Often equally or more compelling than a suspenseful movie are novels with engaging and twisting plots.
Novels of political intrigue were once one of the primary sources for scintillating films such as Three Days of the Condor and The Manchurian Candidate. But what few are brought to cinematic life anymore are usually focused on big action sequences over story and characters.
With only a few movies each year even in close proximity to those types of engaging dramas, most recently “Eye in the Sky,” “Bridge of Spies” or “London Has Fallen,” here is a suggestion for a little-known political suspense novel by a relatively new author to fill the cinematic gap:
For anyone hungry for a gripping political thriller, author Bill Thompson‘s Order of Succession: Getting Away with Murder (Ascendente Books, 302 pages) delivers a dynamic and potentially catastrophic scenario that feels like it could happen tomorrow, unfortunately.
The cautionary, daunting and potentially global-impact scenarios feel like they could be torn from the headlines of near-future newspapers, both the New York Times as well as the Wall Street Journal — combining the worst ripple effects of someone like Donald Trump becoming President with the prospect of organizations being allowed to amass too much global business clout.
Although it’s Thompson’s fifth self-published novel featuring archaeologist adventurer character Brian Sadler, this one goes nowhere near tombs or ancient burial grounds in Egypt or Mexico but hopscotches from Washington D.C. to London, Dallas, and Dubai. The Caribbean and Pacific Ocean also play a role, since that’s where Air Force One and Air Force Two go missing within a half-hour of each other, taking with them the President, Vice President, and the Secretary of State, all presumed dead.
It’s not long before other key government officials die in seemingly unrelated accidents, followed by the new bull-in-a-china-shop Speaker of the House-turned-President approving a Middle Eastern billionaire to take control of the world’s biggest energy supplier.
Thompson told me today in a phone interview from his home in Dallas that Trump’s candidacy reminded him of the brash say-anything personality of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who also didn’t mind stepping on toes. Thompson, a retired 69 year-old Republican, who built a successful career creating, buying and selling myriad businesses, decided to write a story about a man of that ilk who could become President in today’s global-political-economic atmosphere. Simultaneously, while writing Order of Succession earlier this year, Thompson noticed that China’s Anbang Insurance Group had purchased the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel and was bidding to buy the owner of Sheraton and Westin hotels, which was also being sought by Marriott.
“The idea of people coming in and buying large corporations — so many people are backing so many dangerous organizations whose motive is to take down the United States,” Thompson said, though not casting any aspersions specifically on the Anbang company. An overthrow or undermining of the U.S. government as described in his new book “could conceivably happen if people don’t keep their eyes open.”
Thompson opined that there are also no specific procedures laid out for certain situations that could leave the U.S. vulnerable, such as a plan of succession if the President and Vice President should both go missing without officially being declared dead, a scenario he addresses hypothetically in Order of Succession. Another intriguing unknown that he pondered during the interview was what would happen if the candidate elected President was assassinated before taking the oath of office since his Vice President would also not have been sworn in yet under that circumstance.
But back to his most recent novel, Thompson said he brought Sadler back by reader request even though he intended to leave that character behind with the fourth book in that series, The Bones in the Pit. But Sadler does little with his archaeology skills and is almost a supporting character this time. Even though the President is Sadler’s good friend, he doesn’t really enter the picture with any consequence until about halfway into the story. That’s when the CIA requests Sadler take a meeting about antiquities with the daughter of a Syrian billionaire suspected of funding terrorism. She’s a beautiful young woman who attracts the concern of Sadler’s lovely fiancé lawyer, who quickly joins Sadler to save her relationship and winds up becoming immersed in a mind-boggling secret operation to save the country.
Although seemingly too preposterous a story line to be credible, Thompson’s presentation is engaging and convincing. He offers just enough detail and clear research of situations, locations and procedure to sound authentic.
The pacing (short chapters in the beginning) also gets you immersed quickly, although the numerous new characters introduced in a short period of time begins to become a little daunting.
Thompson’s writing style and expressions can also feel slightly unpolished and somewhat pedestrian enough to be a little distracting. We noticed a common incorrect expression such as “…her father could have cared less…” (of course, it should be “couldn’t care less”). He uses too many cliche’s such as “This would be the call to end all calls.” He also repeats and summarizes situations unnecessarily in narrative as well as dialogue a few too many times. And his female characters sometimes veer a little too closely into outdated stereotypes when interacting with men, or when he has Nicole “shout” simple questions under stress while the men around her maintain their calm. And he has the Senate Majority leader woman experiencing a rather childish metaphoric dream in which she is a zebra while the President is a mean hunter; and she later is unable to handle the pressure of her tense political situation as well as all the men in her world — “she had lost her… own self-esteem.” “…I’m weak.”
There are a couple additional minor irritations, such as the year the story takes place. Many chapters along, there is a reverential reference to something during the Bush administration (we’re not sure which one), there is a reference to scaffolding around the Capitol building during its renovation, and deep into the book is a dig at President Obama.
Thompson said he didn’t want to provide a specific date for the story but he did intend it to take place shortly after the end of Obama’s second term next year.
He also writes of the new married Democrat bully President eyeing his new assistant “who could be his granddaughter,” thinking maybe he’d invite her in for a private tour of the Oval Office. “(It) worked for Old Bill Clinton.” An unnecessary cheap shot.
Likewise, his effort to keep the politics of the book neutral falls a tad short with the references noted above as well as positioning the bad media as represented by CNN while the good news comes from Fox News Channel (and even a reference to the specific show “Fox and Friends” and reporter Chris Wallace, described with some reverence) — Thompson says that was justified by the political affiliation of the administration in officer in the story. Fair enough.
Those minor complaints aside, Order of Succession is an impressive and thought-provoking political thriller, especially from a man who only started writing for the first time a few years ago.
Thompson, who says he is a former Mayor of Ada, Oklahoma, began writing after his wife died and he extracted himself from his businesses. His first novel was published in 2009 but he only began in earnest in 2012 and he is now cranking them out at a rate of about three per year. Earlier this year he published Ghost Train: The Lost Gold of the Nazis, the third in his “Crpyt” trilogy; and he is completing work on a new stand-alone novel aimed at young adults about life in the future after the Great War of 2042 and a ring-of-fire-earthquakes.
Thompson’s post-retirement, self-publishing inspiration is Craig Oso, aka Russell Blake, a younger retired home developer in his mid-50s who took a trip from his home in San Diego to Cabo San Lucas about 10 years ago and wound up staying there and writing novels. In 2011 he started self-publishing on Amazon.com and has been publishing about one thriller per month ever since. He is among Amazon.com’s rankings of its 100 most popular authors in action & adventure fiction, although Blake’s success is based more on a volume business since his self-published books sell for only about $4 – $7 each and Amazon gives him a 70% cut of each sale.
Like Oso/Blake, Thompson devotes his mornings to writing, while most of his afternoons are spent marketing his books, including doing interviews like this one. He says that the Internet has provided great opportunities for more writers to publish their books — he’s heard a figure of some 4,000 published each day! — but that volume creates a much bigger challenge in getting your book noticed and purchased.
Order of Succession is worth both noticing and purchasing.
— By Scott Hettrick