In 1983, the Democrat was governor of the Sunshine State, and his nonfiction “Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job,” about his habit of working proletarian jobs around the state, was tanking. Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry stopped by.
An excerpt, mid-interview:
GRAHAM: Yes, but what ARE you going to do to promote our sales? (Grabs tape recorder again.) We haven’t sold a book in the last seven months.
BARRY: You need more pictures of naked people and less pictures of you in there, Governor.
GRAHAM: If beefcake it takes, beefcake they’ll get.
Twenty-eight years and Weiner-gate later, Graham, 74 — prudently — is not offering beefcake to boost sales. But he’s out here on tour, making the rounds of parties, book signings, television interviews, print interviews, all to plug “Kingdom,” his just-released thriller about Saudi Arabia, terrorism and America’s messy response to both.
Here he is in the lobby bar of the Madison Hotel on a recent morning, in suit and tie, silver-haired, still one of the nicest politicians anyone ever met. He puts down his iced tea to pull out one of his famous/notorious/obsessive pocket-size spiral notebooks in which he records almost every minute of every day. He flips to the “Keys to the Kingdom” page in the notebook. He looks down. He’s still not happy about sales.
“Here I have a list of things to talk to the publisher about. Probably one of the recurring complaints of all authors is their books don’t get displayed sufficiently. So when I go in a bookstore — well, I would not admit to the fact that I might occasionally move a book.”
“What else do you have there?”
“I have a page of things I want to talk to my wife about.”
“Just a page?”
“Well, actually, I see this one is front and back.”
In “Kingdom,” a certain 71-year-old former senator from Florida, John Billington, has retired to a prosperous little town his family pretty much built from scratch, based around their old dairy farm near the Everglades. Billington makes small notes to himself in a little spiral notebook he always carries. He’s former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and often writes op-ed pieces for major newspapers. (Feel free to note a certain resemblance to the author).
Billington has an urgent assignment concerning Saudi Arabia for Tony Ramos, a young Cuban-American go-getter in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research who, as it happens, is fluent in four languages, including Arabic and Pashto. (He’s also former Special Ops, a hip dude, handsome, a tennis champion, drives a black Mustang and dresses in Zegna suits. His nickname is the “Will Smith of State.”)
Billington is scared, he tells Ramos in a phone call, but he won’t tell Ramos why over an unsecured line. Before Ramos can get to Florida, a black pickup truck runs down Billington, killing him.
From there, the story bounces over much of the globe — Mumbai, Zurich, Miami, Kuala Lumpur, Washington, Islamabad, Ramallah and heck, even San Diego — as Ramos struggles to piece together a nuclear weapons threat.