In this thriller set in the 1960s, an American soldier becomes caught in a secret war between the FBI and the CIA.
David Dengler is an aspiring spy, a young Army Intelligence recruit on a peculiar training mission in the summer of 1962: keep superstar Marilyn Monroe under close surveillance and compile a comprehensive dossier on her. At first, Dengler can’t believe his luck—such a glamorous first assignment—but quickly discovers that the beautiful celebrity had affairs with both John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert and that she’s arranged to furtively abort a child produced by one of them. Monroe becomes exasperated that neither takes her calls anymore and threatens to call a press conference announcing their indiscretions. Then, a team of CIA assassins shows up at Monroe’s residence to kill her, and Dengler intercedes but is brutally wounded in a struggle. The actress doesn’t survive the attempt on her life, but Dengler manages to escape, now a fugitive on the run. He flees town and hides out in a remote cabin, but the CIA is hot on his trail and intent on silencing him. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reveals to Dengler that the CIA and the bureau are locked in a power struggle that involves organized crime, the Cuban missile crisis, and the presidency. Hoover invites Dengler to join a clandestine group within the FBI—the “Q Force”—under a new identity to help counter the nefarious activities of the CIA. Taylor (The Devouring, 2016, etc.) ingeniously concocts a revisionist history of intramural espionage in the United States during the ’60s, somehow rendering the utterly absurd deliciously plausible. (At one point, Hoover tells Dengler about the Q Force: “Now they have a new mission: Investigate the murder of Marilyn Monroe and prove the President innocent, or guilty.”) In addition, Dengler is a sumptuously complex protagonist running from inauspicious beginnings in West Virginia and madly in love with a drug-addled prostitute. The plot can border on the exasperatingly entangled, and it isn’t easy to keep the suspense taut for more than 400 pages. But Taylor’s brash narrative never lulls for long, marching relentlessly toward a provocative conclusion.
A historically bold—and artistically inventive—dramatization of political intrigue.