Top critical review
A Cautionary Tale from an Interesting team
August 6, 2018
Collaboration between two well-known principals can be challenging, especially when the collaborators are authors from disparate genres. In this year's highly promoted mystery novel The President is Missing, former President Bill Clinton and iconic mystery novelist James Patterson spin a tale about a fictional president trying to prevent the Armageddon of all cyber terror attacks on the United States in heroic fashion, taking a front and center role in the drama as he also tries to discover a traitor at the highest echelon of government.
The mesh of styles between Patterson, whose fictional works include the successful Alex Cross detective series, and Clinton who has written a number of treatises on major political and social problems, becomes apparent and is the likely culprit in the book's length at 512 pages. It doesn't need that length to tell the story it tells, but there are a number of digressions in the book as fictional President Jon Duncan stops to set out a Clintonian vision for a better world, free of self-serving political polarization in which all share common goals.
President Jon Duncan, the hero of the story, has much in common with Clinton and many dissimilarities. Like Clinton, he is a former governor from a southern state with a daughter who is an accomplished young woman. He is also facing impeachment. Unlike Clinton, Duncan is a recent widower, a former Army Ranger who was a Gulf War vet and POW, as well as a former professional baseball pitcher. Many of the characters in the book resemble those from Clinton World, including a pot-bellied, grey-haired, self-serving Speaker of the House that sounds a lot like Clinton's attempt at literary revenge on Newt Gingrich.
The book also incorporates a number of contemporary issues, including the lack of preparedness for cyber-terrorism and how nations like Russia and China have taken the lead in this new frontier of modern warfare. According to President Duncan, if cyber-attack was a sport, Russia would have the best offense and Israel plays defense best.
The clash of the differing worlds that the authors come from makes, at times, for a cumbersome and difficult merge. Parts of the book are tough slogging, especially early on, but the book gathers speed as zero hour approaches. Although one of the goals of the collaboration was to paint a realistic picture of what a pending mega cyber attack might look like, much of the details in the book seem unrealistic and complex problems appear to be solved too neatly, though it should not be forgotten that this is a work of fiction and not a documentary. The book contains a provocative "State of the Union" address that calls for political unity, but the appeal of which will be inspirational to some and an irritant to others. It's message that we must be rid of polarization and incivility is timely and sorely needed, but where it becomes divisive is in its definition of the principles that everyone must agree on.
Clinton and Patterson attempt to deliver a cautionary tale about America's vulnerability to cyber-terrorism, using fiction, suspense, action and thrills as the vehicles to get their message across. The finished product is not without its flaws, imperfections, and diversions. Its appeal will be affected by the reader's political mindset and biases. But at its heart is a warning about the brave new world we live in and the challenges we face in the 21st century.