Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Crook Factory

Think what you might about Ernest Hemingway’s writing, personality, attitude toward women, etc., there is no denying that the man lived life to the fullest.  And, of course, he went out with a bang, further ensuring his legendary status in the world of American literature.  But, as detailed in the Dan Simmons novel, The Crook Factory, there is much more to the Hemingway life story than most realize.  

Lest readers be left wondering how much of the novel is based on fact, Simmons adds this clarifying note at the end of the book: “The incredible story of Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban spy-catching, submarine-chasing, World War II adventures in my new novel, The Crook Factory, is – I think – all the more incredible for being 95 percent true.”  He then goes through a list of plot twists and main characters that are based on “confirmed fact.” 

Fictional FBI man Joe Lucas, under direct orders from J. Edgar Hoover, is in Cuba to keep tabs on Hemingway and the little network of spies Hemingway is running there.  Hemingway, although he is a little suspicious of Lucas, only knows that the U.S. ambassador to Cuba will not approve the operation unless Lucas is part of the team.  He is not particularly happy to have Lucas on board, and, in turn, Lucas is unhappy because he thinks he has been assigned simply to “babysit” Hemingway long enough to keep him out of trouble – or from embarrassing the U.S. government.

But then people start dying.  And everything changes.  In this world of agents, double-agents, traitors, and professional killers, all Lucas knows is that someone wants Ernest Hemingway – and him- very, very dead.  Now, if he can figure out why, he might be able to save both their lives.

The Crook Factory is a superb World War II thriller that will, I think, leave the reader with a new appreciation for just what a wild man Ernest Hemingway really was.  Its seamless blending of fact and fiction includes appearances by the likes of: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Ian Fleming, and other figures from both sides of the war.

Dan Simmons
The author’s account of Hemingway’s end is both so touching and so disturbing that readers will long remember it.  That such a famous man could have been so ill-treated by the medical community and his own government is shocking.  This, in combination with the incredible “missions” undertaken by Hemingway’s Crook Factory, make for engrossing reading. 

I do, however, have one word of warning.  The story involves a tremendous amount of infighting between Hoover’s FBI and the other intelligence agencies of the U.S. and Britain, and Simmons spends way too many pages explaining how it all happens  - and why.  Several long sections within the book’s first two hundred pages read more like mind-numbing pages from a bad history textbook than like content from a war thriller.  But don’t give up because the last 350 pages or so will greatly reward your patience. 

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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