Clinton has too much to say in thriller stuck in a bunker

Geoff Adams reviews The President Is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Paterson. Published by Penguin Random House.

James Paterson is a writer whose clever, action-packed books have sold millions, and this book  already has a TV adaptation deal announced. Co-writer Bill Clinton was of course 42nd President of the United States.

This book will be a commercial success. But, sadly, its 513 pages and 128 chapters (plus epilogue) are an odd mix that may disappoint many readers. There is much more wordage from Clinton than Paterson, I suspect — certainly we learn more about the inner workings of the White House, and too much of  its inhabitants’ political ploys, rather than enjoying the usual  quick-fire thrills and surprises of Patersonthat occur late in the tale to try to build some interest.

The title is tricky, since this President, named Jonathan Lincoln Duncan, is not actually missing. He is large as life in most pages, the narrator of the story, so we always know his whereabouts. He is facing a double crisis: a threatened impeachment and (much worse) a plot, code name Dark Ages, to "reboot the world", cooked up by "the most dangerous and prolific cyber-terrorist in the world". This Turkish-born villain leads an organisation known as the Sons of Jihad. To make matters worse, there is a pregnant assassin hired to make Duncan her next target. President Duncan  has been tipped off about the virus that has infected every server, computer and electronic device in the US  and told of the plan.

In a matter of hours, the country’s financial, legal and medical records will be erased; the transportation and electrical grids will crash. He bravely chooses to avoid panic and carry the burden of this immediate threat to the US,  and the world. There is a chance to find out how to stop the virus so he sneaks out of the White House in disguise to tackle the threat. At last there is some action.

While his absence is noted, President Duncan consults urgently with world leaders, reminding them that "a safe and stable United States means a safe and stable Israel". Surely it is Clinton’s ideas when Duncan lectures  about the proper function of government and the responsibilities of Nato. Much of the plot is stuck in a room where international nerds try to crack a computer code, looking for the password, as the clock ticks relentlessly down to a possible "Dark Ages" disaster. The outcome is an anti-climax.

- Geoff Adams is a former ODT editor.

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