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Book Note: Rex Stout, The President Vanishes

I read this book about 21-Feb-2017. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1934. This note was last modified Thursday, 23-Feb-2017 18:28:50 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Apparently, his first mystery. The ebook gives a copyright of 1934, a first edition date of 1943, another copyright of 1962, and a paperback edition of 1972—meaning all the dates kind of look like they could be typos, and they're unusual. It's probably a 1934 magazine publication and a 1943 book publication, maybe. Ah, there was a 1934 film, based on this, so the 1934 date is real. And ABE Books shows an edition by "Anonymous" and then credits Rex Stout, so maybe he tried to hide originally (yes, but as a publicity stunt rather than from fear of reprisals, according to various sources).

It seems to be set after Germany started invading European countries but before we got involved. The lack of details on the invasions squares with a 1934 date, it was contemporary alternate-history and he was avoiding being too specific.

What it's about is the struggle in the USA over whether to get involved. It includes many prominent businessmen supporting the "gray-shirts", our local fascist movement, and the pressures brought to bear on politicians, and the president's cleverness. It ends essentially with the president giving a speech in which he explains why the US should stay out of this war.

Stout would have known Roosevelt personally, having served for two years on his yacht (a Naval vessel), and when we got into the actual war, he was frantically active supporting it (chairman of the War Writers' Board, master of ceremonies of "Speaking of Liberty" (a radio program), and several other national committees. In 1934 Roosevelt was heavily engaged in trying to get the US to oppose Hitler.

A lot of this book seems rather applicable to our current political situation, sadly.

There are too many characters and not well-enough distinguished maybe; at least I had trouble keeping them straight. But I'm bad with names, which is mostly all we got.

The basic plot is that the president realizes Congress is about to declare war despite his opposition, and arranges his own kidnapping to confuse the issue and prevent it. When he returns, he uses his high visibility, and the broad belief that he was kidnapped by a "pro-war" faction to allow them to declare war, to make a speech that sinks the idea of war, at least for a while. Most of the book is about the people trying to find out who kidnapped him, with some glances at the people trying to manipulate the situation for their own perceived advantage whatever that might be.


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