What’s the idiom, that the only certainties in life are death and taxes? In Tim Green’s 2002 novel, The Fourth Perimeter, those two “certainties” reinforce each other to make for a rip-roaring good time, like a fun Gerard Butler film in paperback form. When I’m oscillating between fiction and nonfiction, it’s fun to fall back into escapist fiction like Green’s book. Nothing I need to take too seriously, but plotted well enough to keep me turning the pages. And I have to say, getting my adrenaline up! When your premise is that a former Secret Service agent is going to avenge his son by trying to assassinate the president of the United States, that imbues a story — and my reaction to it — with adrenaline. Even in fiction, there are few plot elements that raise the stakes more than killing (or attempting to kill) the American president. Along with that adrenaline, is the sort of awe around the stone-faced visage of the Secret Service members as an impenetrable human shield protecting the president. So, how is our main protagonist going to penetrate it, and since it’s not a suicide mission, escape therein? That shield is the namesake of the book: the fourth perimeter, i.e., those Secret Service agents who are steps away from the president ready to take a bullet for him or her, if need be.
Of course, history tells us it’s not impenetrable, and that’s what Kurt Ford is banking on. Quite literally. After he left the Secret Service, Kurt became a billionaire off of a tech company he founded. So, he has three things working in his favor to, he hopes, successfully assassinate the president and abscond from the might and fury of federal agencies in the aftermath: 1.) He’s formerly Secret Service; 2.) He’s a billionaire, making the planning and importantly, the escape, easier, and which also lends itself to meeting the president one-on-one; and 3.) He has tech prowess and connections, which enable him to break into security systems when need be.
To back up, Kurt thinks the president ordered his son, Collin, who also went into the Service, to be killed, but they made his death look like a suicide. Two other Secret Service agents were also killed in mysterious ways. Kurt, with the help of a loose friend from his time in the Service, David Claiborne, learns that Collin and the two other agents went with the president on an off-schedule meeting, with the insinuation that they witnessed something they weren’t supposed to and it cost them their lives. From that point on, Kurt is hell-bent on assassinating the president, which belies some belief, to be sure. I don’t think he should have only taken Claiborne’s word for it, but you could chalk up his credulity to grief. First, though, Kurt starts with the woman who lured her son from a bar and set-up his murder.
When the woman gets the better of Kurt, Claiborne saves the day and executes her. At that point, I knew Claiborne was bad news and the man pulling all of the strings. I’ve read a lot of these types of books! So, I was right, he didn’t want her telling Kurt anything to mess up his plans. I don’t mind being right in my prediction; people use predictable as a bad word, but if it’s done right, it’s still fun to read how the journey will unfurl, and plus, Kurt doesn’t know! Not yet. It’s fun to be a witness to when Kurt finds out. I also, of course, didn’t know precisely Claiborne’s motivation, although it’s heavily implied that Kurt left Claiborne out in the cold when he founded his tech company that made him a billionaire. Money is always a nice motivator to kill.
Early-on, when Kurt was trying to track down the aforementioned woman, a new detective with the police, Carol Dipper, believed Kurt that it wasn’t a suicide because of the way Collin’s body was positioned. If I have one demerit against Green’s book, it’s that unfortunately, Dipper quite literally dips out the rest of the book! She never factors in again, which was weird. She never got to have her moment of asserting herself as a detective and proving herself as a woman in that male-dominated field, and proving herself to Kurt, who was highly skeptical of her skills.
The president, who is on the campaign trail, is coming to a lakeside town where Kurt happens to have a home, in order to visit a judge. At first, Kurt is thinking he’ll penetrate the Secret Service’s “fourth perimeter” at said judge’s house until he concocts a way to bring the president to him: By donating $5 million to his campaign, and also with the pitch of wanting to discuss with the president his proposed internet tax he’s about to sign into law.
Yup, that’s right, the big issue that motivates the nefariousness simmering in the book is the threat of an internet tax. Another tech billionaire, the vice president himself, and Claiborne are against it, so, they use Collin’s death to deceive Kurt into being an unwilling patsy in the assassination of the president, thus allowing the VP to become president and veto the new tax. What a great plan! (We never do learn if the VP gets taken down for such a conspiracy, by the way.)
Speaking of plans, a wrinkle in Kurt’s plan he didn’t foresee was Jill, his fiancé, who he had proposed to the same day he learned Collin was dead, and her newfound friendship. She befriends a New York State trooper, Jeremiah, who is also a big ol’ farm boy. They met after he nearly hit her while she was riding her bike. How sweet. He clearly fancied her, but she kept it platonic (and still felt guilty about it all, anyway). He simply became a friend she needed while dealing with Kurt’s aloofness and grief. When Jill, trying to assert herself, uncovers Kurt’s plot to assassinate the president, she asks Jeremiah to “arrest” Kurt and keep him in a barn until the president’s visit is over, so he can’t kill the president. I also predicted that because otherwise, Jill’s friendship with Jeremiah made no sense to me why it would be in the book.
Jill and Jeremiah’s plan doesn’t work, obviously. Kurt escapes, and then one of Claiborne’s henchman, who have been surveilling Kurt this entire time to ensure he carries out the assassination, kills Jeremiah. Which was sad. Poor guy. I didn’t predict that! I thought Kurt would save him.
In the end, when the adrenaline-fueled moment happens — I’m not going to lie, I had goosebumps because it’s a a wild thing to imagine! — where Kurt pulls out his gun to shoot the president while on his fishing boat, Kurt realizes he’s been setup by Claiborne, and he doesn’t kill the president. He’s able to escape (after being shot in the side by Claiborne) via the way he originally planned. The president survives, obviously.
Instead of escaping like he originally planned, Kurt now wants to kill Claiborne to avenge his son. Claiborne, scrambling, tries to pay his two henchman extra money to go ahead with the assassination of the president. Instead, one of them, sensing something is off, kills the other henchman and then goes to Claiborne’s house to kill him where Kurt is already present to kill Claiborne. Kurt is able to kill both of them, although he gets shot in the freakin’ head, which I guess was a mere flesh wound.
Kurt and Jill abscond to Italy to live out happily ever after with a baby on the way. The closest Secret Service agent to the president, Mack Taylor, shows up just to gloat that he could find Kurt and let him know the president appreciates what he did. (Weird to choose Italy, by the way, since they do have a treaty with the United States regarding extradition.)
Overall, I enjoyed Green’s book. Like I said, I wish Dipper factored more into the rest of the story because her character was owed a good moment, but that aside, I enjoyed the frenetic pace of the book, and despite the beats being largely predictable to me, the journey was fun and worthwhile for a weekend read.