Saturday, September 1, 2012

Paul Harris: The Candidate

A few years back I read Paul Harris' debut novel and became a fan. The Secret Keeper is a thrill ride, a page-turning adventure that is rich in realistic detail thanks to the author's own work as a journalist. Now, I'm looking forward to reading The Candidate, a novel that is especially timely on the eve of our own elections here in the States. Enjoy the excerpt that Paul is sharing here, but first let me introduce my guest—Paul Harris.

IT is easy to be cynical about American politics. Let us count the ways. There is the huge influence of money. It seems to corrupt everything it touches and is only getting worse. Then there are the politicians themselves. So many of them seem in it for the ego and for the power. Not for the right policy or to bring about a better world.

Finally, there is the sense that nothing ever gets done. So many laws fall by the wayside. Gridlock is the norm, not the exception. Yet here is so much need. Jobs are fleeing abroad, infrastructure is falling apart, the effects of the Great Recession roll on.

As I said, so many reasons to be cynical. So why then write a book about American politics? Partly it was to explore some of what I have described above. But mostly it was because – to my surprise – I still find so many aspects of American politics inspiring. Yes, all those problems are real. But still there are moments when covering American politics is so much more inspiring then the so often dull, staid and ossified world of British politics. In America small-time politicians from either side of the aisle (Howard Dean, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul)
can shoot to the top of the political radar. In Barack Obama they even went all the way to the White House. Forget what you might think about their views, the fact they can do it is remarkable.

Then there is the retail nature of the start of the presidential race. There is much to be bemused by when it comes to the role that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina play in the way the most powerful person in the world is selected. But it is still amazing to see politicians stumping through the frozen fields of the Midwest or the thick forests of New England from barn to bar to diner to school gymnasium to retirement community. It is a process some embark on for a year, patiently wooing voters almost one by one. I know of nothing like it in Britain. It is precious if only for how it – briefly – shows politicians what politics should be about” real, ordinary people with all their hopes, dreams, foibles and fault. That is the world I wanted to write about in my book. It’s the world where the venal and inspiring collide, where the highest of principles can meet the lowest of motivations. It is a fascinating place, full of rich characters and you cannot just focus on the bad to understand it. Believe it or not, the good in American politics also plays a role. It is how the two interact that matters. Hopefully that is what I have explored in my book.

THE CANDIDATE by Paul Harris
“Some rise by sin,
And some, by virtue, fall.”
Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare

[PROLOGUE - Mount Pleasant, Iowa, 5 Weeks before the Iowa Caucuses]

IT HAD BEEN twenty years since she last loaded a gun with the intention of killing a man. Now she stared at the rifle lying in front of her in the half-light and was afraid she had forgotten how to use it. The weapon’s lines and curves appeared unfamiliar and alien. With hesitation, she reached out a hand to befriend this strange creature and forced herself to touch it. It felt cold, hard and heavy in her hands. A feeling of relief coursed through her. She closed her eyes and held the weapon close, cradling it like a child. Her lost child.

She sighed softly.
She remembered.

The muscle memory locked inside her flesh for two decades forgot nothing. Only her mind had been distracted by her recent, second life; an existence that now evaporated away in the face of this old sensation. Her fingers, alive with sudden electricity, grasped the solid, dull metal of the barrel. She made herself calm, breathing softly to find the quiet, still, inner place that would allow her to complete her task. A single bead of sweat traced a path down her forehead. She pressed her face against the barrel and wrestled her feelings under control.

For a long minute she crouched there, high in the dark rafters of the school gymnasium, hugging the rifle to her breast. Soon her pulse calmed and her mind became focused and alert, aware only of the physical sensations around her, numb to doubt or conscience. She thought only of why she was here and her task ahead.

It was before dawn when the woman broke into the school and climbed up
into a gantry hidden in the maze of beams and rafters of the sports hall. Now she had been hiding up in the dark of the roof like some ghostly spirit for almost eighteen hours. She had lain there, hidden, watching cleaners come and go, until finally volunteers arrived to set up the chairs for the meeting. She expected security too, but instead she just saw a couple of policemen glance around idly and then sit themselves in a corner, hands tucked into gun belts over which middle-aged paunches spread. Then the crowd trickled in, people
murmuring softly to their friends or gathering in small groups to chat and catch up on gossip. She sat above them, not listening to the words drift up to her in a language she had once gleefully learned but now sounded grating and alien to her ears.

She expected to feel something when he at last entered the room below. He walked in to the sounds of an echoing pop song, wildly out of place in a room full of elderly people. Her eyes ran over his figure; a man she had not seen for so long, drinking him in. She had wondered what it would feel like.

But she felt nothing. She was too far in to the killing zone to let anything disturb her. Her mind was a place of absolute quiet and purpose. Like a Zen garden, her thoughts were a series of abstract lines and sharp corners leading to one place: the target she imagined on his heart. After he began to speak; that was when she would fire.

She balanced the rifle in her hands, testing its weight, and then put it to her shoulder where its stock nuzzled like the nose of a faithful hunting dog finding its master. She loaded the weapon carefully, slipping a golden bullet into its dark chamber.

Then she squinted down the barrel, one eye closing while the other widened in anticipation. She looked down the length of the rifle and into the light below, sweeping over the stage where he stood. She aimed the gun directly at him, the notch of the sight firmly planted in the middle of his chest, forming a tiny dark cross at the center of her vision.

She readied herself for the moment, but a sudden flash of gold behind him distracted her. She looked up over the barrel of the gun and saw a familiar head of striking blond hair.

His wife.

Her gaze lingered on the woman, and the sight of the gun drifted to one side. Old memories disturbed the placid calm of her mind. She thought of places far away and long ago. Of her own flesh and blood, now lost to her. She shook her head to dispel the visions and quickly bent down to the gun again. Her finger slowly tightened on the trigger, ready to squeeze the reluctant metal into life and unleash her judgment.

Available at Amazon:

Author Bio
Paul Harris is a US Correspondent for the British newspapers The Observer and The Guardian. He lives
in New York with his wife, Moira Herbst, and writes about all aspects of American political and cultural life. The 2012 race is the third US presidential election he has covered, including 2008’s epic primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Prior to being posted in the US, Harris was a journalist in Britain and Africa. He has covered conflicts in Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and South Africa. His experiences covering the civil war in Sierra Leone formed the inspiration for his first novel, The Secret Keeper. He is glad to have swapped writing about war zones for the equally exotic but slightly less life-threatening world of American politics. He was born in Nottingham, England, in 1972 to an Engish father and an American mother. He remains – despite a staggering lack of recent success – a loyal supporter of the Nottingham Forest football team.

Author website:



Thorne Anderson said...

Great excerpt. This looks like a fascinating book. I am an involved citizen who studies each political candidate before I vote. I have been disappointed that many people vote without even knowing the first thing about the candidates. Thanks for sharing your book.