Many people know the Mark Twain quote, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” but most ignore the second, and more important, part: “…but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
Suspension of disbelief can be a powerful tool in fiction, but the story needs to be rooted in some credible realism for it to work. In order for the reader to take a leap, the writer has to first create a strong foundation from which the unrealistic crescendo can take flight.
The Candidate, the second novel in the Newsmakers series by Lis Weihl (with Sebastian Stuart) lacks any basis in reality. The story is laughably implausible, so outlandish – from mind control to dead bodies piling up with no one connecting dots to the most egregious deus ex machina ever – that it becomes an exercise in outright silliness, the main character’s constant questioning of herself notwithstanding.
Senator Mike Ortiz, the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, is a handsome, charming politician, and a former POW, but Sparks, a television journalist, feels something is amiss. Ortiz hasn’t seemed the same since escaping from that prison and, moreover, it seems like he only acts or speaks when his wife, billionaire Celeste Pierce, gives him permission.
Ortiz, from his Latino background to his rote, almost mechanical delivery, is an obvious reference to Marco Rubio, while his female Republican opponent is referred to only in passing, but always in respectful, almost reverent tones. She is smart, outdoorsy, down-to-earth – a great politician that also happens to share the same initials as the author, a Fox News contributor. Stunner.
While the plot is incredibly far-fetched, it’s possible that the characters that inhabit the story are even more impossible. The book is populated by a cast of flat ciphers that have no complexities or gradients of grey – beautiful women and ruggedly handsome men righteously fighting for the true ideals of America versus coldblooded, manipulative, power-hungry, violent, elitist villains that will stop at nothing to spread evil (a word Wiehl uses so often you could play a drinking game based on its appearances).
Nowhere is this more true than in the form of the book’s protagonist, Erica Sparks. Host of the host of the top-rated cable news show in the country, The Erica Sparks Effect, Sparks is presented as the only capable journalist in the world, asking questions and following leads that no one else sees. At one point, she does research by Googling and reading Ortiz’s autobiography, coming up with a host of questions because things don’t line up, and we’re supposed to believe she’s the first to do so? This is a man that was elected to the Senate and then garnered his party’s nomination, yet not one other journalist ever questioned the account of his autobiography? People fact-check tweets by unemployed baristas on a daily basis, someone – professional or not – would have already raised flags if Ortiz’s story was so full of holes. It’s just not plausible in 2016.
As would be expected, the dialogue in which these characters engage is not conversation as much as exposition, platitudes, and, for the bad guys, lines that sound like they come from trailers for straight-to-DVD thrillers. And the internal monologues are just as bad, punctuated by awkward phrases, poor imagery, and nonsensical metaphors.
Wiehl wants the book to be a taut thriller – she even refers to the book as a “good mystery” in the acknowledgements – but it is delivered so heavy-handed that the prologue gives away the “twist” and the ending is so telegraphed that there is no suspense as the book reaches its climax. We know how it will end before it even really starts.
There isn’t much to like, but I did find some bright spots.
Wiehl stumbles in many areas, but she is adept at crafting descriptions of locales with just the right amount of detail and the book is an easy read, one that can be tackled in a few hours.
Still, I think you can find better use of your time.
2 out of 5
I was given a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.