Might the Russians ‘buy’ a RI congressman… and even worse?

Houle’s latest novel takes readers on a fast-paced ride into political intrigue

Posted 12/20/23

It all seems so plausible.

Rhode Island is a small state geographically and in terms of its population. For years the Ocean State has been the testing ground for new products and with a once …

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Might the Russians ‘buy’ a RI congressman… and even worse?

Houle’s latest novel takes readers on a fast-paced ride into political intrigue


It all seems so plausible.

Rhode Island is a small state geographically and in terms of its population. For years the Ocean State has been the testing ground for new products and with a once dominant newspaper and limited number of television stations, it’s been easy and cost effective to spread the word.

As the founder of a public relations and marketing firm, JH Communications, which he has rebranded Main Street Media, John Houle knows that. Having actively worked on campaigns, he understands a race for governor or congress in Rhode Island is short money compared to California, Texas or even nearby Connecticut.

Looking at foreign interference in the last presidential campaign, Houle thought it perfectly possible that the Russians would try to “buy” a Rhode Island congressional seat and if they were attempting to do it here, they would likely be doing it elsewhere.

Houle thinks of such schemes when he’s at his computer at 4 a.m. before his wife and kids are up or the first stream of business emails hits. Their beagle, Harley, joins him for those early morning bursts of creatively when a world of foreign intrigue, local politics and scummy and principled characters come to life chapter by chapter. What’s fun for Rhode Island readers is that while the names are different, based on some of the episodes, they are remarkably real. Further enhancing the reality are the names of Rhode Island businesses and locations and references to events such as the war in Ukraine and a special election for a congressional seat.

If you have read his first novel King Makers of Providence, many of the characters are recognizable in The  Siberian Candidate that was released on Dec. 5. In the first novel, protagonist Henry Mercucio makes his mark in politics as the strategist winning the campaign of a candidate who’s up against a corrupt incumbent mayor and his followers who want to keep their hold on city hall. The story involves Swiss bank accounts, a touch of foreign intrigue, some rough guys, seedy locations and Henry falling in love and marrying the daughter of an upright, well connected and highly successful businessman, Reggie Sinclair.

In an interview with Mike Levesque published in January of this year in these papers  prior to the release of The King Makers of Providence, Houle was asked about the similarities in the book to people we know.

 “Obviously, there are things taken or inspired about what I read and lived about Mayor Cianci, but his character is just a composite of things I heard. Things I read. He is a tragic hero. Someone who had great ideas and great potential that went astray. He squandered it.”

“People will think Henry is me. There are some similarities, but I didn’t go to Georgetown Law….but I did go to BC (Boston College) and I did confide in the Jesuit priests like in the book.”

 “My intention was to show how it (a political campaign) really is. If it takes a weekend or a week to read it, I want people to be informed and entertained, but also take something away. My concern is that people might think it is negative but it’s not. It’s about the connections among people.”

The Siberian Candidate picks up with Henry at the helm of his father-in-law’s business where he is putting together an acquisition deal that gets torpedoed by his wife’s brother in-law. Meanwhile, Henry can’t escape his reputation as a campaign strategist. This time he discovers in place of dealing with petty thugs he’s onto a scheme to subvert the electoral process.

Houle started writing the King Makers on a three week visit to Prague more than 20 years ago. He returned to Rhode Island after running out of money. He went back to writing the book off and on, finally completing the King Makers, which was released in March 2023. By then he was already half way into the Siberian Candidate and now he’s 150 pages into a third novel and planning a fourth.

In the process, he’s employed his business acumen to promote his own novels, doing interviews, speaking engagements and appearances. Selling books, he says, “takes time, it might be the hardest business.” He estimates he’s sold 1,000 books. The venture led him to working with the Providence Center Pro Mail, which packages and mails his book orders.

Might the books spawn a movie or a series?

Houle has been asked the question before. He has linked up with Kris Meyer who has worked as a creative production manager with the Farrelly Brothers. With Meyer’s help, Houle wrote a pilot, known as a “bible” in the industry, to a first season TV show. The 60-page “bible” boils the story down to the basics of the plot and the characters without the description of the settings that are carried by film. He’s not pinning a lot of hopes on it going places, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the world of entertainment finds a place in another book. He’s already toying with where AI might take Henry Mercucio.

But for the present Henry is busy with the Russians and at the urging of his father-in-law Sinclair’s connections to the CIA put him on a path to St. Petersburg to return the “favor.”

The story is a fast read. Purposely, Houle writes 8 to 10 page chapters which make it easy to pick up if you’re short on time or about to turn off the light and go to bed.

As for the characters that seem to be straight out of Rhode Island, Houle will say there are some similarities, but they’re fictional with one exception, his trusty early morning writing companion, Harley, who plays a role in the story.  

Houle, who grew up in Warwick, attended Pilgrim High School and is a graduate of Boston College, was a Warwick Beacon reporter for a stint. After his own role in the 2002 special election Providence mayoral campaign, Houle went on to run several successful private and political campaigns through his firm, Houle has also been active in the Chamber of Commerce and was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce in 2022. He was also appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo to serve as member of the Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island. He lives in Cranston with his wife, Susan, who teaches at Hoxsie School. They are the parents of two children. As with Houle’s first novel, The Siberian Candidate is published by BookPress Publishing and is available for purchase wherever books are sold. Copies of both books are available at the Warwick Beacon, 1944 Warwick Ave., Warwick. Soft cover copies are $20 and hard covers are $30.


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