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VINE VOICEon May 2, 2018
Jake Tapper's nonfiction book The Outpost was the best book I read in 2017, so I bought this novel in hardback in part to show my support and admiration for Tapper.

The novel takes place during the Eisenhower Administration and the Army McCarthy Hearings, and features many factual historical figures, including Roy Cohn (whose legacy still haunts us today), the Dulles brothers, Estes Kefauver. The tale is studded with real anecdotes, quotes, and events. I agree with other reviewers that it is a riveting fast read. I couldn't put it down until I'd read every last word.

The book has many parallels to the present; including a 50's version of the deep state and the shadow government of military contractors who have a financial motive to persuade governments to continue to build their war machines and arsenals. There is little evidence of an aggressive press looking into mysterious government happenings, and much debauchery and exploitation of women was the norm in many political circles. Eisenhower's recognition of and warnings about the growth and power of the military industrial complex are front and center to the story.

All that said, the plot was just too contrived to be totally satisfying. I guess huge doses murder and mayhem (all of which gets swept under the rug and hidden from the public) make for a good read (I was riveted) but ultimately lack enough plausibility to be tenable.

I take one star off for plot. Enjoyed the entertainment and historical facts and looking forward to Jake's next literary venture whether it be truth or fiction.
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on April 25, 2018
The book is such a great read! It's exactly the right combination of politics, history and intrigue. Well-written and exciting, it doesn't disappoint. The characters are thought out and of course you'll recognize many from the McCarthy era, from Hoover to Lyndon Johnson, Nixon and the Kennedys. I can't recommend it enough!
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on May 8, 2018
Jake Tapper’s HELLFIRE CLUB will be any political junkie’s favorite 2018 novel, and stands on par with some of Jeff Greenfield’s best AH work, given the real-life cast of characters (Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, JFK, LBJ, RFK, Eisenhower, Estes Kefauver, and more) featured in this D.C. thriller, set in early 1954 and focused on a New York GOP Congressman’s... learning curve... during his first term. Tapper eloquently weaves historical highlights from 1954 (McCarthy’s long-awaited decline, the House gallery shooting, the Kennedys’ closeness with McCarthy and Roy Cohn) to present a page-turner as a first-term do-gooder drives right into the brick wall of Washington’s established interests. The research here is meticulous — beyond the impressive who’s who of 1950s DC, you get a feel for an age where politicians were more highly regarded, veterans were more respected, the press was along for the ride, the ugly head of racism was right out in the open (but lobbyists were still unapologetically lobbying). Tapper weaves a compelling, suspenseful tale that — on its own — would justify inclusion in this year’s literary top-10 lists... but just under the surface (without even a shred of lecturing) is a thoughtful reminder of how little D.C. has changed in the 65 years between the height of McCarthyish and the height of Trumpism — members of the House and Senate (of both parties) were, and still are, doing whatever keeps their seats safe and their donors intact, rather than focusing on the welfare of their constituents or their political parties... and the questions of “How did this happen, and when will this end?”have been asked — and answered — before; for better or worse, the DC establishment is stronger than, and will outlast, any one person who tries to do anyting (helpful OR harmful) that doesn’t fit the plan. Not sure if that’s an optimistic or pessimistic outlook, but Jake Tapper is persuasive in teaching it without the reader even realizing school is in session, since the story itself has so much action, intrigue, and excellent pacing. I’d give this book 7 stars if Amazon had such a rating.
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on April 25, 2018
Was going to wait till I finished the audiobook too (which so far I adore), but thought I'd put in a quick review for now. It is a fast-paced book, nothing boring about it. From the first page, you're already wondering what will happen next. Page-turner is an understatement. You'll read and read until there is nothing left to read. The setting is Washington, D.C., the 1950s, it's splashed with fascinating period details, which adds to make it a superb read, a thrilling story to the very end.
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on May 5, 2018
Allow me to start by issuing a spoiler alert: almost all that follows are words of praise. So much so, in fact, that I will dispense with the few and minor criticisms I have first. The personalities of the protagonist and his wife are, in my view, insufficiently developed. They seemed to me to be generically decent, intelligent, intellectual, ethical individuals. But, this is, after all a plot-driven, not a character-driven story, so that they are serviceable rather than memorable characters is understandable.

