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The Race    by Richard North Patterson order for
by Richard North Patterson
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Richard North Patterson has been on my must read list since I was glued to the pages of last year's Exile, an absorbing legal thriller, set against the complex backdrop of Middle Eastern geopolitics. His new novel focuses on both a presidential race and issues of race that the media and the candidate protagonist's opposition ignite during the campaign.

The book stars Republican senator Corey Grace, a Gulf War Air Force pilot who is haunted by a split second decision that he made on a combat mission. It earned him a medal but 'a moment of vainglory' cost him the life of his best friend, African American Joe Fitts. It also led to a long-term friendship, based on honesty and respect, with air force chief of staff General Cortland Lane, and brought a delegation of Republicans asking Corey to run for the Senate. There, though committed to his party's core values, he 'distinguished himself from many conservatives by a concern for the environment, a distaste for static belief systems, and an openness to opposing points of view.'

Grace grew up in Ohio in a 'joyless house' with an alcoholic father, a bigoted mother who turned to religion for solace and her belief system, and a younger brother, Clay, who worshipped and emulated his sibling, but eventually committed suicide. Corey's wife Janice divorced him and moved to Australia with their daughter Kara, not liking the price to be paid for a role in politics.

Thirteen years after the Gulf War, while being pressed by his advisors to consider running for president, Senator Corey Grace meets high profile African-American movie star Lexie Hart, who is 'lobbying senators to vote for stem-cell research.' Though pressed by his advisors to make a decision supportive of a presidential candidacy, Grace votes his conscience. And, with serious misgivings on both sides, he cautiously pursues a relationship with the lovely, spirited and intelligent Lexie.

Grace's chances - against party establishment favorite Rob Marotta (whose campaign manager, the 'Darth Vader of American politics, Magnus Price', will do anything to win), and Christian fundamentalist Reverend Bob Christy (a charismatic speaker whose 'God is always at his side, and wants him to be president') - are slight until his bravery during an act of terrorism is caught on the evening news, giving him an opening and building momentum and support.

What follows is a ferocious presidential primary battle. No holds are barred by Magnus Price, who fights dirty, and in particular zeroes in on Corey's relationship with Lexie and the race issue. Surprisingly - since their views on most topics are at opposite ends of the spectrum - an odd alliance develops between Corey Grace and Bob Christy. As the vilification heightens, Corey and Lexie become anxious about events in her past that she has disclosed to him, but desperately hopes to keep private. Corey doesn't want to lose Lexie and doesn't want to see her hurt but politics is consuming their budding relationship. The reader wonders how this can end well - and Patterson injects a surprising twist.

Though I found the author's superlative Exile even better, I highly recommend The Race as an excellent, engrossing and very timely novel. I wish we had politicians out there like Corey Grace, to lead from strongly held and well articulated beliefs, rather than the typical crop of self-serving individuals who mouth only what is likely to win votes. Fans of West Wing - and anyone, no matter where on the political spectrum, who values ethics and honesty in leaders - will revel in The Race.

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