THE CROOK FACTORY by Dan Simmons

THE CROOK FACTORY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Simmons leaps from fat genre novels (suspense/horror/sf fantasy) to fat mainstream historical suspense in retelling the story of Ernest Hemingway’s submarine-chasing exploits off Cuba in 1942—43. As is often the case with the author’s overplanned and hyperdetailed novels, this one boasts proliferating plots and subplots. At its center lolls the brawnily bravura Falstaffian bully/braggart Hemingway, who at age 43 lives with fourth wife Martha Gellhorn in their finca outside Havana, coasting on the great reviews of For Whom the Bell Tolls from two years earlier and editing his anthology Men at War; Hemingway is also overdrinking and trying to assemble a raggle-taggle spy group (or crook factory) in Havana to support his pursuit of Nazi subs with his famed fishing boat, Pilar, while falling under the spell of the FBI and IRS (who undermine his sanity, causing the paranoia that later leads him to suicide). And that barely scratches the surface. Simmons also takes on Hemingway’s sense of “the-true gen”—that is, how things work: guns, boats, boxing, fishing—and rivals him at his own game by creating a smartly characterized narrator, FBI agent Joe Lucas, who reads no fiction, has never read a word of Hemingway, and outsmarts Papa on boats, boxing, guns, and the true gen of spycraft. Simmons claims that ninety-five percent of his book is “true,” derived from FBI files. Regardless, though, what helps vastly is that utter pragmatist Joe Lucas, fatally ill, has only nine months to write the book, unburdened by any strivings for an artistic excellence he knows nothing about. Thus when Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman show up to talk about filming For Whom the Bell Tolls, Joe has only the vaguest idea of what’s under discussion. Also on hand: foppish top spy Commander Ian Fleming, getting charged up for his James Bond novels. For a change, Papa never utters a syllable that rings false. Meantime, Simmons (Children of the Night, 1992, etc.) more than handily ladles out suspense, a German Mata Hari, and a steady stream of solemn bemusement.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-380-97368-5
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999




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