“What the hell is going on, people?” yells US president Jonathan Lincoln Duncan for the 512th time (on almost every page) as he urgently tries to stop an annihilating cyberattack on America.
The commander-in-chief dreamed up by former US president Bill Clinton and James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author, is “fifty years old and rusty”, “a war hero with rugged good looks and a sharp sense of humour”. The hell that is going on for the reader is a perfectly absurd and terrifically boring actioner in which Duncan frantically attempts to thwart a “devastating stealth wiper virus”.
The nefarious plot to “reboot the world” has been cooked up by Suliman Cindoruk, “the most dangerous and prolific cyberterrorist in the world”. He’s “Turkish-born” but “not Muslim” and yet nonetheless confusingly leads an organisation known as the Sons of Jihad.
Duncan is facing possible impeachment for allegedly having a telephone conversation with Cindoruk and striking some kind of deal after letting him escape during a special forces attack. Did he? And why? A house select committee wants to know.
All becomes tediously clear soon enough. Duncan is a stoic boy scout. A former governor of North Carolina, he served and was wounded in Iraq. He’s also a widower with a daughter and suffers from immune thrombocytopenia, a debilitating blood disorder. Choosing to carry the burden of the ghastly truth about Cindoruk’s conspiracy – codenamed “Dark Ages” – on his own, Duncan decides to sneak out of the White House in a disguise to tackle the threat.
This central concept – “I haven’t opened my own car door for a decade,” says Duncan, stepping into the real world – is a potentially interesting one. Having him narrate most of the book from his point of view is also promising. But he doesn’t go missing, not really, and what unfolds is fantastically silly – the elderly authors resort to monkey emojis at one point to flag their nowness – and unintentionally comedic.
Far from confronting Cindoruk’s plot on his own – which the Russians might be behind – Duncan is in fact surrounded by an army of staff and helpers almost the whole time. These include a couple of international hackers, one “a cross between a Calvin Klein model and a Eurotrash punk rocker”.
He is also being hunted by one of the most preposterous assassins committed to print, the “Bosnian half-Muslim” Bach, so named for her proclivity for listening to the mighty Johann Sebastian during her wet jobs. “Sexy”, and “allowing just enough bounce in her girls [sic]”, as she strides around in her knee-high chocolate leather boots, she names her favoured weapon “Anna Magdalena ... a thing of beauty, a matte-black semiautomatic rifle capable of firing five rounds in less than two seconds”.
She’s also unconvincingly pregnant, through a somewhat callous affair in which she slept with the father “no more than three times a week, to maximise his potency”.
Anyone expecting anything juicily salacious from the 42nd president will also be disappointed. Duncan simply doesn’t have the bandwidth. Or the inclination. The closest he comes to is with the prime minister of Israel at a summit at a Camp David-like ranch: “If I had the time I’d give you a tour.” “What – a tour? It’s a cabin. I’ve seen cabins before.” The only person who seems to be getting any is Cindoruk: “There is nothing so sexy as a good, destructive overwrite,” he concludes.
The whole fatuous and bizarrely written shebang almost seems to have been constructed as the foundation for a long-winded and desperately earnest sermon clearly voiced by Clinton at the end of the book. It’s a pity that he couldn’t have spent more time making his insider knowledge more compelling. But that’s what’s happening here, people.
‘The President Is Missing’ is published by Century
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