FAUSTIAN BARGAINS by Joan Mellen

FAUSTIAN BARGAINS

Lyndon Johnson and Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Linking LBJ to blackmail, intimidation, and even murder.

Mellen (English/Temple Univ.; The Great Game in Cuba: How the CIA Sabotaged its Own Plot to Unseat Fidel Castro, 2013, etc.) chronicles “the dark side of Lyndon Johnson” by investigating two men whom she finds surprisingly absent from Robert A. Caro’s acclaimed four-volume Johnson biography: financier and con man Billie Sol Estes, who accused Johnson of orchestrating multiple murders, and Malcolm Everett "Mac" Wallace, a fellow Texan who the author claims was Johnson’s acolyte. Estes’ scandalous machinations made national news, but Wallace’s service as Johnson’s “hatchet man” is little known. “Wallace’s story is so intriguing,” writes the author, “because, unlike other of Johnson’s acolytes, it is difficult to prove what he did for [LBJ], and what [LBJ], in turn, did for him.” Mellen’s handling of evidence makes her argument disturbing and, in parts, confusing. In mounting her indictment of Johnson as a manipulative, power-hungry politician who considered himself above the law (a portrait that Caro endorses), the author assumes that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. “Circumstantial evidence…is most certainly evidence,” she asserts, and hearsay provokes her interest. Her sources include research into Johnson’s life and politics conducted by reporter Holland McCombs, on assignment for Life; and the files of John Fraser Harrison, a former Dallas reserve police officer obsessed with finding “the Texas roots of the Kennedy assassination.” Besides damning Johnson, Mellen aims to counter Estes’ accusation that Wallace served as Johnson’s hit man and, on Johnson’s orders, was at the Texas School Book Depository when Kennedy was shot. Although she finds “no credible evidence” for either claim, Mellen blows plenty of smoke toward Johnson: “Loose ends, contradictory facts suggesting Lyndon Johnson’s complicity, remain.” She also accuses Johnson of racism (admittedly, not a new claim) and, for reasons of international intrigue, of refusing to rescue sailors on the USS Liberty after it was bombed in 1967.

A book that will fuel conspiracy theorists and further blacken Johnson’s legacy.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62040-806-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016




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