Beyond this, Mr. Tapper has ticked and admirably so, all the boxes of a good crime novel, while, it must be noted, riding an increasingly thin line between time period verisimilitude and present day political sensibility. The multitude of characters, mainly drawn from the real history of the U.S., are woven seamlessly into the fictive storyline. The protagonist’s wife has her own secondary, robust arc, which both animates her character and ties into the primary plot line. The story is peppered with enough random details that when any later become a decisive plot point it is surprising and enjoyable. These are, in turn, embedded in twists that keep the plot moving at breakneck speed.

All in all, to say “The Hellfire Club” is an enjoyable read is to woefully misrepresent its quality as well as Mr. Tapper’s mastery of the art of storytelling.

It is similarly inadequate to say its subject matter is enlightening. Mr. Tapper’s authorial prowess with regard to making the underlying dilemmas presented indistinguishable from historical reality confirms for me what I have long suspected: there is far too little good in this world to ever defeat evil. Goodness is goodness, in part, precisely because it is stubbornly naive; evil, conversely, relies on, relishes and revels in cleverness. Given this, evil will always be 6 steps ahead. But the overarching importance of what Mr. Tapper’s work illustrates is that good and evil are not alien to humanity. On the contrary, they are the bedrock of our species and, furthermore, we are incomparably more adept at the latter than the former.

I thank Mr. Tapper for “removing the scales from my eyes.” I am grateful to be shorn of any hope, which this work has made the reasonable, rational choice. As hard as it is to live the remainder of my life in a nation that, as The Hellfire Club amply illustrates, is barely, unsustainably paddling ethical water, then as now, it is, in my view, far better to be realistically bereft of hope than naively, stupidly, pointlessly optimistic.
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on May 3, 2018
I have followed Jake Tapper on CNN for years and appreciate the way he is straightforward with the daily news information that he reports and the fairness in which he reports what is going on in all the craziness that has been spinning around the Presidency of Mr. Trump. I was a history/political science high school teacher in the late 1960's. I can remember growing up in the 1950's and Mr.Clapper's book The Hellfire Club brought back memories when I was in elementary and middle school and watching our small black and white TV with my parents. McCarthy was someone a young person could not forget with his hearings and all the people he labeled "communists", ruining many. I may not have understood all the ramifications of his hearings but what he did to this country was unforgettable. Mr. Tapper's book filled in a lot of blanks about this time in history and what happened in the 1950's can be moved into the morass of 2018. Thank you, Mr. Tapper, for writing a book that makes people aware of the underside of politics, past and present. And look forward to the next chapter in this saga. And glad to hear your book is #3 on the Best Seller list!
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on May 6, 2018
I'm halfway thru aand must put it down to do mundane domestic chores.
First I'm a huge fan of Jake Tapper CNNs The Lead and State if the Union. Yes, it's a political thriller, so if you love that genre you will not be disappointed. Great novel Jake. Thank you.
A request, how about a book of your "State of the Cartoonions"?

