Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Kalla's reply:
I am just finishing The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons. I stumbled across this book in a tiny book store in rural Nova Scotia. I’d never read anything by the author, but when I scanned the flap and learned that it was a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s true life dabble into Nazi counter-espionage during 1942, I was hooked.Visit Daniel Kalla's website and Facebook page.
And I wasn’t disappointed. This novel packs in historical intrigue, pop culture and a veritable who’s who of mid Twentieth Century celebrities, including Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, J. Edgar Hoover and Ian Fleming (the James Bond writer who was apparently quite the dapper spy himself!) In a nutshell, the novel tells the story from the perspective of a fearless, yet troubled, loner of an FBI agent who is sent by Hoover to spy on the true-life, amateur U boat-hunting activities of Ernest Hemingway and his motley crew, “the crook factory”, in and around Cuba. Simmons does a masterful job of bringing to life the larger-than-life man who was Ernest Hemingway, with all his contradictions and complexities. He doesn’t necessarily succeed as well with all his secondary characters, both fictional and real-life (for example, Hemingway’s then-wife, Martha Gellman, comes across a one-dimensional, humorless shrew.) But the main characters are compelling and the dialogue often sizzles.
As an author who has relatively recently turned to historical fiction, I’m humbled by the depth and detail of Simmons’ research. He makes the period come alive. Apparently, Simmons delved into declassified FBI documents to piece together a complicated absorbing story that stuck painstakingly close to actual events. If the book has one major weakness, it’s Simmons over-enthusiasm for sharing the most minute of period details. He spends pages on the specific of World War II code breaking to the point that I suspect that even Dan Brown would be frustrated.
But all in, The Crook Factory is still a gem of a book. I’m happy I uncovered it in the wilds of Nova Scotia. Highly recommended to World War II or Hemingway buffs.