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Saturday, October 22, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Count me as one who's never been a fan of the political scene; I'd sooner pull my fingernails out one by one than watch more than a few minutes of a debate (never more true than in this election year). Still, the process is interesting to me if only because of my background in journalism and psychology, so the description of this book was too intriguing to pass up when I was offered the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.

And my honest opinion is this: While the plot doesn't rank at the top of my believability scale, it's a fast-paced, suspenseful and well-written story that I had trouble putting down and polished off in a day-and-a-half of spare time. It is, I should add, the second featuring network news host Erica Sparks (it follows The Newsmakers). But while there are a few references here to events in the other one - and it's probably a good idea to read it first - this book stands on its own quite well.

Erica, it seems, is in the throes of a rather conflicted life. She loves her job, but her significant other is off building a TV network in a faraway country. Erica's 11-year-old daughter Jenny has agreed to leave her father and come to live with her, but especially because Erica's work takes her away so often, the two are having a tough time really bonding. That issue is exacerbated when, faced with a ratings drop and the need to land a really big story, Erica turns her attention to the Presidential election. Mostly to help with Jenny, she hires Becky, a young aspiring journalist, as her personal assistant.

One of the two candidates, Mike Ortiz, has capitalized on his war hero status to become the favorite. He's got a gorgeous, wealthy and never far from his side wife, Celeste, who in turn has a beautiful, powerful close friend and adviser, Lily Lau, who's a real piece of work (in the authors' words, "her sangfroid has sangfroid").

As the final debate of the campaign approaches, Erica begins to notice that something may be amiss in the interaction between Ortiz, his wife and Ms. Lau. As she investigates, questions also arise about what really happened to the candidate during the nine months he claims to have spent in the Al Qaeda prison. But as Erica lines up people who might offer insights, her efforts are thwarted by a string of unexpected deaths and questions about who can be trusted. In between are hints of media manipulation, mind control, conspiracy theories and, of course, the threat of personal danger to Erica and those she loves.

It's a thoroughly captivating story, though as I mentioned before, more than a little far-fetched. Erica's powers of perception go far beyond those of mere humans (even those of a seasoned journalist), and others around her are far too quick to buy into her suppositions. Toward the end, the pace picks up to get to the finish but crosses the line of credibility (well heck,  this is a work of fiction, after all). The bottom line is it's a fun, enjoyable way to spend a few hours, and I look forward to the next installment.

The Candidate by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart (Thomas Nelson, October 2016); 348 pp.

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