Dan Simmons has written a number of fantastic books - some of my favorites are Hyperion, Illium, and Flashback, mostly in the Science Fiction realm. But he's wide ranging - Drood was a widely regarded novel based on the life of Charles Dickens and he's also written various Horror novels.
In The Crook Factory, Simmons tackles a fun meme - the semi-fictional novelization of little known or improbable events. This is territory that reminds me of one of Tim Powers' best novels, Declare, which somehow manages to put together Kim Philby (the super spy), Lawrence of Arabia, Djinn and Nazis. In this case Simmons isn't channeling the supernatural, just the world of 1940s Cuba and J Edgar Hoover - and yes Nazis and Marlene Dietrich too. Oh, and Ernest Hemingway.
Did you know that Hemingway was a spy? Me neither.
The Crook Factory plays out through the eyes of Joe Lucas, a fictional FBI agent with a history of bending the law and being the FBI's goto person when dirty tricks or semi legal activities are involved
Joe is sent to become part of, and spy on, Hemingway's burgeoning spy ring - the crook factory. Through Joe we meet, and become very close to, Ernest Hemingway - the writer, the lover, the prodigious drinker, the pugilist, the sentimentalist, the blowhard, the trickster. The novel renders Hemingway in amazing depth.
Joe and Ernest are off to fight the Nazis and sink subs (seriously), as well as the fighting off the local Cuban police while watching out for any number of competing intelligence agencies.
Crook factory is a great adventure and a fantastic history lesson all wrapped in one. Virtually all of the novel with the exception of Joe Lucas himself is well grounded in fact. I also gained a much more realized view of Hemingway the man (albeit fictionalized), and the book inspired me to return to some of Hemingway's novels (e.g. For Whom the Bell Tolls) with renewed appreciation.
If any of this sounds interesting, get The Crook Factory - you won't be sorry.
[I received a complimentary copy of The Crook Factory through the excellent LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.].