By Ogova Ondego
Published February 26, 2017
As Kenyans prepare for elections on August 8, 2017, Sidney Sheldon’s The Best Laid Plans, a paperback about power and revenge, could be recommended reading for those seeking office, those who are sponsoring or handling them and those who shall elect them to the county and national assemblies and the presidency.
Though the story may be set in the United States of America at the turn of the century, the lessons contained therein are nevertheless of universal application.
A publication of HarperCollins released two decades ago and running just 358 pages, The Best Laid Plans revolves around a gubernatorial candidate who has lost hope of ever making it in politics after his backers suddenly pull out. The man, Oliver Russell, then, perhaps desiring to dull his pain, has an affair with Leslie Stewart, a public relations consultant who is trying to salvage his campaign.
But when Backer, a powerful senator, reappears and dangles the carrot of power and money in his face, Russell forgets Stewart and agrees to marry the senator’s daughter with whom he had disagreed and it had almost shuttered his dream of ever becoming Governor of Kentucky.
Just a few days to his wedding Stewart, he jilts her and leaves her humiliated. She is forced to apologise to her guests and return their gifts. She tries to stoically bear the shame but when people keep on whispering and hastily ending conversation whenever they see her, she vows to make Russell pay for the evil he has done her. But she is painfully aware that with the backing of the powerful senator, Russell will have power and money, and so she has to find a way to have even more power and more money.
While Russell craves power, Stewart is obsessed with revenge, for hell has no fury like a woman scorned. Didn’t William Congreve (1670-1729) bequeath humanity a gem in the observation, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”?
Politicians – by reading this book – will get helpful tips on how to succeed in the power game. Such politicians are advised to befriend the Press and to never look down upon a reporter. They should not only avoid any show of pettiness as they are statesmen but must also keep any attack on their opponents impersonal.
Another useful tip to politicians is that of blackmail or calling in favours.
“Everybody’s got a little skeleton buried somewhere. All you have to do is dig it up, and you’ll be surprised how glad they’ll be to help with whatever you need,” Senator Todd Davies tells Russell whom he has just put in office as Governor.
According to this thriller, American Governors and Presidents are usually put in office by certain individuals whose interests they must protect through vetoing bills and foreign policies that may adversely affect them. For example, Senator Davies forces Russell (as Governor) to veto a bill on cigarettes as it will adversely affect his business. When he gets to the White House and he is about to broker peace between the Arabs and the Israelis, he tells him: “Peace is a simple word, but it has a lot of ramifications. Peace doesn’t have any financial benefits. When there’s a war, countries buy billion of dollars worth of armaments that are made here in the United States…. Because Iran can’t sell its oil, oil prices are up, and the United States gets the benefit of that”
He tells President Russell that Americans have no intention of seeing peace in the Middle East or else they could have forced Israel to agree to peace terms long ago, being a small country.
Aware that Senator Davies and his associates own oil wells from which they make lots of money in the absence of Arab oil on the world market and that that is why he does not want peace in the Middle East, Russell insists on going ahead with the plan.
Senator Davies reminds him not to forget who put him in the White House: “…. If you go through with this, you’re finished …. I am giving you twenty – four hours to come to your senses.”
To build a media empire, Stewart defeats the trade unions and she tries to destroy Russell on whom she runs scandalous stories. When a prominent and most valuable reporter on her media group is arrested in Sarajevo and is about to be executed, President Russell uses his power to have her released although the group has been unfair to him. This appears to teach political leaders to be magnanimous rather than vengeful as they are statesmen. But even this does not make Stewart to stop her war against the President whom she wants out of office.
Stewart’s media group leads the onslaught on Russell and the reader’s heart races with the unfolding events. You have the feeling that the Presidency is coming to an end but you can’t help hating Stewart and sympathizing with President Russell but even the best laid plans can go awfully wrong and you hope that this happens. Later you discover that Russell is about to be crucified on behalf of someone else.
Were this novel to be turned into a movie, it would likely be an eye-catching and attention-gripping artwork; it has the immediacy which makes you think you what is being described is factual: a US President pursued by sex scandal and corruption in his campaigns; socio-political unrest in the Middle East; a US Administration that takes sides on the Middle East conflict.
Though characterised by the usual Sheldonian twists, turns and surprises, the reader may feel that the author follows too many rabbit trails. All in all, this book is worth reading by anyone who enjoys a good story.