Shall We Tell The President? was part of a cheap crime fiction bundle that I picked up at Tesco's some time ago. Although Jeffrey Archer is a very well-known author, I'd never heard of the book, or in fact read any of his other novels.
The story features new president Florentyna Kane, the first female president of the United States, who was elected at the end of a previous novel, The Prodigal Daughter. She is determined to push through a bill to ban firearms in America, which is highly controversial and has created more than a few enemies for her. When the FBI learn of a plot to kill her in seven day's time, they only take the informant half seriously as there are so many death threats issued on a daily basis. However, within a few hours, four of the five people who have knowledge of the suspected assassination plot are dead. The remaining FBI agent, a young rookie called Mark Andrews, goes straight to the top, revealing all to the Director, and it turns into a fraught undercover operation when it becomes apparent that a senator is involved.
Shall We Tell The President? was originally written in 1977 and featured a plot to kill President Edward Kennedy. After the success of two other novels, Kane and Abel and The Prodigal Daughter, Archer replaced President Kennedy with the fictional character of Florentyna Kane and released a revised edition in 1983, labelled as Kane and Abel #3. I was reading the Pan Macmillan version published in 2013, which includes an author's note to the revised edition, in which Archer explains that when he first wrote the novel, it was set six or seven years in the future and that some of the credibility had become impaired now that the future date lie in the past, so he reworked it, making numerous changes and recasting the president, while keeping the essential story of the original.
It may have been updated but it still seems very dated, particularly as internet and mobile phones don't exist so there's lots of running around to payphones with a pile of quarters and research hastily carried out in libraries within opening hours. The attitude to women also seems quite cavalier at times - there is a particularly misogynistic and totally gratuitous joke at the end which could easily have been edited out, and the depiction of the FBI agent's burgeoning love affair with doctor Elizabeth Dexter, as well as his banter with his parking attendant, is quite sexist. I'm sure it passed as normal back in the seventies and eighties but it would surely raise a few hackles now.
I drew the same conclusion in the depiction of the president - it made me smile but roll my eyes to see that we discover she is on a diet but find out very little else about her, except for her crusade to ban guns. She is supposedly the centre of the novel yet barely features, having more of a bit part, so I would have liked to have seen much more character depth, for her and the other lead roles. The only character that appealed to me was killed off in the first couple of chapters and all of the others seemed too shadowy and one-dimensional.
The book is obviously set in Washington DC and there is a map at the start of the book. Archer does refer to the real-life organisations and political hierarchy but it all seemed quite vague and at times confusing to me, especially as we never find out the identity of the mysterious Chairman masterminding the assassination plot. It was readable but I was very underwhelmed. Having read several online reviews, it would appear that this is not one of Jeffrey Archer's best works, so maybe I should try another of his novels that isn't quite so dated.
star rating : 2.5/5
RRP : £7.99