Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

Published by Riverhead, July 2012 ****

I love good speculative historical fiction and anything having to do with WWII, so the premise of JFK’s European tour in 1939 for his college thesis being a spy job was such fun.  In this novel, President Roosevelt sends 22 year old Jack to discover who is responsible for Nazi funds coming into America to prevent his election for a third term.  However, Jack is chronically ill and this limits him physically, but his diplomatic connections (father Joe is ambassador to England) and the Kennedy name open doors for him.  With the pretext of his senior thesis, Jack sets out to discover the source of these illicit funds and along the way he encounters nasty Nazi assassins, British “irregulars,” and the beautiful, mysterious Diana Playfair.   With the threat of Poland being invaded, the development of the German enigma code machine, and conciliatory British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shrugging off German threats, Jack has his work cut out for him.

This is an interesting glimpse of the Kennedy clan in the days that Jack was still the black sheep of the family, often sickly, and detesting physical contact.  Picture little Teddy in knee breeches and a sullen adolescent Bobby clamoring around the English embassy while Jack is on the continent dodging the Gestapo.  Patriarch Joe is not portrayed in a favorable light, but it sure does account for the family dynamics.  It’s also intriguing to observe the spy network in Europe at the time.  The Germans played dirty, ignoring diplomatic protocol, but the British and Polish had their own tricks, even if it meant using the young son of a diplomat for their own purposes.  Roosevelt as a character was nicely written, too, as he struggles to understand the mess in Europe and to keep J. Edgar Hoover in check at home.  This was a nice twist on alternate history and made for an entertaining novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

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