Kindle, E-book Original 2012
For someone like me who followed the Kennedys and the Cold War on TV, this book packs a wallop—Jack Kennedy as I never knew him; Castro, Krushchev, Kennedy's advisors, Jackie and Bobby as I remember them.
Is Keith Raffel’s A FINE AND DANGEROUS SEASON a best seller? If not, it should be. Will it be a movie? If not, it should be. Usually I like a book for its characters and setting, with plot coming in third, but this book has all three jostling for equal time.
Nate Michaels and Jack Kennedy were best friends at Stanford University in 1940. The friendship foundered after a betrayal and Nate has nursed a grudge all the years since. Yet when Jack, now President of the United States, calls and asks for his help, Nate goes to Washington. His presence has been specifically requested by Maxim Volkov, another old friend from Stanford, now a top KGB agent. With Soviet missiles at the ready in Cuba and American military on alert, Kennedy wants to try back channel diplomacy to avoid a nuclear war.
Nate has a chip on his shoulder the size of a suitcase. This is the scene where he walks into the Oval Office:
*For the first time in twenty-two years, I was looking at Jack Kennedy in person. He was returning my stare, leaning forward on his rocker. His face itself had filled out—no, more than filled out, it had puffed up. The blue-gray smudges under his eyes contrasted with the orangey tan of the rest of his face.
*I heard the door click shut behind me.
*“Long time, Nate.You look good.”
*He held out his hand from the rocker, and I took it without thinking. His grasp was firm, keen, undulled. I'd read that the custom of shaking hands arose to show that you held no weapon and that you came in friendship. I flexed my fingers and let my hand drop.
*“My father used to say the three ages of man were young, middle-aged, and you look good,” I said.
*He laughed. “Wise man, your dad.”
Nate is a high-tech entrepreneur living a quiet life in Palo Alto, California. Kennedy wants someone he can trust, a counterpoint to yes-men and experts with their own agendas. Nate quickly learns that in Washington, it’s not where you stand that counts, it’s where you sit. He sits behind Kennedy, an objective set of eyes and ears at crisis meetings.
Raffel's book is in three parts. Parts 1 and 3 are set during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962); Part 2 goes back to 1940, with Nate and Jack Kennedy both at Stanford University in California. They make an unlikely pair of buddies. Nate is "a red diaper baby" whose father was counsel for the longshoremen's union. Jack is the celebrity son of an ambassador and an author (WHY ENGLAND SLEPT).
Nate says: “I liked Kennedy; I couldn't help it. Here we sat. a Russian Jew and an Irish Catholic, one a wealthy apostle of social Darwinism, the other a socialist always short of money, both blessed and cursed with famous fathers. Still both of us were whiling away time in Palo Alto going to classes, kindred spirits just waiting for the gathering storm to break.”
The talk on campus is of football, whether Roosevelt will win reelection and whether the U.S. should stand with England against Hitler. We learn what soured the friendship. Part 2 leads into the World War II years.
The real Jack Kennedy’s service in the U.S. Navy is well known; the fictional Nate Michaels pilots a B-17 bomber in the Army Air Corps. His flashbacks are shocking. There was nothing romantic or glamorous about those bomb runs; they were a stinking, terrifying mess.
Part 3 takes us back to 1962, with Nate and Maxim passing messages between Jack Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev. Generals on both sides are chomping on their cigars, eager to fight. Out to sabotage negotiations are agents of GRU (Soviet military intelligence). Kennedy is determined to give Krushchev some wiggle room, a chance to save face while removing his missiles from Cuba.
As a bomber pilot, Nate expected to die every time he went on a misson. He considered himself lucky every time he got back to base in one piece. Now he’s in a Cold War, with GRU agents shooting at him, and his luck holds. The ending is upbeat, with a neat little surprise.
Raffel knows the Washington scene first hand. After graduating from Harvard Law School he served as counsel to the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The book’s title comes from a quote by Thomas Merton, Anglo-American Catholic writer, mystic and social activist: "October is a fine and dangerous season in America."
This book was free on Kindle Feb. 20, 2013. There's an excerpt on Raffel's web site at www.keithraffel.com.