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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cityblog Feature: Nayakgiri: Bestsellers Book Review Part 1 Bill Clinton & James Patterson, Frederick Forsyth

The President is missing: Bill Clinton and James Patterson

The novel opens with the commander in chief, President Duncan, preparing for a House select committee. His staff has strongly advised him against testifying. “My opponents really hate my guts,” Duncan thinks, but “here I am”: just one honest man “with rugged good looks and a sharp sense of humor.” Facing a panel of sniveling political opportunists intent on impeaching him, Duncan knows he sounds “like a lawyer” caught in “a semantic legal debate,” but darn it, he’s trying to save the United States! Although Congress insists he explain exactly what he’s been up to, he can’t reveal the details of his secret negotiations with a terrorist set on destroying the country.
As a fabulous revision of Clinton’s own life and impeachment scandal, this is dazzling.  The transfiguration of William Jefferson Clinton into Jonathan Lincoln Duncan should be studied in psych departments for years. Both men lost their fathers early and rose from hardscrabble circumstances to become governors. Both men met their brilliant wives in law school, and both couples have one daughter.
But then we come to the curious differences: Rather than shrewdly avoiding military service, President Duncan is a celebrated war hero. Rather than being pleasured in the Oval Office by an intern, Duncan was tortured in Iraq by the Republican Guard. And rather than being the subject of innumerable rumors about extramarital affairs, Duncan was wholly devoted to his late wife and now lives in apparent celibacy.
Even incidental details provide weird echoes of the Clinton era: Duncan’s closest adviser is a woman publicly branded by a crude reference to oral sex.
But onward! After all, this is, at least partially, a James Patterson book, and soon we’re crashing through his famous two-page chapters.   The whole 500-page novel takes place in just a few days as a terrorist named Suliman Cindoruk plots to activate a computer virus devised by a beautiful Abkhazian separatist with a hard, agile body and a “voracious appetite for exploration, in the world of cyberwarfare and in the bedroom.” Her virus has infected every server, computer and electronic device in America.
In a matter of hours, the country’s financial, legal and medical records will be erased; the transportation and electrical grids will crash. Hungry and Twitterless, without access to porn, fake news or Joyce Carol Oates’s cat photos, America will be plunged into the Dark Ages.
Only one handsome man can stop this, but it’s not easy for the president of the United States to slip out of the White House and foil international terrorists, particularly with those congressmen hot on his tail, intent on impeachment. Fortunately, Duncan gets some makeup help from an actress who is “one of the twenty most beautiful women on the planet.” A little beard stubble, some quick work with an eyebrow pencil and — voila: The leader of the free world is ready to go underground and defend Western civilization.
And as we zoom through these chapters, it’s easy to tell which author is holding the reins. Sometimes, the pages spark to DEFCON 1 with spectacular shootouts, car crashes, Viper helicopters and a pregnant assassin code-named Bach who “is known only by her gender and the classical-music composer she favors.”
Nayakgiri Comments
Title does not make sense. We always know where president is as it is narrated by president himself.   So we always know his whereabouts. When we pick up a thriller we expect lot of action. Clinton lacks that action and speed. For eg thrills are limited to giving us Cabinet members questioning each other over Skype. President Duncan spends an awful lot of time consulting with world leaders. He lectures at us about the proper function of government and the responsibilities of NATO. Several segments read like little admonitions to  current president.

The Scope of the Novel is cramped. Author’s over belief in pervasiveness of IOT (Internet of Things) is futuristic. There’s no thrum of national panic, no sense of the wide world outside this very literal narrative. And so much of the plot is stuck in a room with nerds trying to crack a computer code. That struggle feels about as exciting as watching your parents trying to remember their Facebook password: “Did you spell it with an O? Did you try a capital letter?”

