A debut book provides an insider’s account of the Secret Service with the bonus of a spouse’s perspective.
Jan Marie Ritter opens this work on the fateful day of March 30, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan and three others were shot outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. This is also the moment when her two children, who are otherwise largely absent from the text, understand what their father does for a living as a member of the Secret Service. Ritter then turns back the clock to the early years of her relationship with co-author Bob, after they met in Spanish class at the University of Maryland in 1967. Of particular note is a rough period for the couple beginning in 1976, which included Bicentennial celebrations, the presidential election and inauguration, and the shah of Iran’s state visit. As Ritter notes, “The past two and a half years had been an endless action-film serial of late night call outs, long hours, no days off, and out-of-town travel.” At the end of the memoir, she circles back to the Reagan assassination attempt. Fortunately, Bob was stationed elsewhere that day, but he had been critical of a change made three years prior to the hotel’s security protocol that he felt was too risky. Though still troubled by the turn of events, he is vindicated here, along with other ideas of his that were unwisely ignored. Overall, Ritter does a respectable job of weaving the couple’s memoir into the larger narrative of a turbulent period in American history. In addition, the intricate tapestry covers a remarkable range of subjects. But her technique of presenting major national and international events through conversation rather than narration occasionally produces stilted dialogue: Bob goes on and on in long discursive paragraphs while Ritter offers clunky interjections here and there. For example, while they discuss the Jonestown Massacre, readers see this contrived exhortation: “ ‘What can we learn from this tragedy?’ I asked.” In light of relationship pressures and professional frustrations, Bob eventually decided to save his marriage and left the Secret Service. Ultimately, the authors were able to move past this period of strife and look forward to further adventures, perhaps saved for another time.
An impressive memoir with something for everyone: history and government, love and marriage, life and death.