Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review - Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

In 1939, the US had no spy service, no CIA, and had to rely on the intuition of its leaders along with unofficial reports on the actions of world leaders and governments for the nation's security.  As Europe ground inexorably toward another war in 1939, President Roosevelt needed to get information quickly, quietly, and completely outside State department channels.  At the same time, Jack Kennedy, son of the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England) was planning to spend the summer and a semester touring Europe doing research for his senior thesis at Harvard.

Roosevelt asks Kennedy to act as his eyes and ears in Europe to find out what he can about Hitler's plans to take over Europe.  He gives the young man a secret Morse Code radio (and a quick training course in how to use it) and sends him off with instructions to tell no one (particularly not his father) about his mission.

This could so easily have been a disastrous hollywood pulp novel throw away, but Mathews instead gives us a rip-roaring page-turner. She mixes well-researched facts into a credible but fictional scenario that keeps the reader's attention from start to finish.  It's a quick read, not because it's shallow (it's NOT), but because the reader simply cannot put this down.  There is romance, espionage, personal glimpses of the Kennedy family, a quick tour of major cities of Europe,  a thorough explanation of Kennedy's now well-known health problems, and throughout it all, a clear sense of the urgency felt by the nations of the world who watched their paralyzed leadership as Hitler went unchallenged in his march toward world dominance. The author's suggestion about the dichotomy of  Kennedy's beliefs vs those of his father is central to the plot.  Kennedy's chase through European capitals, in pursuit of FDR's needed information is a thrilling read, as good as many mysteries on the shelves these days.

This one releases tomorrow. It's a perfect read to enforce your celebration of freedom this week.
Thanks to Riverhead Books for making the galley available.

Author: Francine Mathews 
Publisher-Format: New York, Riverhead Books, 2012, e-galley, 370 pages
Subject:  espionage, politics
Setting: London, eastern Europe summer 1939
Genre: historical fiction/suspense mystery
Source: e-galley from publisher via Net Galley

About the Author:
Francine Mathews, who also writes as Stephanie Barron, is the author of twenty novels of mystery, history, and suspense. A graduate of Princeton and Stanford, she spent four years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA, and presently lives and works in Colorado.


  1. I was afraid to try this book for the same reasons you give and because I liked JFK. But today both you and Cathy at Kittling: Books give it a good review, so I just might try it.


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