I spent last summer living the life of an Israeli assassin.
I read 11 out of 13 of Daniel Silva’s spy novels, and began to see the world in a very different light! I have two more to go, and have been jealously saving them for summer vacation.
In the meantime, a new series was sent to me for review and approval, and once again I’ve found my worldview being shaped by great fiction. The Presidential Series by Douglas J. Wood is a tale of political manipulation, intrigue and survival. It will appeal to anyone enjoying political insider information as well as lovers of espionage and world issues.
The series reads like the front page of the newspaper or your daily news feed, and at first that was my main complaint. We’re all burned out on the front page of the newspaper, aren’t we? But hang in there. Douglas J. Wood has crafted a series which illuminates the inner workings of Washington and at the same time cast a vision for what life would be like with a decisive leader. It’s worth the time invested.
Our protagonist is Samantha Harrison. When we first meet Sam, she is a startlingly driven young woman who is confronted with the realities of compromise, principles and the cost of success early in her career. She has caught the eye of Zachary Watts, a lawyer in her first firm and an eventual kingmaker in the political system. Zach, along with Samantha’s husband Ben, guide the headstrong Sam as she begins her meteoric ascent in the post 9/11 world.
The focus in Book 1 of this series, Presidential Intentions, is the personal cost of a political trajectory. Sam must make hard decisions, decisions which create havoc in her family and force her to choose which issues she will cling to throughout the course of her career. Those decisions sound oh so easy (“I would never ______________”), but author Douglas Wood does a phenomenal job of setting up the complex circumstances which force compromise on our fledgling politician.
As a character, Samantha Harrison is all that we might wish ourselves or our daughters to be. She is headstrong, intelligent, scrappy, and she loves fiercely even as she is pulled further and further from her family. This is a character who can withstand the long haul, and by the first few chapters into Presidential Intentions, we’re ready to stick it out with Samantha.
A final note on Presidential Intentions: the book was written in 2014, long before the 2016 election campaign season. It is intriguing to note the author’s expectations for the season (he got the ultra-long list of Republican candidates nearly perfect) as well as the outcomes and issues he envisions. Donald Trump is, of course, unforeseeable. Nevertheless, Samantha herself often embodies Trumpian characteristics in her speeches, negotiation tactics and general swagger.
I love reading series once they are complete, don’t you? I picked up book 2, Presidential Declarations, the moment I finished book 1.
As book 2 opens, Samantha has risen to incredible heights in the Washington DC power system, rapidly becoming Secretary of State. And her nation is going to need her like never before. With a major terrorist attack devastating the government, Samantha is called upon by Hilary Clinton to help run the country on an emergency basis. This is perhaps the most intriguing portion of the book for me: envisioning leaders of opposite parties putting personal gain aside (don’t worry -- personal gain comes back later!) for the good of the country.
One of the aspects of this series which I enjoy so much is Douglas J. Wood’s deft weaving of fictional characters with actual politicians. In this book, there are backroom deals which elevate Samantha to her position in the senate. And then, in a stunning scene set in the White House dining room with Hilary and Bill Clinton, Sam is offered the position of Secretary of State, even though she is a conservative Republican. Watching Sam navigate the intricacies of dealing with the Clintons and deciding what is best for her own political career is fascinating. The ensuing relationship with the Clintons reminds me of the relationship between the Bushes and the Clintons, and makes me wonder what it would truly be like to be in that exclusive company of Presidential Alumni.
Once more throughout the course of Presidential Declarations we see the incredible personal cost of following a political path. There is an agony of spirit when convictions and relationships are tested to the breaking point, and Wood does a masterful job of showing us the tension without preaching or allowing his characters to descend into caricatures.
So we reach the end, and in my opinion, Book 3 of the Presidential Series is the best. By now I was fully on team Samantha, and couldn’t wait to see her step into leadership after winning the 2020 elections. As usual, however, Douglas J. Wood doesn’t allow us to rest on our laurels. Sam is immediately dealing with terrorism, both domestic and international, and threats to her family, life and country.
Presidential Conclusions sees Samantha’s daughter Amanda stepping into the limelight (very current and seems like a prediction for Ivanka and Chelsea…) and carrying the Senate into negotiations with her mother, the President of the United States. Amanda is a force to be reckoned with, and if Wood continues this series in any format I imagine Amanda will step to the foreground.
Presidential Conclusions is riveting. Seriously. I found myself pondering the characters when I was out to dinner or at work, wondering what was happening in their lives. The series reminds me in a small way of Designated Survivor, in that I wonder what America really would be like if terrorism exploded around us and we needed to make fundamental changes to our government. The process of unraveling the terror plots also highlighted the smallest of details which move the investigations forward. I was intrigued and also terrified, thinking of the smallest of “coincidences” which prevent or allow disasters. Wood doesn’t sugar-coat anything, so by the end of Book 3 you feel like you have been through a battle. But it is a battle worth fighting.
It’s tempting, in this year of election and government fatigue, to want to skip reading anything that drives you deeper into the world of Washington DC. So why bother to spend valuable time reading a fictional series?
Maybe because we need to know what Wood has shown us. We need to know that each of our politicians -- on both sides of the aisle -- has paid a tremendous personal price to serve our country. Some politicians are lining their own pockets and futures, to be sure, but Wood reminds us that men and women who sincerely wish well for our country can have dramatically different opinions on how to achieve peace and prosperity. And those same men and women have sacrificed to put their vision forward. I find that when I remember that, even when I strongly, vehemently, completely disagree with their actions, I have more respect and empathy for their office. We need that kind of civility.
Read the series because it is good to know that the United States of America is filled with resourceful and strong people. Even if the worst happens to us, we will fight on and build our nation.
Read the books to face your fears and watch them resolve over the course of time. It gives you perspective for the long haul.
Read the books to inspire yourself to be part of the solutions, to reason out your own principles, and to stand on them.
Most of all, read the books because they are good. They are well-written, fast-paced and intriguing. And honestly, can you think of anything better to do on a calm summer’s day than open up a book, reach for a good cup of coffee and explore an alternate future for our country?
Ready to learn more about the Presidential Series? Click these links!