I just finished reading a book by Dan Simmons called The Crook Factory. His ability to write across genres is something I have not encountered in many writers. Contrast the Hyperion series, Summer of Night, Drood and this novel.
This work is an historical fiction account of a year in Ernest Hemingway’s life during May of 1942 to April 1943. What’s utterly fascinating about the book is that a significant portion of it is fact. During this time Hemingway ran an amateur counter espionage ring and sub hunting operation from his home in Cuba. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was concerned about unfavorable and potentially embarrassing information that Hemingway was uncovering about Cuba and the Cubans corrupt government officials. But very little else is really known about the period and what Hemingway’s troupe actually did and uncovered – although he was nominally funded and supported by the US State Department.
Perhaps most interesting about the novel is how it integrates the actual events into its plot development. The book discusses how Hoover had been warned of a possible Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor earlier (of course, not by Hemingway, but by the British) but the FBI failed to pass the intelligence on due to in fighting with rival intelligence agencies within the US. The book also weaves in the affair between John F. Kennedy and Inga Arvad, a presume German spy, the illegal surveillance of the vice President of the United States and Eleanor Roosevelt by the FBI, a 300 foot yacht, the Southern Cross, outfitted by a German spy and given to a US nonprofit entity, that was suspected of servicing German subs in the Caribean, vicious infighting between the FBI and rival US intelligence agencies, far more vicious infighting and plots between Hitler’s Nazi SS intelligence organization and its rival Abwehr spies, and inserts the absurd but true account of the landing of Nazi agents on Long Island and the FBI’s refusal to believe the German spies when the were trying to turn themselves in! What’s also true is the FBI ‘s intense interest in Hemingway, its surveillance of Hemingway, efforts of some to paint him in post-war years as a communist sympathizer, and Hoover’s continuing interest in Hemingway until the writer’s suicide in 1962.
While the main plot devices of espionage, violence, double cross and intrigue are obviously fictionally based, there seems to be so much that remains unknown (or still evading a FOIA request) that the real and amazing truths of this time that Simmons integrates into the story make the fictional deep cover antagonist Lucas seem vivid and the “fictional events” more than just plausible.
This was the third “historical” fiction novel I’ve read by Dan Simmons. The first was The Terror. The next was Drood. It’s clear that each book had been meticulously researched. Where fiction (even fantastical) diverges from historical fact is seamless. Simmon’s ability to find the voice of the characters he’s writing about, be they Hemingway or Charles Dickens, is authentic and highly believable. What a joy. This was another fantastic read.