Tag Archives: Presidential politics

About that Mormon candidate on his way to the White House (no, not that one)

A review of The Mormon Candidate, by Avraham Azrieli

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Somebody had to do it, and Avraham Azrieli couldn’t resist. An author of several previous novels of intrigue and suspense, Azrieli decided to write a thriller in 2012 about — you guessed it! — a Mormon candidate for President of the U.S. One who, by the way, had a long and successful career in business as the head of an investment banking firm and served as governor of a state beginning with the letter M (Maryland, of course; what did you think?).

Naturally, this being a thriller, something awful happens to set the plot in motion: an ex-Marine loses control of his motorcycle on a treacherous mountain path above Camp David and is tossed to his death on the rocks below. Conveniently, Azrieli’s protagonist, a freelance journalist named Ben Teller, witnesses the tragedy, and he alone seems to know that the veteran’s death was no accident. Teller’s search for the killer — a mysterious white-clad biker on a white Ducati, whom everyone calls a “ghost” — soon leads him into conflict with the Mormon Church and (you guessed it again) the Mormon candidate himself, Joe Morgan.

Azrieli’s writing style is workmanlike though unexciting. Unfortunately, his skill at plotting isn’t even up to that modest level: the incident on which the plot turns — an incident that threatens Joe Morgan’s candidacy — is hard to take seriously because it seems so trivial, and the climactic plot twist that’s supposed to surprise the reader is obvious less than halfway through the book. As a thriller, then, The Mormon Candidate is not up to snuff.

However, it seems that Azrieli is far less concerned about the integrity of his fiction than he is about the accuracy of his research and reporting. That’s what makes The Mormon Candidate worth reading. For a reader (in this case, myself) who knows next to nothing about the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and its beliefs, the book is a (pardon the pun) revelation. I always wondered what went on inside those gleaming white temples! I think I have a fair idea now.

Through much of the book, Azrieli appears to be building up to a broad denunciation of the LDS church. For example, Ben Teller is finding it difficult to understand why people make such a fuss about Mormonism. From his perspective, that of a non-observant Jew, one religion is about the same as any other. An ex-Mormon tries to explain: “‘Look around you! Mormons control huge corporations, banks, the media, even Congress.'”

“‘That’s the same ugly stuff bigots say about Jews,’ Teller says.

“‘Jews are nothing compared to us. Jews have no central authority, no hierarchical structure, no single strategy they must follow. Jews are individual entrepreneurs. Jews go after personal goals, their own ideas and opinions. Latter-Day Saints can’t do that. We’re told to obey our bishop. The Mormon Church is like an army with a clear chain of command and an army of loyal soldiers.'”

Despite the build-up, however, The Mormon Candidate presents a surprisingly well-balanced view of a minority religion that has assumed far greater importance — politically, economically, and socially — than its limited numbers would suggest.

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What makes a thriller unputdownable?

A review of A Heartbeat Away, by Michael Palmer

@@@ (3 out of 5)

I’ll start with a confession: I literally had trouble putting this book down once I started reading it. If I’d had any experience with drugs other than a brief, youthful affair with marijuana, I might say that reading A Heartbeat Away was like a drug rush. However, I’m chagrined to note that, other than in the intoxicating suspense that builds throughout the novel, it’s really not all that good. A competent piece of work by an author of nearly two dozen similar books, but just not great.

So, here I am, reading a book that’s written without any special flair for language, about characters who are at best two-dimensional, in circumstances that are about as true to life as a James Bond adventure, and I’m loving the experience! Why is that?

First, I suppose, is the subject matter. A Heartbeat Away is about Presidential politics and biotechnology, both of which are topics I find irresistible.

Second, I’m sure, is the book’s plotting. What’s at stake in this story has nationwide, even global consequences, and the novel is full of surprises from beginning to end. It’s like following a zig-zag course through a minefield (or, at any rate, what I imagine that would feel like!).

Third is technique. Chapters end with cliff-hanging suspense, sometimes in the middle of conversations, and elsewhere leaving you hanging while the scene shifts abruptly to the events unfolding in another tensely drawn subplot.

If there’s more at work in A Heartbeat Away, I can’t detect it. Maybe I should feel ashamed of myself for actually reading this book from cover to cover?

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Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers