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The Hell Candidate

Novel by Thomas Luke (Scotland) 1980.

The only novel to be plugged shamelessly in another of his books (a character in Phobia is reading it), this was so obviously a labour of love that it was reissued under the author's real name of Graham Masterton in 1985. The plot follows the campaign trail of Hunter Peal, a gentle moderate who becomes, literally overnight, an abusive extremist, but somehow captures the hearts of the people to become a new major force in the Republican primaries. He causes strange mass hallucinations at a news conference, he seems to have acquired psychokinetic powers, and his chief publicity man, Jack Russo, finds him talking to a strange voice in his bedroom. Russo first realises that something is wrong at Allen's Corners, a massive old colonial house in Connecticut that Peal is using as a temporary base, and eventually, after being swept along by Peal's success all the way to the White House, he realises what actually happened there, and why.

An admirably different sort of demonic possession story, this is, however, not for everybody. It is very American, to the point where a British reader will not even recognise many names, references or procedures, which can be important to the detail of the plot. Also much of the book is given over to lengthy passages of pure speechifying, at which the vast majority of people who do not find politics fascinating will switch off. Masterton gives us a book that displays all his varied talents: we care about his characters; we believe in his situations; and even when we know what is going to happen, are interested enough to ask why. But at heart, he is holding together a dated piece of political Americana. Not a small feat, to be granted, but one which holds an interest only for a small fraction of readers, and one which will shrink increasingly as time goes by.


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