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The Hellfire Club Hardcover – April 24, 2018
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"Fiction is as suspenseful as truth in Jake Tapper's The Hellfire Club"―Vanity Fair, What to Read in May
"The Hellfire Club is hot summer reading"―Tampa Bay Times
"The action comes fast and furious, "House of Cards" on steroids; you'll be turning pages faster than a cable channel updates its chyron. Perfect for an airplane or the beach, The Hellfire Club is a worthy distraction from the real-life news cycle Tapper presides over."―Cynthia Dickison, Minnesota Star Tribune
"[The Hellfire Club is] both an engaging and slyly timely foray into Washington politics... incorporat(ing) shades of Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as well as elements of contemporary toxic alliances."―Seattle Review of Books
"[The Hellfire Club] has the best qualities of this sort of historical fiction, which include the winking perspective of the present."―Ben Smith, BuzzFeed
About the Author
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The Good: He really captures the ambiance of the McCarthy era and the 50's culture of the educated white middle class (with frank acknowledgement of the racial and gender hate associated with it). It's a good timepiece read for those younger than age 55 or so. I and my memories must be getting old, because Jake (or his assistants) had to do academic research with footnotes to document what he learned about the era! Or perhaps he thought it best to provide the documentation in case he was accused of falsifying the backstory.
Even Better: He repeatedly stresses, "This is a work of fiction." Yet it is hard not to see this as a message that 40 years of social and political progress are being washed away.
My favorite line, quoting Margaret Chase Smith, "The Four Horseman of Calumny are Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."
The Tedious: Way too many dead bodies and dark, stormy nights.
The Weak: Stereotypical characters, hopelessly stilted dialogue, Dan Brown pacing of short interspersed action scenes with implausible coincidence and Deus ex machina salvation of the good guys. Also, in the Epilogue, there is a comic-book final interview with a fictional Father Eisenhower to set up the sequels.
The Inaccurate: The portrayal of all leftists and socialists of the era as "Commie" pawns and dangerous, violent Soviet spies. Tapper's objection seems to be that only ordinary, conventional, mainstream Democrats got falsely accused of this.
The Really Bad: Sophomoric metaphors, such as, "...the rain hitting the pavement sounded like a herd of porterhouses sizzling on the grill."
Given the evil, intersecting forces the book portrays well, the sequel really needs to be about the Kennedy assassination. But who dares go there?
The novel takes place during the Eisenhower Administration and the Army McCarthy Hearings, and features many factual historical figures, including Roy Cohn (whose legacy still haunts us today), the Dulles brothers, Estes Kefauver. The tale is studded with real anecdotes, quotes, and events. I agree with other reviewers that it is a riveting fast read. I couldn't put it down until I'd read every last word.
The book has many parallels to the present; including a 50's version of the deep state and the shadow government of military contractors who have a financial motive to persuade governments to continue to build their war machines and arsenals. There is little evidence of an aggressive press looking into mysterious government happenings, and much debauchery and exploitation of women was the norm in many political circles. Eisenhower's recognition of and warnings about the growth and power of the military industrial complex are front and center to the story.
All that said, the plot was just too contrived to be totally satisfying. I guess huge doses murder and mayhem (all of which gets swept under the rug and hidden from the public) make for a good read (I was riveted) but ultimately lack enough plausibility to be tenable.
I take one star off for plot. Enjoyed the entertainment and historical facts and looking forward to Jake's next literary venture whether it be truth or fiction.
Top international reviews
Written in a very readable style that might best be described as Dashell Hammett meets Fletcher Knebel, Hellfire Club has all the mystery and intrigue of a DaVinci code, in which politics is the religion. Author Jake Tapper (Chief Washington correspondent for CNN) does an excellent job of capturing the times in which his story is set. It is 1954. Everyone has a drink in his or her hand, and is lighting up a smoke (even pregnant women). America is transitioning to a post-war economy as those who stormed the beaches on D-Day are now readjusting to civillian life. African-Americans, even those in Congress, feel unsafe a few miles from the capitol in the Maryland countryside. The Red Scare has real communists running for cover and those with benevolent ideologies being accused of a threat to bring down the government. Fear of communist spies leads to shrinking civil liberties and freedom of expression becomes a casualty. Even comic books aren't safe. And then there are the secret clubs. Tapper is a master of setting the mood of this unique time in American history and of making the reader feel as if he or she is living in the day.
Although Tapper reminds the reader several times that this is a work of fiction, history geeks will love his interspersing of many forgotten historical events such as the 1954 Capitol shooting incident by Puerto Rican Nationalists and the ghosts that haunt the capitol. (Don't just read the book, read the source notes too, they're fascinating.) Real-life contemporary political figures find their way into this book, including Senators Estes Kefauver, Jack Kennedy and Joe McCarthy, as well as Bobby Kennedy, Roy Cohn, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and even President Eisenhower.
Tapper combines cerebral political history with a rough and tumble thriller story-line. He blends the two worlds superbly, and produces a work that will thrill mystery lovers, political history geeks, and most importantly political history geeks who love a good mystery. Add this to your summer reading list and look for it in theatres. I smell a movie!