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Book News

Hemingway and his ragtag counter-espionage crew

'The Crook Factory'
by Dan Simmons

Avon, $24

Review by Ryan Adams

April 14, 1999
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT)

(CNN) -- "The Crook Factory" is a World War II espionage story of unique proportions. Set in Cuba, Dan Simmons relays the real-life adventures of Ernest Hemingway and his ragtag counter-espionage crew, made up of friends from the Spanish Civil War, including (among others) bartenders, prostitutes, a priest, a millionaire, and a young boy. Perhaps the most impressive characteristic of this work of fiction, however, is that it's 95 percent true.

Simmons, known well among horror and science fiction enthusiasts, tackles a new genre with "The Crook Factory." His research is remarkable and proves for a strong foundation throughout the entire novel.

The protagonist is Lucas, an FBI agent sent by J. Edgar Hoover to keep an eye on Papa Hemingway during his sojourn into playing spy and chasing German subs in his boat, Pilar. Despite his initial feelings of indifference, Lucas grows quite fond of the writer and his particular slant on life. As history tells us, Hemingway and his crew never sank a German sub. They did, however, manage to discover much about how the FBI did it's business in Cuba, some of which hints at conspiracy. In April 1943, The Crook Factory was shut down, and until this novel, the story of what went on has never really been told.

I'm always a bit skeptical when an author places real people into a work of fiction. What's more, given the nature of the subject matter, "The Crook Factory" might come off as hard to believe. For this, Simmons relies on historical facts and thorough research.

It's not necessary to be a Hemingway fan to enjoy this book. Although the plot is bound by history, the action is fast-paced and exciting. I found the insights into Hemingway's character and a glimpse into this small period of his life to be well worth the read. According to Simmons, "this period appears to be the basis for the raging paranoia in the last years of Hemingway's life -- a period when the writer was certain that he was being followed by the FBI." Is this true, and if so, what could he and his crew have discovered to warrant such activity? Read "The Crook Factory" and find out.

Ryan Adams is an avid reader who enjoys all types of books. He lives in Decatur, Georgia.

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