I'm a big fan of spy/thriller/espionage/solitary killer novels. Yeah, they fall into the category of "popular fiction" rather than literary fiction, but that's because...duh...they're popular.
I read lots of non-fiction because I want to learn something. I read popular fiction because I want to escape into an entertaining alternative world.
I tried to alternate reading each book on successive nights. But it didn't take long before I read Silva's book every night, because it engrossed me, and the Clinton/Patterson book didn't -- at least not in comparison to "The English Spy."
Amazingly, currently 68% of Amazon reader reviews give a 5-star rating to both books. My suspicion is that many of those who bought "The President is Missing" don't know what a really well-written thriller novel is all about, because Silva is a vastly better writer than Clinton and Patterson.
"The English Spy" is (1) believable, (2) complex, (3) populated with interesting characters, and (4) a page-turner that's hard to put down. So far, and I admit that I'm only about a third into "The President is Missing," I haven't found the Clinton/Patterson book to be any of these things.
The New Yorker review of "The President is Missing" was titled High Crimes, with this apt subtitle: Bill Clinton pens a thriller, sort of.
My feeling exactly! But the online version of the review omitted that snarky saying. Maybe Clinton and Patterson objected to this bit of truth-telling.
Anthony Lane's positive, but not ecstatic, review of "The President is Missing" contained a cogent question:
Yet the puzzle remains: why James Patterson? Why not Daniel Silva?
Indeed. The answer to that question probably is contained in this excerpt from Lane's review:
But the gods are just, and although they denied the gift of literary grace to Patterson, they bestowed on him an even rarer skill. As a collaborator, he’s the top. Barely can he sketch an outline without reaching for a sidekick. So numerous are his assistants that one has to ask, less in snotty disapproval than in ontological awe, how many of Patterson’s books are actually “his,” and to what extent he is a writer at all, as opposed to a trademark or a brand.
I don't know if Daniel Silva has ever co-written a book with someone else.
I suspect that he hasn't, because Silva is so skilled at writing a thriller novel (I love his Gabriel Allon character, "legendary spy and assassin" according to the back cover), being forced to collaborate, as Patterson did with Clinton, seems as unlikely as Shakespeare saying, hey, dude, let's each write part of this Romeo and Juliet play I've got an idea for.
(And not just because "dude" wasn't in Shakespeare's lexicon.)
Anyway, I'm going to turn my attention to "The President is Missing" now that I've finished "The English Spy."
But I've got another Silva book on hand in case I feel a pang of Daniel Silva withdrawal symptoms: "House of Spies." Which, interestingly enough, is mentioned in The New Yorker review as one of Clinton's favorite books.
In 2003, in downtown Little Rock, there was an exhibition devoted to Bill Clinton’s favorite books. It was solid fare, and doughtily unmodish. T. S. Eliot, Yeats, Orwell, Sophocles, and Marcus Aurelius were present, and also Reinhold Niebuhr (of whom Barack Obama, likewise, is a devotee). There was a face-off between biographies of Lincoln and Leopold II of Belgium. There was even something entitled “Living History,” by Hillary Rodham Clinton. How on earth did that make the cut?
Then, last year, on Facebook, the former President issued a fresh roster of recommendations, this time with extra quirks: Oliver Sacks and Carly Simon, a book about the making of “High Noon,” and “House of Spies,” by the indefatigable Daniel Silva, whose recurrent leading man, over seventeen books, displays a knack for espionage, judicious homicide, and art restoration.