“The President is Missing” — Some Punctuation Lessons

At my tender age a lesson in punctuation is rare, but very humbling when it does occur. It is a reminder that I still do not yet know everything. While reading “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, I had one such lesson.

Granted, in my career I never had much reason for writing dialog, so I had a lot to learn about this part of the writing craft. One criticism of “The President is Missing” is that the president in this thriller is prone to giving long speeches. If I were co-writing a novel with an ex-president of the United States, I would give him the liberty of including long speeches. As I was reading “The President is Missing”, I noticed that some paragraphs of dialog had only a double quotation (“) at the beginning of the paragraph, and none at the end of the paragraph. The next paragraph, part of the same speech by the same speaker, began with a beginning double quotation mark. There was only an ending double quotation mark at the paragraph that ended the entire speech. I had neither seen nor noticed a double quotation mark at the beginning of the paragraph and none at the end of the paragraph.

I was a little befuddled by what I thought was a grammar error in a book written by an ex-president of the United States and one of the leading novelists in the United States. It was published by a leading publisher as well. I couldn’t believe these talented authors and respected publisher had made a grammar error.

It turns out, of course, that they did not make any grammar error. I did discover that if a speaker being quoted has a speech of more than one paragraph, the first line of the quotation is marked by a double quotation mark (“). If the quotation by the same speaker extends to more than one paragraph, there is no quotation mark at the end of the first paragraph, but there is a double quotation mark (“) at the beginning of the next paragraph. There is only a final double quotation mark (“) at the end of the final sentence of the final paragraph of the speech. I always assumed that the number of beginning and ending quotation marks had to be the same. I was incorrect in the case of a quotation that contained several paragraphs.

Perhaps I never read any quoted multi-paragraph speeches before, but more likely I just never noticed this particular punctuation issue in my prior reading. Perhaps I am just reading differently now that I am trying my hand at writing.  Old dogs can learn new tricks, and the lesson I learned here is that reading widely is a good thing. Much is to be learned from successful authors, and punctuation needs to follow certain surprisingly complex rules.

Review of “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson


I wanted to dislike “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. After all, a cynic might say that a book co-written by an ex-president and one of the country’s most commercially successful and prolific novelists might be an easy means to cash in on their respective successes. I felt this book would be a huge best-seller no matter what it contained, but most likely would not live up to the book’s promise.  I have to admit I was completely wrong about this book. This was a really interesting read, and although I found it a bit tedious at times, I thoroughly enjoyed its conclusion. The last third of the book held my attention like a good thriller should. The authors combined the intimate knowledge of the Presidency that only an ex-president would have, with the superb writing craft of a best-selling author. It worked! “The President is Missing” will be a best seller, and it deserves it on its own, not just on the prior accomplishments of its coauthors.

The book starts when the president decides he is the only one who can stop an immediate crisis. The premise sounds far-fetched, but Clinton and Patterson pull it off. It is very believable. The book is largely written from the first person point of view of the president of the United States, facing congressional hearings, personal issues, and an unfriendly political landscape. I found the first few chapters, dealing with the machination of congressional hearings, to be completely riveting, with the voice of an ex-president who is familiar with the process coming through loud and clear. The first few chapters were, in my opinion, the strongest part of the book. The middle of the book moved very slowly for me, but the conclusion held my attention to the very last page. I look forward to another installment in the collaborative effort of Clinton and Patterson.

The book has a few weaknesses, in my opinion, but none that should discourage a potential reader from investing some time into “The President is Missing”. I felt the characters could have been developed more fully. The character of the president is the most fully developed, as I would have expected.  Perhaps one might criticize this character as being a little too saint-like. The characters who surrounded the president could have been a lot richer. Even the bad guys in this book could have been fleshed out a little more. My major criticism of the book was that it was a bit preachy, with the president prone to long speeches that detracted a little bit from the plot. I guess ex-presidents can do that and get away with it. Clinton and Patterson certainly got away with it. The preaching did not detract from my enjoyment at all.

I obtained this 2018 book as a gift from a family member. I also posted a copy of this review in Goodreads.