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Consumed With Hate: The President Is Missing

🏛️ Like the Deserts Missed the Rain...

The Crime: The President is Missing
The Guilty Party: Bill Clinton and James Patterson
Overview: A quote-unquote "thriller" is mired in contextual cringe and eye-rolling political drivel.

Why I Hate It...

You can see how this would seem like a good idea on paper. James Patterson writes schlocky potboilers, and pairing up with a living ex-president allows for, ahem, unprecedented insight into what a crisis at the highest levels of government looks like from the inside. The result could have been a compelling hybrid of Vince Flynn-style political thriller and Tom Clancy-esque technothriller, and with presidential pedigree on the marquis to boot! Instead, the result is bad. Just… bad.

The story opens with President John Duncan being grilled by senators from the opposing party over some kerfuffle that in no way resembles Benghazi. He pulls himself away in order to don a disguise and meet with some foreign operative absent his secret service detail. That’s right. He’s going to go meet a potential hostile agent alone because he loves his country so much. Or something. Meanwhile, a shadowy assassin who calls herself “Bach”—and who spends all of her time listening to the music of… wait for it... Bach—is on the prowl. Also, Duncan has a medical condition that could threaten his life if he’s under too much stress. Then the bullets start flying.

If you’ve read the title of the book, you probably have a good idea where the plot is headed… and you’d be wrong. Nobody gets kidnapped. At no point does the president actually go missing or get shot or do anything remotely interesting. His medical condition flares up, but that gets dealt with easily enough; it’s a plot thread that goes nowhere. Oh, his VP doesn’t know where he is, but it doesn't matter, he’s fine. The reason he’s “missing” is because the foreign operative knew a secret word that only eight people knew and Duncan can’t trust his inner circle anymore. But this is a background threat. The real threat turns out to be… unclear. Don’t worry, the president knows—he’s the main character after all—he just can’t be bothered to tell the reader for a while. We get hints. Nuclear explosions maybe. Or a worldwide epidemic of a deadly virus. Lots of ideas get tossed around before it becomes clear that it’s an unbeatable computer virus that’s already infected everything and is going to shut down America. Remember in Die Hard 4 when people started throwing around the phrase “fire sale” as though any human being actually knows what that means? It’s the same idea here, only less interesting.

Buh. I’m already exhausted. Look, it’s bad. It’s clearly trying to serve too many masters. The president is a gruff intellectual with a progressive agenda and a life-threatening illness in the mold of Jed Bartlett because people who would buy a book with Bill Clinton’s name on it are probably fans of The West Wing. But he’s also an all-American ex-soldier who would rather have a Budweiser than a craft beer and who would probably have been a professional baseball player if he hadn’t had that helicopter accident a la Jack Ryan. He was also tortured for years as a POW, a la John McCain. He also just loves his country (and his daughter, and his recently-deceased sainted wife) so much and will do whatever it takes to protect them, no matter the cost, no matter the personal consequences, a la Jack Bauer. I mean, who is this book even for?

Well, it’s for Bill Clinton, obviously. The book would only be tolerably mediocre if it didn’t have his name on the cover. For one, this is some pulpy shit that is, frankly, beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency. That is a phrase that carried more weight before the “grab-'em-by-the-pussy” era, but what can I say, I’m an idealist. But even beyond that, Clinton’s presence colors everything and not for the better. And since President John Duncan is introduced in the middle of a potential impeachment, we never think of him as John-Jack Ryan-Bauertlet. Instead, he’s Bill Clinton’s wish-fulfillment fantasy avatar, but evoking the moment of Clinton’s presidency when he was at his skeeziest. So every explanatory digression that could have been an opportunity for real political inside-baseball, instead feels like apologism. Why can’t the GOP give President Duncan a break? Can’t they see that some things are more important than politics? And then it gets creepy, like when Duncan recalls his recently-deceased sainted wife during a meeting with a friend who is described, and I quote, as “one of the twenty most beautiful women in the world” and who, it turns out, was explicitly told by Duncan’s recently-deceased sainted wife not to let John Duncan be lonely. AAAAAaaaaagh. Fortunately, this is another plot thread that is dropped and goes nowhere, but one can easily imagine that earlier drafts had them boning.

Once it moves past the Act I table-setting and the lionizing of its hero and falls into the comfortable beats of a thriller, the book just gets dull. All the action cliches are here. The Muslim terrorists are there—although the book is quick to let us know that the main bad guy, despite being in an organization called the “Sons of Jihad,” is not really religious. (Side bar: I hate this so much—the variations on “let’s take a moment to talk about how stereotypes are bad and how they don’t fairly represent other cultures and religions, and then immediately make the bad guys match the stereotype.”) The literal ticking clock is there. The sexy assassin is there, who’s only evil because of rape and the murder of her mother, and is only going to ultimately turn good because she’s a mother herself now. At one point there’s a chapter break in the middle of a conversation that is otherwise unbroken, just to create an artificial cliffhanger. It’s all so tired. Now, Patterson is nothing if not professional, so he keeps it from ever turning into a complete train wreck, and that’s almost too bad because a train wreck would at least be interesting to look at.

That said, a couple of indulgent passages slip through. There’s an extended flashback of Duncan courting his then-alive recently-deceased sainted wife that involves “intentionally bad” poetry. Presumably, it’s supposed to endear us to Duncan, but it’s just cringe-worthy. And, again, because of the specter of Bill Clinton hovering over the proceedings, one cannot help but wonder if he used this very same poem to woo Hillary Rodham. But the biggest indulgence has to be the last numbered chapter, also the longest (I think), in which President Duncan gives a speech wherein he recaps the broad strokes of the novel and then segues into a list of progressive talking points. We must secure our elections, reach across the aisles, provide access to healthcare, etc. It’s wildly out of tune with the rest of the novel, badly enough that Patterson hangs a lantern on it in the epilogue, essentially apologizing for the previous chapter. Yeah, it doesn’t really belong here, but it was necessary in order to keep Bill Clinton’s name on the cover.

Too bad that doesn’t really belong there either.

For the month of May we're looking at plays! Stage shows, scripts, pro-shots, and film adaptations, and we're kicking it off with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child...

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.