Jack Valenti died the other day, and and while much has been written about what a nice guy he was, as well as his mastery of the political process and his contributions to the American film industry, most notably as the creator of the movie rating system. But the obits and appreciations I've read have made only passing mention of the political thriller he wrote, Protect and Defend. So I guess it's up to me.
I suspect that most people don't know Valenti ever wrote a novel, and those who did know have probably forgotten. I only know about it because I found it listed on a bibliography of Max Allan Collins. It wasn't clear to me exactly what the Collins connection was; one bibliography listed Collins as the author, while another listed him as a collaborator. (Collins himself cleared it up for me at the 2003 San Diego Comicon: he was brought in by the publisher to act as sort of a consultant, because Valenti was a first time novelist, but he didn't actually write any of it.) Regardless, I was building a Collins collection at the time, so it seemed important that I track down a copy. And to my regret, I did.
Yes, regret, because I can state without hesitation that Protect and Defend is one of the worst books I've ever read. It's limply plotted and poorly written, and while it's ostensibly a thriller, it's almost completely thrill-free. Even with a marquee name like Valenti's attached to it, and even with his old friend Jackie Onassis (who was an editor at Doubleday at the time) running interference for him, it's hard to believe it ever got published. Bringing in Collins as a consultant wasn't a bad idea, but what it really needed was a co-writer. Or a ghost writer.
(An aside: speaking as a big fan of Max Collins, I have to say he was an unusual choice to serve as a consultant on this particular novel. Protect and Defend was a Washington-based political thriller, a type of book Collins has never written. His five Nolan books are thrillers of sorts; parts of his Nate Heller mystery Majic Man were set in Washington; and one of his Quarry novels, Primary Target, revolved around a Presidential campaign (though it was set almost entirely in the Quad Cities). But those parts don't add up to a whole. As far as I know, the closest he's ever come to writing a Washington political thriller are his novelizations of Air Force One and In the Line of Fire, both of which he wrote after his work on Protect and Defend. Someone like Richard North Patterson would have been a much better choice.)
Where was I? Oh yes. Protect and Defend: bad novel. I don't know what people thought of it at the time, though if the one review I've found on the web -- a D from Entertainment Weekly -- is any indication, most people didn't think any more highly of than I did. However, so what? Good on him for giving it a shot.