During his productive career as an author, Lou Cameron (1924-2010) transcended genres from crime fiction to westerns to war adventures. In 1968, Cameron tried his hand at a mainstream political thriller called The Good Guy that promises “an exciting shocker with a double-twist finish,” so I buckled in for what was sure to be a wild ride.
The paperback’s conversational narrator is a doctor of behavioral psychology working as an advertising consultant named Woody Legion. He’s the guy you hire to manipulate the minds of the public if you’re trying to get them to change their favorite soda pop. His field of expertise is called “Motivation Research,” but it really amounts to political dirty tricks - picking out the perfect unassailable lie about the opposition that will alienate the candidate from the electorate.
Enter presidential candidate and freshman congressman Rex Vane. Before Vane became a politician, he was an actor in the westerns who parlayed his fame as a “good guy” into the the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s worth noting that real-life movie cowboy Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1967, so I’m guessing that this was fresh on Cameron’s mind while creating the fictional version in the paperback.
In any case, Woody gets hired to work his psychological black magic as a part of Vane’s campaign. He leaks carefully-chosen false information about Vane’s primary opponent and watches his poll numbers deteriorate. He performs his analysis with giant IBM computers while his staff wears white lab coats. It’s pretty much what people in 1968 thought the future would look like today when algorithms would be making our judgement calls.
There are many problems with The Good Guy as a novel. As a narrator and main character, Woody is not a likable guy with a good personality. Even discounting his dishonorable profession, he’s not the kind of person you want to accompany for 224 big-font pages. For a political thriller, The Good Guy is almost completely devoid of thrills. It’s a boring book because Cameron never took the time to get the reader invested in the characters or the high-stakes of the election. It’s like he wanted to write a fictional expose regarding the dirty tricks that accompany modern politics. 52 years later, these revelations are all rather ho-hum.
The author makes an attempt to emulate an actual breakneck thriller in the paperback’s last 30 pages, but the whole thing was rather contrived and didn’t follow the novel’s own internal logic. This book was just awful. I’m normally a fan of Lou Cameron, but don’t bother with this stinker. The Good Guy was just A Bad Book.
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