Review: Fever City, Tim Baker’s dark debut novel about the sinister trail leading to assassination of JFK

FeverI wasn’t very old but I remember the assassination of President Kennedy. I remember watching as my mother dabbed at her tears with the corner of her apron while the television reports invaded our living room. I remember how my father put his arm around her protectively as she sobbed into his chest. I don’t think I really understood the implications of what was being played out in a country thousands of miles away. events that changed the world for ever. But it was the first time I had seen my mother cry, and I was very scared.

JFK’s assassination lies at the heart of Fever City, Tim Baker’s dark, labyrinthine thriller that darts backwards and forwards through time as the brutal take-no-prisoner worlds of big business, organised crime and politics collide.

In 1960, private eye Nick Alston is hired to find the kidnapped young son of one of America’s most loathed and feared billionaire. Right from the start Alston feels there’s something not right but he’s determined to find the boy. The deeper he digs into the world of glamour and greed he finds out that nothing is what it seems, except the danger.

More forward to 1963 and most of the world is basking in the air of change and promise that accompanies the vibrant new president. But as Dallas puts on its glad rags ready to welcome him to the city, not everyone is rejoicing. There are those that don’t want change. They will do anything to protect the status quo that guarantees them power and money. Lots of money. The question is, who the hell is really pulling the strings?

Fast forward to 2014 and Alston’s son is in Dallas to research a book on the conspiracy theories. And boy, there are some doozies. Mafia, commies, CIA, men from Mars? But maybe not everyone with a theory is crazy. Although it’s almost the 50th anniversary of the “shot heard around the world”, it turns out the power plays aren’t over. And there’s a great big secret that could get him killed.

The action in Fever City zips along so fast, with twists and turns almost on every page, that even with the chapters labeled to keep you in the right time zone, you really do need to be paying attention. The language, particularly during the parts set in the 1960s, is gloriously atmospheric (think Chandler), the often sadistic violence visceral. This is a fabulous debut weaving together fact and fiction seamlessly. And judging by the last chapter, there’s more to come.

Fever City by Tim Baker is published by Faber & Faber.

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