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Friday, April 29, 2011

A Heartbeat Away (audiobook) by Michael Palmer

A political thriller for people that don't know much about politics

Read by Robert Petkoff
11 hours, 42 minutes.

The premise behind A Heartbeat Away is simple and brilliant:  What if terrorists released a biological weapon into the House chamber during the President's State of the Union Address - the one time when just about everybody who is anybody in the Federal government is all in one room together?

The follow through, however, is not so hot.

Palmer's characterization of how a President would deal with this sort of problem shows that Palmer does not understand the one thing that all presidents are - they are politicians. They know how to collaborate, get things done, work with people they cannot stand to get their programs enacted. Even the most difficult President can schmooze and get people to work with them. 

The president in A Heartbeat Away, James Allaire is the most politically tone deaf character I have ever seen. He manages to make the whole thing look like an attempted coup (although most of the Congressmen and women  are placid, like a herd of sheep - I had to wonder if Palmer had ever watched Meet the Press even one time. Those people live to argue. They all think they are the expert of almost everything and just about everything is some sort of scheme)

Anyway, the entire government of the United States is present except for the Designated Survivor - the cabinet member who stays away just in case there is a terrorist act and becomes president. You may remember the many references to Dick Cheney being in an "undisclosed location" during the Bush 43 administration and you then know that Cheney was the Designated Survivor.

A State of the Union address
They are all exposed to WRX3883, a bio-weapon created by the order of the president (who is a "man of the people" despite his dictatorial ways - we see no evidence of this in the book but the author tell us that he is so I guess he is. Oh, he is also a medical doctor - I guess he did not take that Hippocratic Oath thing too seriously, huh? Do no harm unless you're creating a bio-weapon...) and the President does not cede power to the Designated Survivor. Instead, because he is an expert on everything, he goes about working on a secret plan to try to get a cure made, while he lies to everyone and says it is just the flu and everyone is on lockdown on the penalty of death. And - they need to sit down in their assigned seats. Now! Then, a beat down by the Secret Service starts, including a pistol whipping of someone in the upstairs gallery.

The president brings an epidemiologist out of prison where he had been held without trial for 9 months to find the cure in exchange for a pardon. Throw in a number of simplistic characters including a crusading journalist, an evil priest, evil corporate bad guys, an overly-ambitious politician with religiously-tinged political views and a whole lot of talk about the evils of animal testing and you get the idea. This is politics if Michael Savage and Michael Moore ran the two parties.

As I was listening to the audiobook I was wondering where the first family was. They were exposed to the virus in the first pages of the book while sitting in the gallery. They must have taken the order to sit down in their assigned seats very seriously because they don't show up again until the end of the book. Where are they while the president is worrying if his exposure to the bio-weapon is affecting his judgment? Where are they when gunfire erupts, when people start to die of the disease? No where to be found.

This book had all the hallmarks of a contract-filler. There are parts that are actually quite entertaining, but the political story at the center of it all is clumsy, unrealistic and frustrating.

I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer.

Reviewed on April 29, 2011.

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