After reading reviews, let me say this book is not a candidate for the Nobel Prize. It's a fast paced political thriller and succeeds in that genre. (literary snobs lighten up 😊)
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on May 26, 2018
I enjoy and respect Jake Tapper as a journalist and commentator, so this review is hopefully not jaded by ideological mudslinging.
The Good: He really captures the ambiance of the McCarthy era and the 50's culture of the educated white middle class (with frank acknowledgement of the racial and gender hate associated with it). It's a good timepiece read for those younger than age 55 or so. I and my memories must be getting old, because Jake (or his assistants) had to do academic research with footnotes to document what he learned about the era! Or perhaps he thought it best to provide the documentation in case he was accused of falsifying the backstory.
Even Better: He repeatedly stresses, "This is a work of fiction." Yet it is hard not to see this as a message that 40 years of social and political progress are being washed away.
My favorite line, quoting Margaret Chase Smith, "The Four Horseman of Calumny are Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."
The Tedious: Way too many dead bodies and dark, stormy nights.
The Weak: Stereotypical characters, hopelessly stilted dialogue, Dan Brown pacing of short interspersed action scenes with implausible coincidence and Deus ex machina salvation of the good guys. Also, in the Epilogue, there is a comic-book final interview with a fictional Father Eisenhower to set up the sequels.
The Inaccurate: The portrayal of all leftists and socialists of the era as "Commie" pawns and dangerous, violent Soviet spies. Tapper's objection seems to be that only ordinary, conventional, mainstream Democrats got falsely accused of this.
The Really Bad: Sophomoric metaphors, such as, "...the rain hitting the pavement sounded like a herd of porterhouses sizzling on the grill."
Given the evil, intersecting forces the book portrays well, the sequel really needs to be about the Kennedy assassination. But who dares go there?
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on May 22, 2018
For the liberal progressive independents among us, Jake Tapper is a household name. He is a highly respected and award-winning journalist with an afternoon news show and a double-feature Sunday morning interview show on CNN. Of late, at the end of the afternoon gig, Tapper has been “shamelessly promoting” (to use his words) his new novel, The Hellfire Club, about which this review is being written. This book is his first novel, although he has written some other books of the nonfiction persuasion.

I was enthused to read this novel because of the author’s mention of it at his newsprogram’s conclusion and the intial favorable reviews posted at Amazon’s website. I took a chance on this book, because I was a bit concerned about spending time with a novel set in the middle of the previous century. I have been around, however, since that period of time and was a year and a half old on December 7th 1941, which also turned out to be the 21st birthday of the main character, Charlie Marder. Soon into the read, however, I lost entirely my earlier concern about the time setting and settled into a pleasant, almost comforting reading experience. Since I was born in 1940 and have paid some attention in the ensuing years to world events, especially those occurring in my own country, I found it interesting to encounter real-life poltical leaders used as characters in the book, with whom Charlie, a newly-minted Congressman, interacts. The novel begins in 1954, during a regrettable time in US history when a young senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, part-way into a 10-year span of “service” in the Congress, based a political career on promotion of the so-called “Red Scare,” the idea that a broad array of people in this country were attempting to infiltrate US institutions and organizations with communism. Although McCarthy is thought these days to have been associated with the long-lived House Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC, as a senator he could have had no membership on a committee in the House of Representatives. HUAC also functioned for a much longer time (1938–1975) than McCarthy served in the Senate (1947–1957). This is a period in US history that deserves some study, I think, by people living in this country today, especially in a time in which the news is dominated by the so-called “Russia probe” and the battle emanating from the highest levels of government to disenfranchise the truth and eliminate the role of journalism to “speak truth to power.” Not much seems to have changed from the fictional political environment of this novel and the real one of the present day.

The first chapter of The Hellfire Club has a bit of a Chappaquiddick flavor to it and takes place in March of 1954. In the next chapter, however, it becomes evident that the author did not intend to pursue a straight timeline because that second chapter jumps back to January of 1954 and then moves forward.

Charlie Marder, our protagonist, is a freshman member of Congress, having been enthused to move into politics from a career in academia by his father, one of Washington’s movers and shakers. Charlie is married to a zoologist who is carrying their first child and still trying to participate on field research on wild ponies descended from predecessors of Spanish origin. The choice of a career for Charlie’s wife, Margaret, by the author is interesting to me, since I, too, am a zoologist, although my chosen creatures are built closer to the ground than are Margaret’s ponies (i.e., they are reptiles and amphibians).

