I’ve read this book a couple of times – once as a 13 year old and a couple of times more recently – and it’s a fun read each time. Irving Wallace, an author known for his heavy research and sexual themes for his books, died in 1990 but is known for some of his best sellers, including this one The Second Lady. This book, published in 1980, is about a fictional plot carried out by the Russians to gain a political edge against the United States. During a good-will visit to the Soviet Union, the American president’s wife is kidnapped and replaced with a Russian spy who is visibly indistinguishable from the first lady. The Soviets need a spy close to the president in order to learn the weaknesses of an American-backed regime in Africa that is currently the focus of a stand off between the superpowers.
The ambitious & outrageous plan is the brainchild of General Petrov, who followed the American elections closely and realized 6 months before the results that a beautiful stage actress Vera Vavilova looked amazingly like Billie Bradford – the wife of the presidential candidate tipped to win the race. He puts his plan in place using the help of Alexyi Razin, a Russian born & raised mostly in the US, to groom the young actress to imitate & play the role of a lifetime – that of the first lady of the United States. Andrew Bradford does win the race and is elected president, so the KGB has Vera operated on to make her look exactly like Billie. Razin grooms her and gets her language & accent lessons and they even have a the interiors of the White House duplicated so Vera can know her way in & out. 3 years from when she started her “training” the plan is set into action and Billie is rugged and switched with Vera. The plan is to switch them back after 3 weeks, after Vera finds out vital information from the President.
If it hadn’t been for former campaign writer, Guy Parker, who was attached the White House and writing a book on the first Lady and started noticing the changes & odd details about the first lady ever since her return from Russia, they would have gotten away with it. He talks to Billie’s press secretary (and the object of Guy’s lust) and although she initially brushes away his concerns, she later starts to share them. They find out about the imposter but who can they go to? Ultimately, the Soviets decide to kill both the spy and the president’s real wife using explosives. At the end of the movie the plan is only partly successful – one of the women survives and the other dies with Razin, but it is not clear which. The reader is left to decide whether the woman who returns to the president is indeed his real wife or the spy, because the only one who knows for sure is the lady herself!