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The Crook Factory
Dan Simmons
Avon Books, 304 pages

The Crook Factory
Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons has won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award and a number of others. He is the author of Song of Kali, the Hyperion books, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, the Endymion books, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, and a number of other terrific novels.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site: Dan Simmons Reading List
SF Site Review: Rise of Endymion
SF Site Review: Song of Kali
Dan Simmons Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rodger Turner

The Crook Factory is not your usual Dan Simmons-type novel. Come to think of it, none of his books are what one could describe as usual. Or predictable. Or expected. With many authors, one can say, "Oh yeah, that's what we've come to like about so-and-so. His/her latest is sorta like the last one but with this sort of twist." Dan Simmons isn't the sort to stay with safe and comfortable. Thank goodness.

In 1942, at the height of WWII, Ernest Hemingway wants to operate a spy ring from his farm in Cuba. J. Edgar Hoover gives the go-ahead and sends agent Joe Lucas to keep an eye on things and report back surreptitiously. Hemingway has assembled a group called the "Crook Factory." It includes an American millionaire, a 12-year-old Cuban orphan, a Spanish jai alai champion, a priest, and a fisherman. Unexpectedly, the ring uncovers a vital piece of intelligence and this rag-tag group finds itself in a deadly cat-and-mouse game. And poor old Lucas doesn't know who's the enemy.

His contact back to Washington has a seedy past. He gets contrasting agendas from his superiors. He comes to like some of these strangers but he finds some are not what they seem. He tracks enemy movements in and around the waterways of Cuba. He often wonders whether all this scampering around is worth it and he figures, regardless of this surveillance, nothing much is going to affect the war effort. But then the steady stream of small tidbits of detail and innuendo, all innocent on their own, begin to show him and his band of spies that something is afoot. Not only will it affect the American strategy to win the war, it will likely affect the course of Western civilization for generations to come. And, even if he reports in, his conclusions will be laughed off as the ravings of a wacky conspiracy theorist. What's a guy to do?

Dan Simmons has captured the atmosphere of the time perfectly. He takes the characters through the hard decisions which lead to betrayal, death and patriotic integrity. Because you don't know who to trust, all you have is your wits and your gun. Maybe you can have a short tryst with one of the locals or you can listen but be skeptical about the local gossip. Maybe you can make a difference but how do you know which way to leap when your colleagues may be spies? What happens if you decide to send a report to your superiors only to find out it has been altered to suit the end goals of you contact? This and more happens to Lucas while he observes the seemingly guileless enthusiasm of Hemingway and his cronies partying all night and spying all day. Amateurs all. Lucas is at odds with his FBI training and his orders. He wonders whether it is all worth it -- but life is short, so what the hell. Lucas is a hard guy, but it seems as if the times call for it.

Within the brilliance of the writing, I had periodic flashes of those old black and white Bogie movies set in the 40s and 50s -- To Have and Have Not, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and despite its towering stature, Casablanca. Hard drinking, hard loving, hard working guys whose only focus was duty and honour. If they didn't do the jobs, nobody could or would. The world was theirs to save or lose.

If you're not a fan of Dan Simmons' startlingly inventive science fiction or his grisly, arresting dark fantasy, you should give The Crook Factory a read. Then go rent one of Bogart's best -- you'll see that I'm right.

Copyright © 1998 by Rodger Turner

Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head and say, "So many books, so little time."

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