Charlie has an idea that being in Congress involves public service and he starts out his term with that idea in mind. Learning the real reason for this “service” comes surprisingly easy for him, it seems to me, and soon he finds out what Washington is really all about. At a point about three-quarters of the way through the book, the principal protagonist is visiting the area of the Library of Congress reserved for the use of members of Congress with his spritely intern. They are searching for information on Benjamin Franklin and his conection with The Hellfire Club. Time runs out…Charlie needs to return home to Margaret, so he suggest that they photocopy some materials for later study. Xerography was just beginning to be possible and Charlie suggests to the intern, referred to by her last name Bernstein, that if she had any money she ought to invest in this new technology. Bernstein admits to having none and her boss replies:

“Seriously, though,” Charlie said, collecting his belongings, “don’t you read the business pages?”

“Not really,” Bernstein admitted. “I prefer to focus on the politicians, not the CEOs.”

“And who do you think,” Charlie asked, walking toward the door, “is telling those politicians what to do?”

So, ladies and gentlemen of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, it does not become more graphic about how this country is run than in those few statements. That revelation leads into the chapter quoted by Stephen Colbert on his May 18th 2016 show when he hosted Jake Tapper and chatted about The Hellfire Club with the author. Colbert chose to quote the “after sex” scene at the beginning of chapter 22. Tapper demonstrated that another of his talents is as an effective member of a comedy duo, but he also became very serious when he responded to Colbert’s concern to know the truth that lies somewhere within the Robert Mueller investigation. Tapper replied, “Yeah, and you know what? I’ll do you one better. You want the truth about Russia and possible collusion, I just would like the truth and facts to be respected again in this country.” This desire by Tapper, which is understandable from a journalist, especially in the current climate in this country, is of huge importance to all of us, as freedom of speech is one of the so-called “Four Freedoms” available to people in the United States and a cornerstone of our democratic way of life. So, it is not surprising to find the challenges that existed in the mid-50s to truth as a foundation of democracy acting as a backdrop to the storyline in this novel. Tapper, in essence, is giving us a warning from the not-too distant past to help strengthen us in the present to prepare us for the perilous future.

I don’t plan to “spill the beans” in this review, but suffice it to say that Jake Tapper did not invent the name The Hellfire Club. A short trip through Wikipedia will provide a capsule of the history of this interesting group of people. In addition, a reader with a small amount of knowledge of environmental chemistry will probably figure out the plot teaser early on, especially if that reader has a friend or friends who “served” in the VietNam War, as do I. That said, this novel makes for very interesting reading, especially if one is old enough to remember some of the real-life individuals from the 1950s who pepper the pages of Tapper’s work. As an academic, I am happy to see the author acknowledge the many sources he consulted in preparation for writing this novel, which is a pleasant contrast to the unsubstantiated statements that characterize the approach of some current elected “public servants,” supporting their existence from taxpayer-supported funds. The language of the novel is beautifully crafted; it is to be hoped that this ability will presage a new career direction for Jake Tapper, who has demonstrated that he is already a major contributor to what makes CNN a must-see channel for those of us who think that devotion to the freedom of speech available to US citizens, as guaranteed by the first ammendment to the US Constitution, is a key foundation of the life we allow ourselves to enjoy in this nation. Just as I think that CNN is a must-see channel for interpretation of the “news,” I think that Jake Tapper’s novel is a must-read for anyone who wishes to gain some insight on what makes the US “tick.” In short, go find it and read it.
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NOTE: After consideration of two comments (by Librarian and by Amazon Customer, I have attempt to tighten up this review. I welcome any comments and sometimes I even react to them. I hope this review helps a few of you.

Jake Tapper is the journalist at CNN that I most respect. Read on to learn why I was not as thrilled as I anticipated, even though I did like the story.
There are times with this story enlightens me to some interesting facts and trivia. At other times, though, those tidbits get in the way.

BLUSH FACTOR: There are some profanities (of all sorts), but not so many that it’s a serious issue for me.

