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by James Ellroy

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-40391-4
Publisher: Knopf

It's the Kennedys versus Jimmy Hoffa, Fidel Castro, and J. Edgar Hoover in this blistering, sprawling slice of Americana from the comic-book Dos Passos of our time. Jack Kennedy only wants to be president and keep getting laid; his brother Bobby, who burns with a more gemlike flame, wants to expose the mob's ties to the Teamsters' Pension Fund; Hoover wants to keep the FBI focused on American Communism rather than organized crime. As they grapple for power before and after the 1960 election, Ellroy focuses on three scoundrels caught in their conflicts. FBI agent Kemper C. Boyd becomes Hoover's man on the inside of the McClellan Committee, which Robert Kennedy's spearheading to get indictments on the mob; Boyd then allows himself to get drafted by a CIA officer who wants him to organize an anti-Castro insurgency force trained by a KKK alumnus. Boyd's friend Ward J. Littell, an FBI undercover op, vaults to the top of the Bureau ladder before a feud puts him on a collision course with Hoover. And Pete Bondurant drifts away from his regular job (procuring women and dope for Howard Hughes) to emerge as the CIA's stalwart Chicago Phantom. None of Ellroy's fictional characters, though, is the equal of his powerful, paranoid J. Edgar Hoover, the unmoved mover whose hand and voice are everywhere, even though he never appears in person. It's Hoover whose kiss-off of Ward Littell turns him into a pathetically loose cannon, and Hoover whose obsession with Castro seems to turn his coup into a godsend for the rest of the cast, providing everybody with a common scapegoat. But the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Bobby Kennedy's renewed crusade against organized crime at home, shatters the principals' fragile alliances, and they're left plotting to shake down the sexually insatiable president. Ellroy reins in the more flagrant stylistic excesses of his L.A. Quartet (White Jazz, 1992, etc.), but indulges every overripe subplot you can imagine, in this lurid, volcanic historical epic.