The Candidate: A Newsmakers Novel, by Liz Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
This book manages to do what might seem impossible, find an election scenario worse than the one that Americans face in 2016 in a taut political thriller that, if it lacks a certain soul like its titular character, certainly provides some chills for those who like reading this only slightly fictional genre . There is a lot to be found in this novel that people can relate to: the aphrodisiac of power, the prospect of broken people struggling to rise from the horrors of their lives, the way in which the threat of the Chinese fills many writers with enough fear-based plots for endless material, and the way that cynicism is a natural response to the problems of our time but the way that cynicism hurts our abilities to cope with reality and leaves us a prisoner of those forces that we would be cynical about. This book, in its own feisty way, reminds us that sometimes all we can do is keep fighting against the odds, until we achieve the breakthrough that we are looking for in our lives, and that sometimes we have to come to terms with the past and extend grace to others.
The plot of this roughly 400 page novel (I read the ebook version so this is a broad guess based on its size) consists of the efforts of a heroic newswoman to uncover the truth behind the campaign of a California Senator with a modest background and a high-power wife and adviser that is headed to an easy victory in a fictional presidential election over a somewhat milquetoast Midwestern moderate Republican governor and who finds that many of the people close to her are getting killed. There are a lot of realistic elements and the reporter is humanized by having a somewhat perky and bright and difficult daughter who worried greatly about her overly busy mother, although the characters sometimes struggle to rise above cardboard caricatures to fully human. This is all the more ironic given that it is the soulless vacuity of the candidate Mike Ortiz in the aftermath of time spent as a POW in Iraq that leads the reporter to investigate his background to find out that he has been activated as a mind-controlled drone according to secret Chinese techniques that involve isolation, sensory deprivation, fear, indoctrination, and love. Naturally, the reporter herself runs afoul of these Chinese and is threatened with these same techniques, and of course she manages to save the day at the last minute, this being the sort of novel it is.
One one level, there is a lot to be critical about in this novel. The characters are fairly flat, the plot a bit convenient, especially towards the end, and realistically speaking, after the death toll of those who supported the author in her investigations, it seems likely that in any realistic universe no one would want anything to do with her. There is a hint of creepy romantic obsession between some of the characters and those they view as more powerful that is unpleasant to watch, and the forgiveness of the protagonist of her wayward fiance for his cheating ways is likewise a bit too convenient. The protagonist, for all of her intellectual power, finds herself manipulated pretty shamelessly by both her mother and her daughter in ways that are also uncomfortable. Moreover, as a series, there is a bit of a Mighty Ducks problem with this franchise, given that it is hard to imagine the author being able to top the drama of this scenario in the next one. After uncovering the unseemly actions of her network boss in the first novel of the series and having a decisive role on a presidential election here, one wonders where she can go from here, just as it was a comedown when the Mighty Ducks won their local prep high school tournament and then won a world tournament before having the wind taken out of the dramatic sails when in later sequels they were competing against prep school teams. One can foresee a similar problem here–once one has faced down the Chinese intelligence community it is difficult to see there being anywhere to go that is more dramatic or exciting. That said, this is a pretty dramatic and exciting novel and that is good enough to enjoy on its own modest terms.
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