DIALOGUE: It often works in this novel, but, too often the writer interjects facts that, while interesting, do not advance the story in the necessary tempo. The excerpt below may prove helpful.

EXCERPT:

‘…“And just so you know,” Sutton said, “this is only for real fighters. No JAGs, no cushy office jobs in personnel. If you were in the air force and you’re here, you weren’t a Fxxxxxx penguin—you flew. Guns in hand, mud on boots.”

Charlie wondered if the remark had been a veiled reference to Senator McCarthy’s supposedly exaggerated war record. Sutton shifted around in his seat to shake Charlie’s hand. “Offer him some bourbon, you Mormon bastard,” he said to Strongfellow before turning back to the game and examining his cards.

“I hear Kefauver’s taken you under his wing,” Sutton said to Charlie. “I raise fifty cents.”

“He’s been very kind,” Charlie said.

“Pat’s taking him on in the primary,” said Strongfellow.

“Looks like Estes is going to get beat anyhow, so I might as well be the man to do it,” Sutton said.

Charlie looked at Strongfellow, who seemed happy and in his element, surrounded by fellow veterans.

He recalled reading Strongfellow’s widely publicized story. Part of the clandestine military intelligence Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, Strongfellow, a former Mormon missionary, had parachuted into Germany during the war to rescue an atomic physicist and bring him to Allied territory so he could be whisked to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to work with the team building the first atomic bomb. But one of his contacts was a double agent, and after a furious gun battle in which Strongfellow was gravely wounded, he was taken to the Belsen prison at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

One night during his imprisonment, Strongfellow experienced a religious epiphany. God was with him and would guide him out of the prison. Amazingly, whether through divine providence or dumb luck, Strongfellow did manage to escape and make it to safety. After he recuperated and returned to Utah, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints found his tale so compelling they took him around the state to preach the power of faith. His congressional election victory in 1952 followed easily soon after.

“I don’t drink, Charlie, but Sutton brought a bottle of what I’m told is some stellar Tennessee whiskey,” Strongfellow said, gesturing toward a half-full jug sitting on his receptionist’s desk. “We’re starting a new game over here,” he added, pointing at the couch, where another congressman was shuffling cards.

Charlie poured himself a drink and took a seat on the couch as Strongfellow grabbed a chair. The other congressman introduced himself as Chris “Mac” MacLachlan of Indiana. In his fifties, steely-eyed, balding, with bushy eyebrows and an expanding waist, MacLachlan was a Lutheran minister.

“Army?” MacLachlan asked Charlie.

“First Battalion, Hundred and Seventy-Fifth infantry,” Charlie said.

“Mac was also in D-Day,” Strongfellow said. “Hundred and First Airborne.”

“Second Battalion, Five Hundred and Sixth Parachute Infantry, under Colonel Sink,” MacLachlan said as he unpinned his cuff links and rolled up his sleeves. “Drop Zone C. Between Hiesville and Sainte-Marie-du-Mont.”

“We landed at Omaha,” said Charlie, loosening his tie. “I was in K Company—we secured the bridge over the Vire River and protected the right flank.”

MacLachlan raised his glass and waited for Charlie’s to greet it.

“To those still there,” MacLachlan said.

Clink.

MacLachlan dealt. Charlie waited until all five cards hit the coffee table before he picked up his hand. The cards…’

Tapper, Jake. The Hellfire Club (Kindle Locations 587-614). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

BOTTOM LINE:

It’s a challenge to pinpoint precisely why this novel didn’t trip my trigger. I think, though, that much of the roughness was that Tapper was so eager to imitate reality with facts twisted into a novel that the suspense I should have felt, and the eagerness to get to the next chapter, was just not present. In my attempt to digest the story, I also bought the Audible version, read by the author. Normally I love books read by the author, for they are more attuned to what should be emphasized. Not so in this case. Perhaps George Guidall would have made this a must-read.

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