Hazardous Duty: A Presidential Agent Novel
There comes a point when an author of a series must ask if that series is broken and needs to be fixed or is rolling along just fine, if somewhat predictably. This issue was seemingly broached by W.E.B. Griffin and co-author William E. Butterworth IV with respect to the Presidential Agent series, with the apparent conclusion that a change, however temporary, was necessary.
Griffin himself indicates in the Afterword to HAZARDOUS DUTY, the eighth and latest installment in the Charley Castillo canon, that he intended this book to be a “M*A*S*H Goes to the White House and Langley” of sorts. And yes, he and Butterworth succeed in that regard, to a certain extent. However, it is somewhat doubtful that most readers will be inclined to make the journey with him, at least on this trip.
There is no doubt that HAZARDOUS DUTY is funny. The elements are all there. The President of the United States, Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen, is erratic to the point of being deranged, and everyone around him knows it. The usual practice of the President’s cabinet and advisors is to listen to what he wants done and then circumvent his wishes in a manner that still results in a satisfactory conclusion. Clendennen faces problems on two fronts: Mexican cartels and Somali pirates. His solution is to recruit Charley Castillo, a Colonel who ran a special ops team. There’s only one problem: Clendennen fired Castillo and his team. Castillo has gone to ground in parts unknown (well, unknown to Clendennen, anyway), and his team has been scattered. Clendennen is convinced that he can tempt Castillo back, but the history of the two men is such that it is going to take some indirect persuasion from elsewhere if there is even a snowball’s chance of this happening.
"There is no doubt that HAZARDOUS DUTY is funny. The elements are all there.... Is HAZARDOUS DUTY entertaining? Yes. But it requires a bit of an effort to get through it (which Griffin, to his credit, seems to acknowledge tacitly in his Afterword)."
The great difficulty with HAZARDOUS DUTY is that the narrative spends an inordinate amount of time chronicling the attempts of various individuals, official and otherwise, trying to recruit the more than reluctant Castillo back into the fold. Part of the reason for this is that the story jumps the track several times, with a character being introduced and then a backstory being interjected for anywhere from several paragraphs to a few pages. Some of these backstories are extremely interesting, and all are amusing to some degree or another. But they do little or nothing to advance the main plot, which seems to be resolved almost as an afterthought.
I appreciate the difficulties that Team Griffin faces with trying to bring new readers up to snuff with what has gone before, particularly in a series like this with its complex storylines and multiplicity of characters. Unfortunately, those who have been on the ride from the beginning may find themselves bored with some of the recounting as they wait for the plot to move along. Newcomers, on the other hand, may well be confounded by the characters and bloodlines and the like thrown at them from page to page. Furthermore, those who have come to expect their thrillers from Griffin to be served up with explosions, karate and high doses of political intrigue with occasional helpings of humor may be disappointed to find the proportions reversed here.
Is HAZARDOUS DUTY entertaining? Yes. But it requires a bit of an effort to get through it (which Griffin, to his credit, seems to acknowledge tacitly in his Afterword). I certainly would not give up on the Griffin/Butterworth team just yet --- consider the balance of their work, which far outweighs the rare disappointment --- and will keep giving their books a look for the foreseeable future. Still, their latest will probably be of primary interest only to completists and diehard Griffin fans.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 8, 2014