In a fast-paced sequel to The Hellfire Club, Charlie and Margaret Marder, political stars in 1960s Washington D.C., arrive in Los Angeles on their latest case, only to be pursued by sinister forces from Hollywood's stages to the newly founded Church of Scientology.
The gears of this thriller move expertly and fast... Tapper complicates this setup in savvy ways ... The seriousness of this book never gets in the way of the breathless fun. Tapper obviously enjoyed sourcing it, writing it and using can-you-top-this gamesmanship from start to finish. Just when you think he’s pulled the biggest rabbit out of his hat, he turns out to have been hiding something bigger ... humanizes Sinatra as a victim of forces he never understood and as one of the least objectionable members of the Rat Pack — less racist and more decent than either Dean Martin or Peter Lawford...He also makes Margaret a wonderful role model for the many people who will enjoy this buoyant book.
A pretty strong premise but the first half of the story reads more like a Hollywood gossip column than a mystery ... A strong opening but the story starts to sag from there through the first half of the book, as Tapper takes the reader into a lengthy backstory that leads up to finding the body ... just as the overkill of Hollywood and political stories starts to get old, the reader gets to the second part of the book, and activity starts to pick up ... there is a sense that many things are happening around Charlie and Margaret over which they have no control, and as protagonists, they don’t really take a strong role in resolving these mysteries ... Once one gets past the first half of the story, the pages begin to turn in more rapid succession. For those who are younger and not aware of many of the stories that Tapper relates, the gossip column aspect can be fun, but they still have to muddle through those stories to get to the meat of the matter ... However, Tapper is to be congratulated on the heavy research he did in order to bring these stories to the forefront.
Sinatra is the most intriguing and fully developed of the book’s famous characters, but Tapper deftly sketches all of them. The book is deeply researched, and he incorporates some actual conversations and performances, which can be shocking in their casual expressions of racism and misogyny, all too true to the era ... rich in research, packed with pop culture and historical detail. The book is set six decades ago, but neither politics nor show business has changed as much as we might hope. Tapper connects the dots, but does it with a light hand that doesn’t slow down the Marders’ adventures.