Title: The President is Missing
Authors: Bill Clinton and James Patterson
Price: Rs 599
It is amongst the ‘weighty’ books of its kind this season – and it’s not just the size, the number of pages and heft we are talking about. The significance of The President is Missing lies in the names of the authors writ large on the cover page – Bill Clinton and James Patterson.
Two-term President of the United States of America, William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton needs little introduction. He rode the waves – till it all blew up in his face. However, he managed to evade impeachment and complete his second term. Post-presidentship he continued, seemingly serenely, in his public life, including the publication of two hugely successful – at least in monetary terms – books.
James Patterson is a legend. Not necessarily for his writing skill, but for his chartbusting prowess. He has been acclaimed as one of the most prolific writers (roughly 150 books); in 2016 he was on the Forbes list as the author with the highest annual income, and he holds the Guinness World Record for the most number of books topping the New York Times bestsellers list.
The President is Missing is about the prospect of the mother of all cyber virus onslaughts being unleashed upon USA – about the most deadly ones that could transpire. The attack has the potential of not merely wreaking havoc with the country’s communications, but effectively paralysing and dismantling all progress. One that could stop the superpower dead in its tracks and take it back several decades and with potentially lethal impact on the rest of the world as well, in an indirect way.
It is up to US President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan, to uncover the plot, nail the culprits and save the country. Not too difficult for the Commander-in-Chief of arguably the most militarised nations of the world, with a host of spiffy intelligence agencies at his command.
But here is the rub: Only the closest, most trusted, inner circle of the President, a group of some eight people, including the Vice President, Kathy Brandt, know about the existence of the threat and its codename, ‘dark ages’. One of the terrorists whispers it into his daughter’s ears and asks her to convey it to her father, and seeks a meeting with him. It is evident there is a traitor within the circle. The President, therefore, has to deal with a Trojan Horse along with the external threat.
The book opens with a hostile session of the Senate Select Committee where the Speaker of the House Lester Rhodes, chairing the hearings, is trying hard to have the President impeached. The charge is that Duncan has used CIA operatives to shield one of the most dreaded cyber terrorists of the times, Suliman Cindoruk (thought to be linked with the Russians), who was facing a potentially fatal attack by an anti-Russia militia group.
As the book unfolds, we learn that the cyber threat to the US emanates from Cindoruk himself, and the rest of the novel is all about stopping the terrorist, saving America, and in the process, virtually saving the planet!
One would have thought that Clinton’s contribution would be his ‘inside’ knowledge of the presidency and everything related to it. However, one cannot discern any hitherto hidden insights or information. Several thrillers revolving around the President and government, are on par. At least two authors and their work come to mind: David Baldacci and his Camel Club books, and the more recent To Kill the President by Sam Bourne.
Patterson has been called a “terrible writer” by Stephen King. And I must confess, I am not a great fan of Patterson either. His books may be fast-paced, but the few I have read I found fairly superficial and lacking in writing finesse. Perhaps, it is his penchant for ‘co-authorship’, which is well-known and openly acknowledged by him, which is to blame. He has often been seen as a brand endorsing books – and building them up – then a writer. Patterson himself has said that his strength lies in dreaming up plots rather than
the actual penning of them.
Hence, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find the book rolling out smoothly before the eyes – the equivalent of what a soft sweet custard is to the tongue. What is more, it is full of thoughtful little bits, wholly unexpected from an author of blockbusters. An example: “But that contradiction is quintessentially American, typical of a nation that was built on the premise of freedom, liberty, and individual rights but that tramples freely on those principles abroad.”
Duncan is portrayed as a bleeding heart, but not a pushover. He suffers from a blood disease which is debilitating; but the patriotic, war hero that he is, he doesn’t let it affect him. He is the epitome of the wholesome, idealistic all-American man. The villains, on the other hand, have several shades of grey, and the authors try to wring your heart for ounces pity and understanding for some of them.
But the biggest dichotomy is the title. The President never went ‘missing’. He planned to remain ‘underground’, surrounded by his protectors and friends to complete his mission. While the book manages to hold you to the end despite several questionable plot lines, there is something of a saccharine flavour to it. But, no doubt, this one too will climb up the bestseller charts.