Going to the Candidates’ Debate*

CampaignsYou may not be aware of this 😉 but there’s a major election coming up in the US later this year. And right now, the candidates are, not surprisingly, doing everything they can to garner support.

No matter where you stand on politics, or what you think of one or another party or candidate. It’s not easy to try for public office. For one thing, everything you say and do is put under the proverbial microscope. So there’s no such thing as privacy. For another, seeking public office can be extremely expensive. And there’s the wear and tear that comes from a lot of travel, many speeches and events, and the endless hand-shaking.

And then there’s the matter of what a candidate is supposed to promise to do. On the one hand, saying what people want to hear may get you support. But will it really win elections? And if it does, what happens if those promises are meaningless? On the other hand, being truly candid about what you can and cannot do, and what you support and don’t support, will mean that you could very well lose fans.

Still, getting elected to public office, especially powerful public office, is alluring to a lot of people. So it’s little wonder that so many people go through the challenges of trying to win elections. It can be a dangerous undertaking, though. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean.

In Margaret Truman’s Murder at the Kennedy Center, we are introduced to US Senator Ken Ewald. He’s got his eye on the presidency, and he’s gathered a staff of people who are trying to help him win that office. One night, they arrange a glittering fundraiser at the Kennedy Center. It’s well-attended and on the surface, successful. But after the event is over, Andrea Feldman, an Ewald staffer, is shot. Georgetown School of Law professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith happens discovers the body late that night when he’s walking his dog. Smith knows the victim, since he is a friend of Ewald’s, and has supported his candidacy. So he’s quickly drawn into the murder case. He’s even more drawn in when Ewald’s son, Paul, is arrested for the crime. Paul claims to be innocent, and there are plenty of other people who could have had a motive. Several of them would be only too happy to see the end of Ewald’s presidential bid.

The backdrop for Ian Rankin’s Set in Darkness is the convening of the first Scottish Parliament in three hundred years at Queensberry House. Roddy Grieve is the leading candidate for the new governing body, with a very promising career ahead of him. So when his body is discovered on the property of Queensberry House, there’s a great deal of pressure on the police to solve the murder. Inspector John Rebus is already involved in another murder case – a much older one – in which a body was discovered behind a fireplace in the same building. Rebus becomes convinced that the two cases are connected, and so they turn out to be.

One plot thread of Michael Connelly’s Echo Park concerns the murder of Marie Gesto, who walked out of a Hollywood supermarket one night, but never made it home. The case has never been solved, and it’s haunted L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch, because it was his case. Now, Raynard Waits has been arrested in connection with two other murders. He has hinted that he might trade information on other murders, including the Gesto case, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Bosch isn’t too happy about this deal, but Rick O’Shea, head of the District Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions team, wants to arrange it. His view is that if those other cases are solved, the families will have some peace. So he wants this deal made as soon as possible. O’Shea is running for the office of District Attorney, so Bosch is quite cynical about the motivations involved:
 

‘‘Gotta get it in before election, right?’ Bosch asked’ 
 

Needless to say, O’Shea isn’t happy about Bosch’s interpretation, but it reflects the pressure that’s often put on candidates.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist as well as an academic, so political campaigns are woven into several of novels in this series. The very first one, for instance (Deadly Appearances) begins with a speech that Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is making at a community picnic. He’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s provincial Official Opposition party, but not everyone is enthusiastic about his campaign. Still, he has a very bright future ahead of him. During the speech, he suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. He was both a political ally and a personal friend to Joanne, so she is grief-stricken at his death. As a way of dealing with that, she decides to write a biography of him. As she does so, she gets closer and closer to the truth about who poisoned Andy and why.

Fans of these novels will know that later in the series (12 Rose Street), Joanne’s husband, attorney Zach Shreve, runs for mayor of Regina, and she serves as his campaign manager. The race is a close one, and since Zach is running against an incumbent, it won’t be an easy campaign. Then, a series of disturbing and frightening events start to occur, beginning with a disruption of the opening of the Racette-Hunter Centrre. That’s a project that Zach has championed to improve the quality of life in North Central Regina. It’s not long before it’s clear that someone will do anything, including murder, to impact the election.

