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Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination Hardcover – October 8, 2013

3.6 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lehrer (formerly the anchor of PBS's NewsHour) draws upon his experiences as a reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963, for this unusual take on the Kennedy assassination. His fictional alter ego in the novel, Dallas Tribune reporter Jack Gilmore, is at Love Field when the Kennedys arrive. Fact-checking his story, Jack asks a Secret Service agent if the president's limousine will be traveling through Dallas with the plastic bubble top up or down. Since the top is intended only for use in the rain, and clear skies are expected, agent Van Walters indicates that it not be used. That reasonable choice (the top was neither bulletproof nor intended to protect Kennedy) naturally leads to feelings of profound guilt on Van's part after the fatal shots are fired in Dealey Plaza. Five years later, Van's 20-year-old daughter, Marti, asks for Jack's help reversing her father's depression, leading to a macabre reenactment in which the former agent tries to prove to himself that there's nothing he could have done differently. Lehrer doesn't say anything particularly profound here about the tragedy's long-lasting aftereffects, but his premise does make for a refreshing change from the usual conspiracy thrillers about the J.F.K. assassination. Agent: Will Lippincott, Lippincott Massie McQuilken. (Oct.)

From Booklist

Lehrer has crafted a uniquely focused novel about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the ripple effect it had on both individuals and the nation as a whole. Utilizing his firsthand knowledge and experience—he was actually a reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963—the author shifts away from the big-picture event in order to zero in on two seemingly minor players in the national tragedy. Five years after Kennedy’s death, reporter Jack Gilmore is approached by Marti Walters, the daughter of former Secret Service Agent Van Walters, the man responsible for assessing the weather and making the decision on whether to keep the presidential limo’s plastic bubble top up or down on that fateful day. Plagued by guilt and suffering from debilitating post-traumatic stress syndrome, Van is physically and psychologically on his last legs. In a race against time, Jack and Marti attempt to re-create the events of that day in order to prove to Van once and for all that he was not responsible for the president’s death.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Fifty years after the assassination of JFK, the tragic events of that day still resonate with the nation. Lehrer’s unique story-within-a-story approach provides a fresh fictional perspective that will appeal to readers who can never get enough Kennedy. --Margaret Flanagan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069165
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069163
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By rgregg VINE VOICE on September 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I vividly remember where I was when JFK was assassinated and I like Jim Lehrer as both a newsman and a writer so when I saw the title of this book, I was excited to see what kind of take Mr. Lehrer would bring to this tragedy.
This book is slight in both length(184 pages) and in plot.
Normally I try to avoid spoilers in my review but a spoiler is generally something surprising or dramatic and there is little to spoil in this story.
Essentially, Jack Gilmore is a Washington based reporter who was in Dallas on that fateful day in November of 1963. The story opens in 1968 when he is approached by the daughter of one of the Secret Service agents who was part of the President's protection detail. That agent, Van Walters, was the one who decided not to use the bubble top on the limousine for the motorcade. The daughter Marti tells how her father is suicidal and feels he is the one responsible for the death of the President. He thinks that had the bubble top been used in the motorcade, the President would have survived.
And that's about it. We learn about the days and years following November 22 and how Walters and the family were transferred to many cities, how Marti had to deal with high school students who blamed Dallas for killing JFK. Gilmore eventually meets Van Walters and becomes determined to re-enact the incident with the bubble top attached to the car.
That process takes up much of this rather meaningless novel with Jack trying to find the exact weapon, the exact bubble top, the exact angle and more. And when the recreation does happen, he doesn't even have the matches that he needs.
The only character that strikes caring for the reader is Van Walters himself. He is somewhat charismatic as a tortured soul who failed in his job of protecting his President.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I ordered the book I had expected that the assassination of JFK would be the focal element of the story. Not so. Rather the story chronicles the direct impact of the assassination on one of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect Kennedy and indirectly to his family. In an effort to help the agent recover from his debilitating PTSD the agent's daughter and a reporter that covered Kennedy's arrival at Love Field end up testing the hypothesis that if the plexiglass top had been installed on the Presidential limousine it would not have stopped the bullets aimed at JFK. While it was mildly disappointing that there was not more what-ifs or alternate theories about the assassination, this book is more about the journey than the destination and it was an enjoyable ride at that.

If you are looking for novels that deal more intimately with the Kennedy assassination I can highly recommend both "11-22-63" by Stephen King and "The Third Bullet" by Stephen Hunter.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had pretty high hopes for this novel--it's the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, and I am always interested in this topic, and here's a book by Jim Lehrer, of PBS, who was a reporter in Dallas on the day of the assassination in 1963. If he's going to bother to write a book, even a fictionalized version of the events, I expect that he has some new insight or interesting angle.

And there is an angle: it's fully explained in the 2-3 sentence blurb--in actuality, he heard a Secret Service agent give the "order" to remove the plexiglas bubble top from the presidential limousine that day in Dallas. The fictional part is that Lehrer goes on to imagine that the agent is haunted by guilt and what might have been, despite the fact that the "bubble" was not bullet-proof and was intended only to protect from weather, not bullets. From there, the story-telling goes downhill quickly. The reporter, who is and is not Lehrer himself, gets a call from the agent's 20 year old daughter that he might be able to save this man from death by guilt, if he can come to Kinderhook, NY and convince him that Kennedy's death was not his fault.

Of course, we know it was not his fault, because the decision to have an open car was not actually made by the agent, and because the plexiglas was never intended as a safety measure. But on and on the story goes, with a feeble love interest thrown in to keep the story going for the slim 185 pages.

And in the end, well, nothing happens. The reporter does not fulfill his desire for the girl (she's too young--he's 30 and she's 20, and besides she's a "source." Ho-hum.) And then the two non-lovers meet up 50 years later, and nothing much happens then either.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Jim Leher, who was a reporter in Dallas on the day of the JFK assassination in 1963,writes a story of what if's. What if the Secret Service agent in charge gave the order to remove the plexiglass dome from the limo that day? What if he had left it in place, would JFK still be alive this day? What if...this Secret Service agent started to go crazy over the guilt of removing the top? Jim tells the tale of a young reporter who meets with the Secret Service agents daughter 5 years later to help her heal her father and the experiment they conduct throughout that year in Kinderhook, NY to convince the agent that the death was not his fault.

I had high hopes for this book as it sounded like a really interesting premise and I thought they would actually go through the scientific process of trying to recreate this experiment. Sadly, I was disappointed. Not only is the "experiment" rather short and unconvincing (at least to me) the writing of the story is only so so. To me it appears that Leher was trying to write a biography from the eyes of his reporter character, but instead it feels like sometimes he forgets that and instead starts reporting a biography of a fictional character, which makes for some stilted story telling. The characters were also unconvincing in that they alternated between reality--a reporter meeting a source--and fiction--a source trying to seduce the reporter--that just created awkward situations.

While it's an interesting thought experiment, I just expected a bit more convincing of the fictional recreation and a better story. If Leher had stuck with writing it strictly as fiction, it might have been a great story. As it is though...I just had trouble keeping my interest in the book. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by NetGalley
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