Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


The President’s Assassin by Brian Haig


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)




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Brian Haig has reprised army lawyer Sean Drummond for another thriller, The President’s Assassin. FBI Agent Jennifer Margold joins Sean as he tries to make sense of his current assignment at the CIA, protecting the President from threats. The action starts moving when the President’s chief of staff is found dead in what appears to be a well planned job, and Drummond learns of a $100 million bounty placed on the President’s head. While the plot moves quickly, and Drummond remains an interesting character, Haig’s writing is usually weak on dialogue, and long on exposition narrative that makes on feel like an insider in Washington, but doesn’t necessarily make for a better book. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter Four, pp. 46-52:


My new pal Jennie spoke for fifteen minutes. She used a felt-tip marker and wallboard to create a visual of Terrence Belknap’s home and security systems, took everybody through the arrival of the government car, through the perp’s walk up the pathway, then through the trail of death from the front door to the base­ment. She was indeed very bright. She spoke articulately, mini­mized the FBI jargon, knew which details were important, had good recall, was organized and succinct, and she had a pleasant voice. Wisely, she did not speculate, or even elaborate beyond the facts.

She finished up by saying, “We in the FBI classify murders into two broad categories: organized and disorganized. This might sound generic, even oversimplified. It is not. It’s a very complicated judgment and we draw many inferences and dis­coveries from those classifications. Unquestionably, this was an organized killing.”

From my observation of the faces of the players around the table as she spoke, nearly everybody had listened attentively, raptly, even apprehensively. Mrs. Hooper fell into none of these categories, tapping her pencil on the table, yawning, totally bored and disconnected. She put down the pencil and asked, “Is there a relevance I’m supposed to draw from that observation?”

“Well... it has great pertinence to those involved in the hunt for the murderers,” Jennie replied. She paused. “Here’s what’s noteworthy to you. During my years in the Behavioral Sci­ence Unit, I observed over three hundred murder sites and stud­ied countless others. This killing. . . it’s one for the books… flawless intelligence, preparation, and execution. This operation was planned weeks in advance. We should expect. . . well, whatever they have planned over the next two days, expect the same pattern.”

“The leopard doesn’t change his spots. Tell us something we don’t know.”

Jenme nodded. “All right. Here’s what’s curious. . . even alarming. It is axiomatic in our business that political assassins are disorganized. Their motives may be myriad, but their profiles and patterns are not. They are nearly all social losers, frustrated individuals, of low intelligence and ability They fixate on the tar­get and the statement they want to make. They take only ele­mentary precautions to avoid evidence and witnesses, to create an escape plan, to avoid detection. In fact, nearly all political as­sassins want to be identified. Irrelevance is the mental hell they’re trying to escape.”

“All right, what was their motivation?”

“There’s no way to know. Not yet.”

“At what stage will you know? After the President’s dead?”

Set aside the nasty tone, and Mrs. Hooper had posed a press­ing and beguiling question. Jennie replied, “If they have a mes­sage, they’ll choose the time and place to convey it?’ She added, “Personally, I’m not sure they have a message?’

“And what would you call the note they left?”

“I haven’t read it. I’m not prepared to analyze it?’

“But you know what it said.”

“I heard a summary. It didn’t sound like a message. It sounded like... like an announcement—a taunt?’

She was right, it did. I mean, they open the game by capping the President’s right-hand man, and then leave a note that reads, up Yours, more to follow, then the big guy himself These peo­ple had big egos and brass balls. But gosh, wouldn’t we all look bad if they got away with it?

Surveying the faces around the table, Jennie asked, “Other questions?”

After a moment, Townsend asked, “How long were you in the house?”

“Twelve minutes, sir. Two sweeps?’

“Twelve minutes?” Those unblinking eyes regarded Jennie for a full ten seconds. The effect was unsettling, almost creepy, like staring at a dead fish and waiting for it to speak. But even­tually the lips parted and he said, “That was an impressive analysis for such a short time.”

“Thank you, sit Mr. Drummond here was invaluable. He figured out there was more than one killer, and he pointed out a number of other clues I might have overlooked.”

“That’s why we have teams,” Townsend replied. “We all bring something to the party?’ He then said, “You have some specula­tions and leads, I assume?’

“I do?”


“We believe the killers had a detailed understanding of the security. They knew how to circumvent the security systems, they may have known a female agent would answer the door, and apparently they knew Terrence and Marybeth Belknap breakfasted together.” She paused, then added, “They knew ex­actly how to deploy themselves in order to kill everybody in that house efficiently and simultaneously.”

Mr.Wardell of the Secret Service didn’t like the direction she was going and said, “I hope you’re not implying that one of our people might be involved.”

“I implied nothing.”

“You’d better not.”

Jennie nodded. Though of course she had implied exactly that, and Mr. Wardell worked up a little steam. “Look. . . before anyone jumps to a bad conclusion, the Secret Service has been officially guarding the President and his people since 1902. Can anyone here name a single instance of betrayal?” He looked at the faces around the table and added, very insistently, “No federal agency matches our vetting and security procedures.”

