Who’s Your Daddy?

The President’s Daughter
Jack Higgins

As a kid, when this reading Jones first kicked in,  I tore through everything I could get my hands on. Fiction. Non-fiction. Novels. Biographies. Myths and legends. Even an encyclopedia or two. And so, like many another lad, I read my fair share of Hardy Boys books.

At this remove, I wonder if those assembly line books exist to make series more attractive to adult readers.

The present volume, you see, is one in a series (number six I’m told) by a commercial writer who crafts a number of them. Higgins’ name is not unknown to me. I remember a classmate breathlessly reading The Eagle has Landed the year we graduated elementary school. By my lights, that makes Higgins about 102 years old now, which is what set me to thinking about producing books like Chevrolets.

I’ll admit it. I started this book in an attempt to get past the log jam my lifelong project–reading all the things I’m “supposed” to read–often results in. The book happened to be in the house because my 8-year old son, displaying either precocity or perversion, had loaded up on mass-market paperbacks at the library sale last summer. His criteria, I believe, were cover art and an understandable title, a pairing which caused some problems when he started dragged his treasures to school. Third graders don’t typically read James Patterson novels, and so Mrs. AHC dispatched me to confiscate and remove the offending matter.

Say what you will about the literary merit, you knew exactly what to expect when you opened one of these.

For some reason, I only completed half that request, which is how I found myself ensconced in the scarcely believable volume at hand. There’s no requirement that a story be even remotely plausible–why should facts ever get in the way of telling a tale?–but sometimes the coincidences and inconsistencies pile up higher than spring snow in the Sierras. This is one of those times.

We begin with Jake Cazalet ,  a young man of extraordinary privilege, sitting out the Vietnam War in that iviest of Ivies, Harvard University. An exemplary product of his time, enraged at the war machine, he meets a student missing an arm who is a veteran of that conflict, an encounter which leads to withdrawal and voluntarily enlisting to fight in that troubling conflict.

He becomes a war hero. His path crosses that of a beautiful French noblewoman (are there any others?) searching for her missing husband. That unsuccessful search leads her to the arms of our man and the future looks rosy after their rapid ascent to coupledom.  Bliss lasts but a night. Her husband is found and our hero, a man of quiet resolve, withdraws.

For some reason, I kept seeing this guy as President while I read this book.
Photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

His life eventually takes him to the US Senate and then the Oval Office. His path crosses that of the woman who got away, now married to a French general. She tells him their one night together gave her a daughter, a fact they both agree no one must ever know.

By this point I was almost checking the spine and back cover to see if I’d mistakenly picked up a Romance Novel. I wasn’t looking to satisfy blood lust mind you, but one firefight in the jungles of Indo-China aside, this tale was proving to be more hugs-and-kisses than shoot-’em-up.

Then everything changed. A comely young woman, painting by the seaside, is kidnapped. Her captors are fanatics. In a neat twist sure to piss off a couple of different groups, they are Zionists, committed to the state of Israels security. Their plan is to leverage the still-secret identity of the painter’s father to elicit an act that could as easily start a world war as secure Israel.

1909 In the Garden, Corfu
John SInger Sargeant

The solution? Why, British Intelligence, of course. And not the whole muddle of MIs, thank you very much. That’s George Smiley‘s territory. No, just a small group of high officials and Sean Dillon, fine-wine drinking, poly-lingual, ex-IRA thug who now works for the right side as a sort of one-man army of the righteous. Like all such anti-heroes, Dillon lives by a code that, in its harshness and his commitment to it, makes him the most principled actor of the lot. The bodies left in his wake are merely the evidence of his craft, not venality.

As with all plot-driven narratives, to say much more is to give the game away. If the improbabilities that started in Vietnam are compounded by the mere existence of Sean Dillon, then what follows shouldn’t strike anyone as just too convenient at all.

But that’s not the purpose of this book, just as it wasn’t the purpose of any Frank and Joe Hardy tale. In those stories, a young reader could escape the trials of the Great Depression (the first volume of the Hardy Boys series appeared in 1927), immersing himself in a secure middle-class world where the main characters enjoyed much of what is good in life and who always found everything worked out, no matter how perilous the path to a successful conclusion.

It’s really no different here.  In the darkest days of early January, spending some time in and about the Aegean with an Irish Bond-like killing machine suggests nothing so much as escape.

And I’ve got the virtual tan to prove it.

 

 

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