Jack’s Books Blog: The Kennedy Men

“Any writer who imagines he has a career is the fool of fashion and circumstance. He has his books, and his artistic conscience, which, if he is any good, is a great deal more rigorous than anyone else’s judgement. “

So wrote the great John le Carre in a 1991 intro to his “The Looking Glass War” (1965) It was the follow-up to his ground-breaking, name-making bestseller, “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold”.

He explains that “Looking Glass” is a spy story that sets its predecessor right—it’s not all glamor and capability. Espionage and statecraft aren’t easy, even for those well-suited to it. So, he wrote a story about dumb mistakes, leaden bureaucrats and what ultimately seems like a pointless, tragic mission. I love both books, but I especially love understanding what he was up to. He was too kind to the spy world in “The Spy..,” and he tried to balance the books, litereally, with “Looking Glass”.

Here’s what else I’ve been up to, book-wise:

“The Kennedy Men 1901-1963” by Laurence Leamer (2001) It’s interesting to think that a 2024 presidential candidate is the son of one of Leamer’s subjects. More interesting to consider how the Kennedy wealth and position produced the extraordinary and contradictory man that JFK was, versus what that class of Americans is producing today. Harvard, the Ivy League, Cape Cod, Long Island, European travel and tailoring—it’s not the same world or work. Leamer manages to add useful insight and depth to the most-written about family in American history. Worth a long read.

“The Drums of Fu Manchu” by Sax Rohmer (1939) Around the same time that young Jack Kennedy was tooling around prewar Europe on his college break, Sax Rohmer was churning out best-sellers about the most diabolical villain ever imagined. These books are dated but highly entertaining and achieve edge-of-your-seat suspense many try for but few attain. Once again Sir Dennis Neyland Smith must foil—and survive—Fu Manchu’s plot to decapitate major world leaders and start (or stop?) WW2.

“Not In The Flesh” by Ruth Rendell (2007) A truffle-hunting hound finds a dead body instead of a mushroom, and Inspector Wexford is off on another superb whodunit.

“Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers” by Kenji Kawano (1990) The author and photographer met, befriended and documented these amazing heroes of WW2 while most were still with us, something that’s not longer true. Using a code drawn from their own language, on the surmise that Japanese codebreakers would never guess at the Navajo part of it, nor have the resources to learn Navajo if they did, the few hundred Marine “code talkers” saved lives and quite possibly tipped the balance of battles like Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“The Take” by Christopher Reich (2018) Reich is the best thriller writer you’ve never heard of, and here he intros a new character, Simon Riske. Riske’s cover is restoring old Italian supercars, but soon he’s employing his criminal past and savvy resoucefulness to break up a Middle Eastern plot implicating the British, the Russsians and the Saudis. A lot of people want Riske dead.

“There Was An Old Woman” by Ellery Queen (1943) Admittedly, I love the whole Queen detective series, but I have to say, this one is especially clever. Like the nursery rhyme, there IS an old woman, who KIND of lives in a shoe. She does have a lot of children. And a lot of people know what to do. Murders and corporate intrigue follow. A great, fast read in a series that can be read in order, but doesn’t need to be.

The Burning Wire” by Jeffrey Deaver (2010) Deaver’s criminology genius, Lincoln Rhyme (played to great effect in movies by Morgan Freeman), is matched against someone who’s weaponized the New York electrical grid, to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime, unless his demands are met.

“Stone Cold” by Robert Parker (2003) Late in his life, the “Spenser” series author added new characters, like Jesse Stone, the former LAPD detective-turned small town MA police chief. Stone struggles with alcohol and women, but not with smart, cool, instinctive police work, Here, he’s on the case of a string of eerie thrill-kills.


As always, let me know what you think of these, or share what you’re reading: [email protected]

More about: