The president and the detective novel – a continuing love story

May 31, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, writers, writing.

The President Is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. Coming to your physical and digital bookstore in June. Watch for it. Pre-order from Amazon if you like.

This won’t be the first time that a president has ventured into the mystery/detective/thriller genre, as Clay Fehrman points out in an interesting and enlightening article in the New York Times. The Mystery Buffs in the White House – The New York Times

Presidents from Abraham Lincoln (who could quote part of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gold Bug) have loved mysteries and detective stories. Some have even ventured into the genre itself. Franklin Roosevelt had a half-formed plot that he gave to an author to develop — in fact, several authors tried to collaborate on it — but the result was disappointing.

The leader among the Detective-Story-Readers-in-Chief, however, was  Woodrow Wilson.

Fehrman writes

Wilson had spent most of his life as a professor and author, steeped in history and political science. He also adored detective stories, keeping a volume on his nightstand and with him on train trips. After Wilson’s terrible stroke in 1919, his wife read aloud to him. “I read so many detective stories that one day I told Woodrow in a state of alarm that I had suddenly found myself thinking in terms of crime,” she later wrote. “This amused him very much, and he said that he thought for his own safety we had better turn to something else.”

Wilson spoke publicly about his love for detective stories, particularly those he liked, and his endorsement was actively sought. Some thought that Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilson were the two men most responsible for the popularity of the detective story in America.


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