What if FDR sent a twenty-one year old JFK to Europe on the very eve of World War II itself in order to find out if and how Hitler was smuggling money into the US to influence the next election?
“I’ve been turning it over in my mind, Jack–this trip of yours,” the President was saying. “To the Nazis, you’re just the American ambassador’s son. But to me, you’re a perfect spy. My independent thinker. Arriving in London with a fresh outlook and an unclouded mind. As far as the Nazis are concerned, you’re clean as the driven snow. They know your dad and I don’t always agree. They’ll never expect you to be my man in Europe.”
Jack, who is as ill with some undiagnosable disease as he can be and not be dead, finds this proposal flattering and irresistible. If he’s going to die at any moment any way, why not die being FDR’s man in Europe?
So in Jack 1939 he boards the Queen Mary for England and nearly all the European capitals, closely pursued by the White Spider, a Nazi SS agent who is very quick with a very sharp knife, closely cultivated by German intelligence agent Willi Dobler, and intensely damned by every American ambassador in every European capital for the trouble he causes them, not excluding his own father. There is a beautiful older woman, Diana Playfair, another amateur spy with whom Jack has a passionate affair, whose ending will break your heart as painfully as it breaks Jack’s.
One of the most enjoyable things in this book are all the walk-on parts by real people, beginning with Jack’s family (Joes Sr. and Jr. don’t come off all that well, and Rose, my god, Jack would have been better off with Dracula’s bride as his mother) and including just about everyone else in the World War II Almanac.
Oh yes, J. Edgar Hoover is here, too, and up to his usual Machiavellian shennanigans. Fear not, FDR’s got his number, and unbeknownst to Hoover, he’s got Jack, too. A fun read.