Raymond Shaw has never been likable. He is haughty, self-centered, and doesn't have friends. Even now as a war hero, he is not likable but he is well-known and connected. He is the stepson of a influential and unprincipled senator, Johnny Iselin. Raymond hates his stepfather and has a very unhappy, uncomfortable relationship with his mother, who is only interested in using him to elevate her husband to higher office. The portraits that Condon paints of the senator and Raymond's mother are very convincing and very scary.
Ben Marco is an intelligence officer, and he knows that there is something wrong with his memory of the events that led to Raymond's medal. Even Raymond has that feeling, that his memories are not real. But neither is aware that they have been brainwashed or that Raymond is a sleeper agent, who can be triggered to carry out any crime that his handlers desire. (This is revealed early in the novel.)
The Manchurian Candidate is a political thriller about a very serious subject, but its black humor provides relief from the tension. The narrative style is not smooth, but the story is entertaining. In many cases, Condon picks up on a subject, like the Medal of Honor and what it means, and goes off on an essay on that subject. I did not mind those lengthy asides at all. The story is very much of its time, but it also reminds of the political situations we live with now.
This is another book, like The Big Sleep, where my reaction was greatly affected by having seen the 1962 movie adaptation first, and having viewed it many times. The book might have been more confusing to me if I had not experienced the movie first; the story is very complex. As it was, because the 1962 movie and the book are so closely aligned, it was like visiting an old friend but getting more of the story than I had heard before. The book does give the reader more background on both the events and the setting, and the characters are more fleshed out.
The edition of the book I read is a movie tie-in edition for the 2004 adaptation, starring Denzel Washington as Marco and Liev Schreiber as Raymond. I have seen that movie and I liked it OK but it does not compare favorably to the 1962 adaptation. It is updated to use the Gulf War as the conflict as opposed to the Korean War.
This is my submission for the book of 1959 for the Crimes of the Century meme for this month, hosted by Rich at Past Offences. See also Rich's review from 2016.
Publisher: Pocket Star Books, 2004. Orig. pub. 1959.
Length: 358 pages
Genre: Political Thriller
Source: I purchased this book.