The President’s Daughter is the second collaboration between former US president Bill Clinton and crime novelist James Patterson. The former was elected twice in the 1990s to lead his country, and the latter is in many ways a vote-winner as well. For example, James Patterson has been the most-borrowed author in UK libraries every year for over a decade. Together, the idea is that Clinton brings the knowledge of what it’s like to be in the White House and in command of the US military, CIA and FBI, while Patterson knows how to write hooks at the end of every short, snappy chapter.
What results is a book that reads very much like an Alex Cross or Jack Reacher thriller, but in which rather than a kick-ass crime solver leading the way, we have the leader of the free world… um… leading the way. Why the Jack Reacher comparison? That’s because President Matt Keating is ex-military, just like Reacher. In this case, a former US Navy SEAL.
Keating might be top dog in every way, but the the book starts so badly for him that pretty soon he’s more like a corndog. Keating has ordered a Zero-Dark-30-style raid against the jihadist Asim Al-Asheed. He and his defence team watch the feed as US fighters are dropped near Al-Asheed’s compound and begin storming the place. Suddenly, a massive explosion rocks the ground and lights up the sky – a building has blown up unexpectedly. It seems the mission is over. Al-Asheed’s body can’t be located, but his wife and daughters have been killed. Then the SEALs realise there’s a second building a little further on and the terrorist must have escaped.
This is a massive failure for Keating, who makes the mistake of apologising for the botched mission and the murder of civilians on television. He is voted out of office at the next election and replaced by his former VP, Pamela Barnes, who stabs him in the back by running against him and easily wins. So Matt Keating retreats to New England, where he can contemplate his book deal and live the life of a former president. His wife continues her career in archaeology, and his daughter goes to college. However, only the former president has a security detail, leaving Mel Keating exposed.
Nobody knows what’s happened to Asim Al-Asheed, until he and his cousin pop up one day and kidnap Mel Keating. Matt Keating might be a former president and a former Navy SEAL, but he’s helpless when it comes to rescuing his daughter. He has to leave it in the hands of Pamela Barnes, her nefarious advisor husband Richard, and her various heads of Homeland Security, the FBI, yada-yada-yada. Then a video is released that changes the course of both Keating’s life and the Barnes presidency.
Meanwhile, Clinton and Patterson weave in a side plot involving the Chinese secret agent Jiang Lijun. China has been aiding Asim Al-Asheed in Libya, and Jiang was his handler. Now stationed in New York, Jiang is ordered to reach out to Al-Asheed and secure the release of Mel Keating. By exerting their power to help America, the Chinese government hopes for an easing of economic sanctions. The trouble is, Jiang’s father was killed by an American bomb that accidentally took out the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. He HATES America and he HATES Matt Keating.
The final bit you need to know is that being an former Navy SEAL means that Keating finds it impossible to sit back and watch. His previous career means he’s a natural when it comes to working with his Secret Service minders, and at recruiting a small force to go out and do what needs to be done vis-a-vis his daughter and Asim Al-Asheed.
The President’s Daughter is almost 600-pages long, but it’s a book crime fiction lovers will carve through like warm butter. It’s not about place or atmosphere. There’s little character development or self-discovery. Everything happens at the surface, which is how this novel sails along at a pace of knots, mixing the cut and thrust of top-level politics with the action and suspense of a clandestine mission on foreign soil. Clinton makes the inner workings of the White House seem dramatic and extreme, with all sorts of split loyalties, coercion and blackmail going on. Patterson can write an action thriller almost without thinking. Every weapon is described nearly down to its serial number, sudden and unexpected death comes to a suitable percentage of side characters, and anybody who thinks they’re on top in a fight will see the tables turned. Including Keating. Especially Keating.
Sure, this is a book that lacks the subtlety and philosophy of, say, Martin Cruz Smith. And, by involving a former US president in deadly raids overseas, it makes Tom Clancy’s books look realistic in comparison. But Bill Clinton and James Patterson are a team who know how to keep you turning the pages, whether you’re attracted by the political intrigue or the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars