilers ahead. They’ll be minor and hopefully not that spoiled, but you may want to duck out in a moment if you want to be completely surprised by the story. If you don’t want to risk figuring out the story ahead of time, then I don’t want you to find out that the butler did it in the ballroom with the candlestick here.

Oops. Sorry.

Okay, if you’re still reading, then you don’t mind a couple of possible spoilers. (They won’t be too bad.) So, I’d expect a novel like this, written from the voice of a former president, to speak a truth to the crisis situation he presents. Because the story’s plot focuses on an issue that I’ve personally worried about for years (again, this story comes from the mind of a former president), I find it especially unsettling how realistic the crisis presented as the obstacle could be. Sure, the event this focuses on is probably not going to happen. But, it could, and that’s what makes the novel frightening. Again, coming from the source, it makes me wonder if there was ever a time in reality when we were close to experiencing the catastrophe-in-the-making presented in this novel. I kind of doubt it, but still, I think it adds to the suspense not knowing if the threat was ever real. Coming from an authentic voice, the specter of speculation is constantly hovering over the reader’s mind.

This authenticity, of course, has a negative side effect. It’s hard to separate the main character (POTUS, Jonathan Duncan) from the author (POTUS, Bill Clinton) enough to disbelieve that the two are uniquely separate. This is especially true when you consider that Duncan refers to former presidents, like Kennedy, Carter, and Reagan (but not Clinton, I’ve noticed–I was waiting for that one). So, the story follows a weird parallel universe situation where basically Duncan is elected instead of Trump, but for some reason has to deal with almost all of the same real-life issues (read the book to discover just how timely it is), not unlike the world-building in the televised thriller 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland (who I suspect would play Duncan in the movie, if a movie ever happens because why not?). Duncan is his own person, though, complete with his own unique backstory (here’s where the separation between Duncan and Clinton are evident–they definitely do not share personal histories), so we still get a story here and not just a political football in novel form. This president, it seems, has some problems. So, there’s that.

Yet, there’s this underlying perfection happening in our hero that makes me wonder whether the president is ever truly flawed. Yes, he has external issues that plague him and his presidency, independent of the crisis at hand. But, internally, he seems to have it all together. Well, no, not internally in the emotional sense–he’s a wreck there–but internally in the intellectual sense. He’s ahead of everybody else, which makes the reader wonder if he really needs anybody in his corner. Like Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo, he seems to know what’s going on through his own cunning before even his best people know. Either that, or the narrator’s hand is so sleight that we aren’t given the chance to see his cunning in action until after he explains why he’s cunning. So, yeah, if there’s anything about the book I don’t like, and keep in mind the five-star rating (a begrudging five stars), it’s that the president, while justly knowing a lot, seems to out-think everyone at every turn, and at some point I no longer want to buy his character (again, considering the source). There’s something of an uber-righteousness to him that we want him to have, yet we have a difficult time believing is infallible, as his politics are too perfect, and nobody’s politics are perfect. It’s almost as if this character embodies every positive talking point from both the right and the left to form this political savior who may be a grade above the majority of leaders we elect. I appreciate the idealism coming out, but it turns a tense thriller into something kind of hokey. Also, the villain’s motivation is weak. Like I said, I give this book five stars begrudgingly. It’s entertaining, but there are also those drawn-out moments where I feel like the politician is trying to sell me on his politics. I think the story could’ve ended 30 or 40 pages sooner, and I’d be more satisfied with it. The truth is, as compelling as President Duncan’s speech at the end may be, I still prefer President Bill Pullman’s speech from Independence Day over it (which was delivered in 1996, during President Bill Clinton’s first term).

So, yes, in spite of a few lame character issues, and in spite of what amounts to a mostly predictable outline of events (save for a few instances where plots are foiled at weird times), The President is Missing is a good read, and even an important read, as it presents a crisis that could happen, and outlines the consequences we would face if it ever did happen. It’s scary, but also informative. So, even though it’s cheesy at times, it’s still a valuable addition to the reader’s library, and one that serves a valuable reminder that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in a single basket. Good job, Mr. President. Your first novel lands on both feet. I expect the next, hopefully less diplomatically-filtered novel, to be just as important to read.

(End Review)

Let me know if you want to read more reviews like this one. I have a few cued up already. I read books from a variety of publishing dates, so some books may have been out for a while, but I think a late review is better than no review.

How’s the sandwich and chai?

Cover Image: Pixabay

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