For a moment the room was silent. Then Phyllis Carney com­mented, “Charles, I don’t mean to be contrary, but really... we at the CIA take a backseat to nobody when it comes to safe­guarding against traitors and betrayals.”

It took a moment before we all realized the sound we heard was Charles Wardell’s balls rolling around on the floor. He said, “I. . . I didn’t mean to imply that our systems are airtight.”

Margold nodded appreciatively in Phyllis’s direction and said, “Anybody with knowledge about the security at that house needs to be put under a microscope immediately.”

Townsend turned to Wardell. “Provide that list to Meany this morning. And for impartiality’s sake, the Bureau will handle the interrogations and investigation.”

Poor Mr.Wardell did not look happy to carry that word back to his beloved Service. He was realizing, of course, that the crap was about to rain on the American praetorians and there was not a big enough umbrella to hide under. At least he could look his peers in the eye and claim he fought the good fight.

Townsend glanced back at Margold and asked, “Further leads? Speculations?”

“Well, the driver, Larry Elwood, and the location of his car have to be targets of immediate and primary interest. Elwood is a suspect, obviously. However, his car arrived five minutes late and his face is not visible on the videos. This could imply his car was hijacked and the man on our tape is an impostor. Also, the car is a mining site for forensics.”

“Good point.” Townsend turned to George Meany. “What are we doing about the car?”

“An APB has been issued?’

“Not enough. Scramble helicopters and notify every local jurisdiction to conduct a street-by-street search. Put out a de­scription to every tolltaker in the five-state region. Assume they changed plates. Focus on the car model?’

George was furiously scribbling all this down on a notepad.

Townsend studied him and said, “By nightfall, every black Lincoln Town Car from Baltimore to Richmond better have been stopped at least a dozen times?’ To underscore that, he added, “My official car included. If I don’t get stopped and searched, I’ll have somebody’s head.”

Jennie suggested, “We should also send agents door-to-door in the Ballantrae Farm neighborhood, asking if anybody saw any­thing this morning.”

I suggested, “In any of the weeks leading up to this morning. The killers no doubt staked out the Belknaps’ house well in advance?’

Townsend looked at Meany and commented, “It’s an exclu­sive neighborhood. Strangers would be noticed.”

Actually, anybody not in a Brooks Brothers suit and a hundred-thousand-dollar luxury car would stick out like a pur­ple banana on that block.

Meany needed to get a point on the board and suggested, “Also, every police district and sheriff’s department from Balti­more to Richmond should be told to report any murders, killings, or serious incidents to us immediately. We can’t afford a delay in notification.”

My personal feelings about George aside, he was smart and competent, and it was a timely suggestion. Washington, D.C., is an annual contender for the murder capital, and a relevant mur­der could easily get lost or misplaced in the city’s embarrass­ment of riches. Following up on George’s thought, I asked, “Exactly what is everybody outside this room allowed to know?”

I thought for a moment I was going to be asked to leave. But Peterson shook his head and said, “Leave it to Drummond to drag the elephant into the room.”

George Meany chuckled. Jennie smiled, and everybody else stared at me. I take a bit of getting used to.

But apparently this question fell into Mrs. Hooper’s basket, who said, “I haven’t decided. For now, Terry Belknap is at home with the flu.” She glanced at Peterson and Townsend and in­structed them, “You two go brief the President. I’ll let you know.”

Power is a weird thing. Theoretically and on paper, the Di­rectors of the FBI and CIA are higher in the food chain than some lady who came to town on her boss’s coattail and did not need permission from Congress for her corner office in the West Wing. Yet this brief exchange cleared up any messy confusion about who was who in the pecking order. I really missed the Army, where everybody has their rank on their collar. The rank doesn’t always tell you who’s actually in charge, but it does tell you who can and who can’t screw you.

Anyway, they both nodded and departed, and Jennie Margold and I exchanged troubled looks. As soon as the door closed, Jen­nie addressed Mrs. Hooper and asked, “Are Drummond and I missing something? The White House Chief of Staff’s dead. You can’t hide that.”

It was an interesting question, and apparently a provocative one, because for a moment it just hung in the air. Then Phyllis, my boss, said, “It’s. . . well, it’s a little more complicated than that, I’m afraid. We probably should have seen this coming.”


Well. . . the bounty.” She studied a spot on the wall for a moment. “Somebody has offered a reward of one hundred mil­lion dollars to whoever murders the President of the United States?’



Haig excels in letting smart people reveal their skills, and there’s a lot of entertainment value on the pages of The President’s Assassin, amid the rampant violence that also smarts. It’s not so compelling that you want to stay up late to finish, or so well written that you’re disappointed when you reach the last page.


Steve Hopkins, October 25, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the November 2005 issue of Executive Times


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