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The Candidate: A Novel by Paul Harris

The Candidate: A Novel

by Paul Harris

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Mike Sweeney is pulled up into the high ranks of Senator Jack Hodges's run for president after Senator Hodges narrowly escapes an assassination attempt. Senator Hodges's campaign manager, Dee Babineaux, sends Mike out to find out as much as he can about the would be assassin and her connections, if any, to the senator. What Mike slowly uncovers is a wartime nightmare purposely hidden from the American people in order to boost "The Candidate" to the White House. What Mike does with the information and the lengths he goes to find out more will change his personal and professional life forever.

What I Liked

Mike - Mike's a real guy...with ambition that competes with his will to be that real guy at every step. His judgement seems easily clouded, first with Hodges, then Jaynie, Dee, etc. but he does eventually figure out who he really is and acts accordingly.

Dee - Dee's not always a "likeable" character. She's brash, she's opinionated, a heavy drinker and she's one of the hardest working women you'll ever meet. She's also expects the same of all those around her...no excuses. On the job, 24-7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Dee also has a focus and sticks to it, no matter what...WIN. I would hate this woman in real life, but as a character, she made sense to me. And, again, I don't like politics. Dee played a high stakes game, and she meant to win. Dee also represents what turns a lot of people off of politics...the drive, the focus on the game rather that what's "right," etc. But, Harris gives the reader just enough of Dee's background to still be able to understand why she's so driven...but not enough that the reader feels sorry for her in any way. She's just a "tough old broad," a Cajun from Louisiana so it was difficult for me not to admire her ability to pull herself up by her bootstraps and trudge through the mud, even though she sometimes pushed others under in her wake.

The historical information on the civil war in Guatemala and the people there - There were several times when I felt The Candidate reminded me of a tale out of Vietnam. I need to know more about Guatemala and the cultures embedded there and am ashamed to admit, that like the Mayans argued in The Candidate, I didn't know anything about the decades civil war there nor American involvement.

The discussion of war crimes is an important one. The lines between right and wrong definitely become blurry when military personnel are on course and are fighting against those who don't follow anyone else's rules. I don't presume to know the answers here; I have never (thankfully) had to stand in uniform and put my life on the line to defend my country. But, I think Americans are quick to form judgment on many things they don't completely understand...in a simplistic way, it's like giving an opinion about a book you've never read based on what you've heard other people say. I was brought up believing that I shouldn't kill anyone, but in the military, killing someone, is in essence part of the job if necessary. To me, it's a psychological battleground as well as a military one...one in which I can completely imagine losing my mind. Harris does a good job of making this complicated without preaching any kind of agenda or pushing the reader to feel one way or another.

I loved it that I just happened to be reading this book during a presidential election year! As I was listening to NPR radio the other morning, I realized I knew what the commenters were talking about when they were discussing "points" between candidates :) Who was ahead/behind, projected wins in various states, etc.

What I Didn't Like

Jack Hodges - too good to be true from the very first page. I wondered if this was the author's intention...to make the reader's red flags go up long before any of the other characters. I do wish there had been more depth to Jack...all we really get to know is pretty much what his public gets to know. It would have been nice to hear more from him about his experiences in Guatemala besides just his firm stand that he never did anything he regretting while serving his country. That got a little old.

I did find it a little unbelievable that such saavy political staffers were so easily ambushed by Hodges's charm. It almost felt at times like he had supernatural powers...or maybe I'm just too jaded about politics to see it any other way. Especially Dee...I felt she would be way too accustomed to the ways of the political world to not suspect Jack from the beginning.

I really wasn't sure about the Jaynie (Mike's ex-wife) connection...it felt a little left out in the cold and unfinished...as did the General Carillo side of things. Jaynie especially never really connected to the rest of the story for me...I completely missed that thread. Carillo, of course, is the evil general who truly kills for enjoyment, but I still think there could have been more development of this character. The worst of all to me was that when the climax was reached, these characters just disappeared...we never found out what happened in the aftermath. I sorta felt left hanging where they were concerned.

Christine - Jack's wife - again there could have been so much more development here. ( )
  epkwrsmith | Jan 3, 2013 |
The book opens with an idealist aid to a man running for president. A man running for president who is far behind in the polls. It's Iowa and it's time to get the name out there. Mike Sweeney just knows deep down that Jack Hodges is the man that can be the president that America needs. One night at a school someone takes a shot at Hodges and suddenly he is all over the news and rising in the polls. But why did someone want to kill him?

Mike is sent out to find out and what he learns could turn the campaign upside down.

This was an entertaining, page turning suspense novel - if you tossed reality to the wind. In today's 24 hour news world I doubt that the "big secret" at the core of the novel would have remained so. But barring that - the book reads fast and tense and the Mike is a very likable guy who finds himself in a very difficult place. The role of a minor blogger playing such a big piece of the puzzle was also a bit quirky but hey - one never knows these days with all of us bloggers around. The main characters (except for Hodges, who I guess is supposed to remain a bit of a chimera) are all well developed and defined. Some actions are despicable - but it's politics, baby.

This would definitely make a great beach read or since we are leaving beach season, a great hot chocolate and fireside read. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Sep 5, 2012 |
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