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TOP DOWN by Jim Lehrer


A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination

by Jim Lehrer

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6916-3
Publisher: Random House

Who shot JFK? In longtime PBS stalwart Lehrer’s novel, the question better becomes: How shot JFK?

In a blend of police procedural and peek behind the curtains at how journalists do their jobs, Lehrer (Super, 2010, etc.) posits an uncomfortable scenario, at least for a beat reporter: A story returns, years after the fact, with a new and unforeseen wrinkle. In this instance, Dallas Tribune writer Jack Gilmore is going out to lunch—well, speaking before a lunch, anyway—on a strange twist to the assassination tale, relating how a request came from the copy desk for him to find out, before JFK’s motorcade set out for Dealey Plaza, whether the top on his limousine would be up or down. Hmmm. It had been raining before, but now on this beautiful warm day—well, Gilmore asks, the agent in charge orders the top taken off, and the rest is history. Or is it? That agent has been a seething erosive mess of guilt ever since, and the Secret Service has done what it can to hide him in the hinterlands. His protofeminist daughter—for this is 1968—is meanwhile looking to answer the burning question of whether “the bubble top, if it had been there, might have prevented the assassination—or at least the death—of Kennedy.” Well, weird things happen when a reporter’s obsession matches a source’s, and Lehrer expertly sails that particular sea. The writing sometimes seems a little tossed-off (“ ‘Food of the World’...seemed to mean Greek and Italian versions of scrambled eggs and toast”), but the way that Lehrer covers the ground (always skirting that “who” question) is fresh and convincing—and a couple of payoffs, including the longish denouement, come as a nice surprise.

A footnote to the vast library surrounding the JFK assassination, but a good read nonetheless.