And then there’s Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign. Edward Wong has just won the Democratic primary election to represent his district in the US Congress. Soon, he’ll face his Republican opponent in the general election. One night, Wong’s uncle, Thomas Lee, hosts a celebration for his nephew at the Northern Virginia restaurant he owns. During the party, a group of thugs bursts in. They’re armed with baseball bats, and bent on doing damage. Wong’s family doesn’t want to involve the police, but Lee has other ideas. He asks Channing Hayes, co-owner of a nearby comedy club, to ask around and see if he can find out who’s responsible. Hayes reluctantly agrees, and soon finds himself drawn into the greed and money involved in campaigns. And there’s the matter of the murders that occur along the way, too…

Campaigning for office can be difficult, expensive, and exhausting. As you can see, it can also get you involved in murder. But that doesn’t stop people doing it. And now I’ll close with perhaps my top choice in fictional commentary about political campaigns. This comes from Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, which features Sheriff Walt Longmire. He’s trying to solve some baffling murders at the same time as he’s up for re-election. One of the crime scene investigators comments on the murders:
 

‘‘You blow one homicide, it looks like a mistake. You blow two, it starts looking like negligence. Or worse yet, stupidity.’’
 

Here’s Longmire’s priceless response:
 

‘‘I thought I’d use that on the bumper stickers in the next election, VOTE LONGMIRE, HE’S STUPID.’’
 
 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson.

18 Comments

Filed under Alan Orloff, Craig Johnson, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Margaret Truman, Michael Connelly

18 responses to “Going to the Candidates’ Debate*

  1. Col

    I remember Stephen King’s The Dead Zone and the film version as well. Man suffers brain injury in an accident and gains the ability to see events in the future, which causes him to try and stop a maniac gaining the presidency! Was King 40 years ahead of his time? Haha.

  2. With eight months to go, I am so sick of this election I could not even read this post.

  3. I remember reading The Parallax View by Loren Singer, a political thriller tied up with a Presidential election – a candidate is assassinated I think. You don’t hear about the book much, although there was quite a well-known film made from it, with Warren Beatty.

    • Oh, yes, Moira! I remember the film. I confess I’ve not read the book, ‘though I know of it. And it’s a great fit for this blog post, so thanks for mentioning it.

  4. A recent book with an election campaign in it (although it’s local elections, I believe) is Attica Locke’s Pleasantville. It casts a rather critical eye on the whole political and democratic system though…

    • Yes, it does indeed, Marina Sofia! And I’m very glad you filled in that gap, because you’re absolutely right. It certainly has to do with the campaigning and electioneering process.

  5. Sometimes I forget that Sheriff’s have to be elected too. In the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery by Bill Crider, Rhodes is worried about being reelected to his position.

  6. I quite understand why the American media is covering your election obsessively, but I’m bemused as to why ours is too. Sometimes I think the BBC has been taken over by the CIA! I must admit, this time round though, I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. I’m growing fonder of our own Prime Minister by the day… 😉

    • It is, to say the least, quite an election, isn’t it, FictionFan? 😉 I wouldn’t have believed it, either, if anyone had told me a couple of years ago. And it is interesting how much coverage it’s getting – everywhere. We shall just have to see how the whole thing plays out.

  7. I think it is increasingly hard to write a thriller with a political background that feels both authentic and can surprise the reader, given how exposed it all seems in the media nowadays, but glad to hear of books that remain persuasive on the subject! Thanks Margot.

    • You have a well-taken point, Sergio. The media puts everything under such a microscope that it’s hard for a thriller (or even a crime novel that’s not a thriller) to be credible. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. Margot, the theme of your post, so timely, reminded me of Gore Vidal’s “Washington D.C,” a part of his Empire series of historical novels. It is political greed of a couple of rich and powerful political families. Vidal’s narrative was absorbing.

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