My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 518 pages
Release date: 4 June 2018
As the novel opens, a threat looms. Enemies are planning an attack of unprecedented scale on America. Uncertainty and fear grip Washington. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the cabinet. The President himself becomes a suspect, and then goes missing…
Set in real time, over the course of three days, The President Is Missing is one of the most dramatic thrillers in decades. And it could all really happen. The President Is Missing is Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s totally authentic and spellbinding thriller.
This may surprise a lot of you out there, but it’s what I believe after reading this book: The foremost agenda of The President Is Missing is to tell a good story, and it does that pretty well. It’s not literary fiction by any means, and it’s certainly not free of influence from the authors’ personal beliefs, but that’s because no book is. This novel works for what it aims to be–a high-octane thriller that entertains.
Whether it was actually written by James Patterson, Bill Clinton or some uncredited ghostwriter, the most likely option considering that Patterson hasn’t written his own books in decades, doesn’t matter all that much in the end. Forget the sensationalist marketing that touts Clinton’s “insider knowledge” (hint: this book reveals no more state secrets than House of Cards) in its quest to hook readers. Forget the synopsis insisting that this book is “totally authentic,” which is frankly the funniest joke in it. And forget, at least for long enough to read 400 pages, whatever else you believe about Bill Clinton–The President is Missing may be a political thriller, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun if you don’t get into the American politics.
In The President is Missing, a crisis looms which threatens to erase all data connected to the Internet in the United States, plunging the country back into the Dark Ages, unless the characters can defeat all odds in a gut-clenching race against time. Of course, courtesy of Patterson’s trademark twists, nothing is as it seems. Not even everything I’ve written in that one-sentence description is entirely accurate.
What is admirable about this thriller in particular is its penchant for making the stakes feel real, for ramping up the pressure chapter by tiny chapter. Yes, it’s Patterson’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them chapters at work again, but for once I think that works in the book’s favour. The story flips between President Duncan’s first-person present POV, a deuteragonist third-person POV of a compelling contract killer known as Bach, and a handful of other POVs of related characters. Rapid-fire rotation between them means that there’s very little filler, maintaining a very readable fast pace that is no less powerful for the many dialogue-intensive scenes. In fact, the scenes of tense meetings between top-ranking officials are some of the novel’s strongest, outshining the rather generic and flat action sequences.
With this kind of novel, the ending is probably the most important plot element, and The President is Missing nails its ending. To Patterson’s credit as a veteran storyteller, everything comes together masterfully. You’re treated to a few explosive twists in quick succession. They’re hinted at just enough for the observant reader to pick up, but never so obviously that you don’t keep guessing until the end.
Characters are where Clinton’s influence is most strongly felt. President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan is a bit too righteous for a Washington operative of such success, the perfect vision of a commander-in-chief that the real life president’s detractors are already scoffing at. But honestly, there is little that’s politically explicit in this novel; yes, the “Democrats” (party names never mentioned) are the heroes, but this book is more than generous to Republicans in its treatment of partisanship. The supporting political characters, from executive branch officials to foreign heads of state, comprise a surprisingly strong cast, both in terms of development and progressivism. Gender parity in an all but fantastical national security team may not translate to the real world, but America has to start somewhere.
Meanwhile, Bach is uniquely sympathetic amongst the rota of contract killer characters in thrillers. She’s hiding more than a few twists up her own sleeve, and by the time all is said and done, it’s hard not to root for her. Augie and Nina, dangerous renegade antiheroes, are similarly interesting figures in a way that Suliman Cindoruk, the big bad, is not.
Finally, it’s worth appreciating the clear writing style that bears Patterson’s fingerprints all over it. It can be jarring when the prose mentions a character’s full name and position several times after they initially appear, but with a cast size this big, it’s more helpful than annoying. Normally, such information would be put in an appendix rather than The President is Missing‘s repeated in-text references–but as awkward as it appears, this method saves a good deal of time, especially when reading on Kindle.
Give The President Is Missing a try. If you don’t go in already determined to hate it, you’ll probably like it more than you anticipated. Pure and simple, it’s a powerhouse of a thriller.