ULTIMATUM by Matthew Glass


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Global warming presents a U.S. president with a doomsday scenario as he takes office.

Newly elected President Joe Benton is eager to launch his “New Foundation” programs and clean up the mess left behind by his arrogant, foul-mouthed predecessor. Benton, observes one character, “has a mandate for change.” This setup may suggest 2009, but it’s actually 2033 and, just as he prepares to take the oath of office, Benton, No. 48, learns from No. 47 that global warming is progressing at an alarming, unanticipated pace. Massive relocations of entire sections of the country will soon be imperative as cloudless skies parch farmlands and oceans drown Miami. This premise could well serve as the basis for an action-laden, “special effects” thriller written in shorthand. To his credit, British author Glass makes what promises to be a refreshing choice by following the intricate political strategies and machinations that ensue in pursuit of Kyoto 4, an international treaty controlling emissions. China remains, at best, uncommitted as a signatory, and Benton’s staff devotes seemingly innumerable sessions to scope out what China’s leaders may be up to. Intent as a stenographer on capturing every codicil, subclause and qualification coming out of the deliberations, Glass comes up with a narrative that soon loses drive, focus and tension. Among the scores of characters he brings onto the scene, few are drawn well enough to fascinate, other than Secretary of State Larry Olsen, whose unilateral moves occasionally ramp up subtle suspense. At the center of what becomes a long holding pattern, Benton remains an unknown protagonist, bereft of traits and ticks. When problems close in, does he nibble jellybeans, shoot hoops? How does he feel as the United States faces a penultimate crisis? The lack of character detail and insight, which extends as well to a first family that is merely sketched in, robs the tragic denouement of emotional resonance.

Glass’s plot is fresh and arresting, but the book lacks distinctive, identifiable characters to drive it.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1888-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2009


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