The Amazon Book Review sat down with James Patterson on the final day of BookExpo, the annual trade convention where booksellers, publishers, and authors come together to talk about the most buzzed-about books of the year. On the tip of everyone's tongue was James Patterson's and Bill Clinton's thriller, The President Is Missing, which landed in readers' hands a few days later, on Monday, June 4.
Patterson was delighted to be among so many people clutching books or hauling bags stuffed with advance review copies of upcoming titles. "All these book people….I love coming here," he said, as we settled in to talk about his own books. "I think I've been here about fifteen times." There is a special vibe that comes from being surrounded by people who share the same obsession.
Apparently James Patterson and President Clinton also share another obsession and, fortuitously, the same agent. "President Clinton loves mysteries, reads a lot of mysteries," Patterson explained. Their shared agent, Bob Barnett, had been trying to convince Clinton for a long time to write a mystery, and finally suggested that Clinton co-write it with Patterson. Patterson had a vivid childhood memory of President Eisenhower visiting his small home town of Newburgh, New York, and this opportunity to spend a year writing a book with Clinton "was just incredible. A great challenge."
Plenty of thrillers have been written about presidents, but none has been written until now by a U.S. president. Said Patterson, "I think that what separates the book is the authenticity." A number of scenes relied on Clinton's inside knowledge: "There's an attack on a presidential motorcade. If something like that happened, it would have happened like this. There's a traitor in the White House. If it happened, it would happen like the way it happened in The President Is Missing. The president goes missing. How can that happen? He is guarded by a dozen Secret Service people.... I wouldn't have been able to write that without President Clinton."
In addition, there's a threat to the nation that Patterson calls "the scariest threat I've ever read about. And it's real, and it could happen, and I wouldn't have known how to write about it if it hadn't been for President Clinton being involved."
In other interviews about the book, Clinton and Patterson have explained that cyberwarfare is the core of the threat. While it might appear merely irritating at first glance, the true repercussions of the threatened attack could throw the entire country into chaos as the electronic backbone of our world is shattered.
But there are lighter moments in the book, such as when President Jonathan Duncan drives a car himself for the first time in ten years and discovers the car's backup camera—something he never had while driving. Patterson had asked Clinton about the last time he drove himself, and Clinton had to think about it before admitting that it was when he taught Chelsea how to drive while they were at Camp David. Said Patterson, "He loved to drive when he was younger; he said he really misses it. I actually was in a golf cart with him, and I let him drive, and that was a mistake." Patterson laughed. "Because he's a little rusty."
But driving skills are not essential to being a good president. Patterson explained that in addition to highlighting the dire threat of cyberwarfare, he and Clinton had another goal in writing The President Is Missing: Reminding readers of how serious the job is. "We've had twenty-five years of Saturday Night Live and Scandal and House of Cards, where people are led to believe that it's sort of a trivial, silly job. And I love those shows! But it isn't a silly job. And what I got from dealing with the president over the course of a year is how important the job is, how dangerous the job is, how stressful the job is. How the job never stops.… How important it is that when you do vote—and I'm not making a political statement here—you're really careful about who we put in that job. Because it's really, really, really, really difficult."
Of course, there is an inherent political aspect to writing a thriller with a former president, especially one who went through impeachment proceedings [see our excerpt from The President Is Missing, in which President Jonathan Duncan is testifying at a congressional hearing] and whose spouse ran twice for president. Perhaps Patterson is thinking of that when he says, "Hopefully people who do reviews will have actually read the book, which I'm a stickler for. I think it's really not fair to do reviews when you haven't read the book."
And Patterson also clearly understands that to tackle the real threat of cyberwarfare, one must use political means: "Write to your congressman. We are not ready for what happens in that book, and we should be."
You might also like:
- An Excerpt from Bill Clinton and James Patterson's "The President Is Missing"
- The best mysteries and thrillers of the month
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