Jeffrey (Howard) Archer Gene Lyons

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Gene Lyons

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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["Shall We Tell the President?"] is a commonplace thriller whose main interest lies in its political predictions and whose main flaw is that its premise—nicely tricked up to appeal to the vaguely liberal instincts of the people who turn novels into movies—is utterly fanciful and politically absurd.

It is 1981. Edward M. Kennedy has been elected President, with Dale Bumpers of Arkansas as his Vice President…. Here is part of his inaugural address: "My fellow Americans, as I take office the problems facing the United States across the world are vast and threatening. In South Africa, pitiless civil war rages between black and white; in the Middle East the ravages of last year's war are being repaired, but …" So much for the interesting part; the rest is written in prose almost as scintillating. Why [the publisher] thinks anybody will lay out $8.95 when he can read the newspapers for 20 cents is beyond me. Some of it is even duller, blow by blow automatic writing: "The light turned green, but a car ahead of Marc and Barry in the inside lane wanted to make a left turn on First Street. For the moment, the two impatient F.B.I. men were trapped in a line of traffic." As if getting stuck in traffic were not tiresome enough, Archer thinks we want to read about it.

For all of that, if you can swallow the premise, suspend a good deal of disbelief and tolerate the prose, "Shall We Tell the President?" is rather ingeniously plotted and does provide a certain amount of suspense. It may be fairly described as a page turner. (pp. 36-7)

It is giving away nothing of the plot to tell you that the would-be assassins are Southern arms merchants who have in mind eliminating the President as their only means of preventing a Gun Control Bill that is all but assured of passage, and about which Kennedy is to address the Senate on the day of his killing, which is to take place on the steps of the Capitol. One feels dirtied by the necessity of pointing out that such a killing at such a time would in fact do more than anything else to insure the passage of the law. If you wonder whether there is a writer greedy enough to try making a buck by killing off Edward Kennedy, read the book and find out. (p. 37)

Gene Lyons, "Four Novels," in The New York Times Book Review (copyright © 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 23, 1977, pp. 15, 36-7.∗