The Fox By Frederick Forsyth
The novel’s two main characters could hardly be more different. Sir Adrian Weston is a 70-year-old retired senior British intelligence official who remains influential because Prime Minister Marjory Graham trusts him. Sir Adrian is the novel’s brains, conscience and hero.
The other lead character is Luke Jennings, an 18-year-old who sports an unruly mop of blond curls and suffers from a severe case of Asperger’s syndrome. At the outset, Luke lives with his parents in a modest house in a London suburb where he spends most of his time in the attic on his computer. Luke has somehow developed an inexplicable ability to break through computer defenses. That gift is the spring of Forsyth’s novel.
One day, astonished American security officials discover that their most secret databases, long thought impregnable, have been hacked by an intruder who stole nothing, just looked around and withdrew. An intensive investigation identifies Luke as the culprit.
In a White House confrontation, the president — Donald Trump — demands that Luke be handed over for trial and imprisonment. But Sir Adrian insists that the boy can be more useful in London by gaining access to supposedly impenetrable databases in Iran, North Korea and Russia. Luke proceeds to break through those nations’ most elaborate defenses to extract priceless intelligence, often about nuclear plans.
Forsyth’s story includes scathing descriptions of several world leaders. In his discussion of North Korea’s nuclear capacity, Forsyth describes the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as “fat, ugly, insisting on a bizarre haircut” and warns that his “ruthlessness is total, his obsession with himself absolute.”
Sir Adrian warns the prime minister that the supposed North Korean denuclearization is a scam — that if they have destroyed one nuclear facility they have simply hidden another one elsewhere. She asks why Trump would fall for such a ruse. Because, he says, he “lusts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. So the desire to believe is triumphant.”
Forsyth is even less flattering to Vladimir Putin, whom he describes as “a cold-eyed little former secret- police thug” and mass murderer who has colluded with Russian gangsters and oligarchs (often the same people) to make himself possibly the richest man in the world. Forsyth also portrays Putin as determined to return Russia to the prominence it enjoyed under Joseph Stalin.
Sir Adrian warns that Putin will try to dominate Europe not with nuclear weapons but with Russia’s vast resources of natural gas and a complex series of pipelines capable of supplying most of the continent. He tells the prime minister: “Russia has now pinned all her hopes on swamping Western Europe with her natural gas and thus becoming, through our energy dependence, our effective masters.”
 The pipelines are controlled by computers, so perhaps England can call upon its secret weapon, Luke Jennings, to foil the plan.

Putin sends Russia’s most lethal sniper — known only as Misha — to England to eliminate the troublesome teenager. Forsyth compares Misha to Vasily Zaitsev, the legendary Russian sniper who in snow-blanketed Stalingrad in winter 1942 was credited with eliminating hundreds of German soldiers.
But can Misha find Luke? Or can Sir Adrian protect the boy and preserve world peace? The outcome is exciting, surprising and satisfying.
Luke’s ability to defeat computer codes is never clarified. He’s called a “cybergenius” with a “bewildering” skill, but his genius can’t be explained because it’s a gimmick, pure and simple. But it’s one we accept because he’s on our side, it’s fun and the rest of the book is so deeply rooted in reality.
Nayakgiri Comments
In 1971, Frederick Forsyth, then a freelance reporter in need of cash, published his first novel, “The Day of the Jackal.” His tale of a plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle won international success and established Forsyth as one of the world’s premier spy novelists.

Now, at age 80, Forsyth has published his 17th novel, “The Fox.” It is in one regard an odd tale, but it’s also ingenious, expertly written and a serious look at international conflicts that threaten the future of the world.
As a teenager and young professional I thrived on these international plots, venues, conspiracy theories, spies, high tech, twists and turns in plots. As we turned mature we felt sense of being driven by megalomanias ambitions intertwined with individual aspirations and rightful place in scheme of things. Forsyth catered to that.  Later when we actually travelled to places learned hard realities of life all that heroism is lost for mundane achievements. But then as master went into kind of reclusion with an occasional novels like Afghan and Kill list in post-cold war era , I missed him a lot till The Fox.
Forsyth is supremely well-informed about world affairs, politics, diplomacy, weaponry and the mysteries of spycraft. In “The Fox,” as in all his novels, he lays them out in brilliant detail. Young Luke is the icing on the cake.

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