THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is one helluva page-turner.
Originally published by Dell in 1967, my paperback copy is the 13th printing. In 1970. Obviously very popular, and as the cover blurb says, a resident on the New York Times bestseller list for a long time. And it's easy to see why it captured the public's attention.
It was written by Robert J. Serling, whose brother Rod was the creator and chief writer of CBS' TWILIGHT ZONE. Robert was a pilot and a journalist (he worked as a consultant on some TWILIGHT ZONEs involving aircraft), and THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is the perfect example of "write what you know."
Post-LBJ, the President of the United States is Jeremy Haines, and the U.S. is on the brink of nuclear war with either Russian or Red China. To do some solid thinking about the Earth's future, and to get some much-needed rest, Haines, a bachelor, decides to take Air Force One to his Palm Springs, California home for a working vacation. Leaving the press corps behind this time, the popular President boards with just his press secretary and his assistant aboard, as well as Air Force One's normal pilot and crew. But the airplane never arrives in Palm Springs.
As days go by and Haines is feared to be dead, those in Washington D.C. are left in a sort of panic over what to do next. Haines' incompetent and insecure Vice-President, Fred Madigan, takes over as Acting President. Meanwhile, Gunther Damon, head of the International Press Service's Washington Bureau, and his reporters begin a thorough investigation of Haines' disappearance, figuring it would be the world's biggest scoop if they could solve the mystery.
THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is nothing like the men's adventure novels I often write about. There's no sex, no violence, no sleaze. Just a slow unraveling of a fascinating mystery through the eyes of a large cast of well-delineated, sharply drawn characters. It may be a cliche to say you won't be able to put this book down, but Serling's prose worked on me that way (even though I was able to eventually guess the big reveal).
I'm not sure THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is still in print, but there are obviously millions of copies floating around out there that shouldn't be too hard to find. More obscure is the 1973 made-for-TV movie based on Serling's novel. Although it changed some character names and appears to have added some gunplay, it has a terrific cast, including Buddy Ebsen as Madigan, Peter Graves, Rip Torn, and Arthur Kennedy. I'd love to see it.
Here's a trailer for THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING that was cobbled together for its VHS release. I'd like to see a modern remake of it.