THE PRESIDENT'S MAN by Nicholas Guild


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What if a ""sleeper"" Soviet agent rose to some position of free-world power--even to the White House? That's a familiar suspense premise (it's a piece of Ludlum's Parsifal Mosaic, below); and Guild, author of the fine The Summer Soldier and two weaker sequels, gives it an industrious run-through in this cleanly written but farfetched and ill-constructed thriller. Unwisely, the novel begins by revealing--in a prologue--that CIA director Frank Austen has gotten evidence of some secret evil concerning President Simon Faircliff (Austen's boss, mentor, and father-in-law). So there's not much mystery or tension as the story then becomes a book-length flashback about the rise of politician Faircliff. . . and about Austen's growing suspicions. Their alliance begins in California, when ex-spy Austen helps heroic-seeming Congressman Faircliff to become Senator Faircliff with some semi-dirty work: Austen becomes Faircliff's ruthless troubleshooter and marries his daughter Dottle. But Dottle soon expresses some weird ideas about her father (did he somehow murder her mother?). And though Austen is at first highly skeptical, he begins to share some of Dottie's uneasiness--when Faircliff takes on slimy Howard Diederich as top aide, when Faircliff's toughest presidential-primary rivals meet with sudden deaths, when Austen himself is nearly bumped off. Still, it's only after Faircliff becomes president that Austen, now CIA chief, gets genuinely suspicious. Why is an old Russian defector suddenly the target of assassination attempts? How did Pres. Faircliff get the inside info to become the hero of a confrontation with the USSR? (""It was the Cuban missile crisis all over again."") Could it be that Diederich and/or Faircliff are part of a long-ago Soviet plot to replace a number of promising (orphaned) US youths with Soviet impostors Yes, indeed--but since that secret is so relentlessly hinted at all through the novel, there's little excitement as Austen finally locates the damning evidence and faces the sleeper-President in a showdown. Too slow, obvious, and linear, then--it's easy to imagine how a Le CarrÉ might alluringly re-structure the raw material here--but the scene-by-scene writing is strong and unpretentious, with lots of grimly readable fatalities along the way.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's