cover image The Crook Factory

The Crook Factory

Dan Simmons. William Morrow & Company, $24 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97368-2

In previous novels, Simmons has cast John Keats as an intergalactic emissary (Hyperion) and Mark Twain as an occult adventurer (Fires in Eden). His new excursion in fictional literary biography--and first nonfantasy since Phases of Gravity (1989)--is a gutsy speculation on Ernest Hemingway's exploits in wartime espionage, much of it apparently based on fact. In 1942, Hemingway petitioned the American embassy for help in establishing a counterintelligence outfit he called ""The Crook Factory,"" designed to investigate Nazi activity in his adopted home of Cuba. Joe Lucas, a dedicated if unimaginative young FBI agent, thinks he has been assigned to humor the well-connected writer but soon discovers that Hemingway and his crew of colorful sycophants have stumbled on a Nazi spy nest abuzz with activity. Someone is channeling information through the island's intelligence underground, all of it implicating a host of historical celebrities. The more deeply Hemingway's team probes, the more Lucas is persuaded that the Crook Factory has been deliberately set up as an expendable military subterfuge. As vividly depicted by Simmons, pre-Communist Cuba is an exotic locale whose volatile wartime intrigues are comparable to those of the cinematic Casablanca. It's the perfect milieu for Hemingway, whose larger-than-life evocation must be accounted one of Simmons's sterling literary achievements. The macho figure he cuts here is the stuff of countless Life magazine photos, and his development as Joe's friend and mentor is handled with intelligence and dignity. No one will mistake the novel's immersions in the numbing, repetitive detail of secret service operations for Papa's own concise prose. But the web of conspiracy Simmons spins, the zesty characters it entangles and its intricate cross-weave of fact and fiction distinguish this celebration of the Hemingway centenary. (Feb.)