Code Word: Paternity
By Doug Norton
Dog Ear Publishing (2012)

Annapolis author Doug Norton’s Code Word: Paternity is a can’t-put-down read. Not only are its technical accuracy and plausibility reminiscent of Tom Clancy, it offers a moral dimension frequently lacking in thrillers.
We all need to recharge our batteries. Traditionally, presidents go to Camp David for their R & R, but protagonist President Rick Martin, a native Marylander, is a descendant of Chesapeake Bay watermen and prefers sailing the Chesapeake near his hideaway at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
As Martin sails, what seems like a normal day is shattered by news of a nuclear explosion in a western city. The perpetrators shrewdly took no credit because they understand that post-Iraq Americans will be divided by the ambiguity. Martin must marshal his government to find out who did it and how to respond amid the looming threat of other attacks. As this thread develops, a security team makes a discovery at Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal that triggers nationwide panic.

Against this backdrop, Martin, a decent, moral man, must quickly choose America’s response from a short list of possibilities, none of them bloodless or ones he can accept completely. But the buck stops at the commander-in-chief’s desk, and the Constitution requires him to decide America’s course of action.

Norton’s character development is excellent. The first lady and a retired Marine who is now a congressman (who have a history) both challenge and support the president. We get a sobering peek inside the mind of a delusional dictator with nukes. Canny foreign leaders, good and bad, put national interests and security ahead of mutual support. In parallel, the decision-making process of our democracy unfolds. As Norton leads us through debates among his staff members, Cabinet members and congressional leaders, the characters’ strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, egos and rivalries come into play.
Ultimately, President Martin must sift and weigh all the advice — the good, the bad and the ugly — to arrive at his decision. The secret shielded by the code word “paternity” forces him to confront his own deepest fears and a duty he believes might destroy his soul.
Norton gives us a realistic, rational, apolitical look at facing a crisis in our world, and the complex security challenges today’s leaders face. As the story ends, we see a changed President Martin who is wiser, tougher and with his integrity still intact, once again sailing on the Chesapeake. But the terrorist mastermind remains unidentified. Perhaps a sequel? Ask Doug Norton on March 22, at The Annapolis Bookstore, 35 Maryland Avenue.
~Marshall Bugge

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