Charming. Reckless. Brilliant. Deadly.
A young Jack Kennedy travels to Europe on a secret mission for Franklin Roosevelt as the world braces for war.
It's the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.
It's a surprising selection. At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Roosevelt's ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary). But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy. The president's goal: to stop the flow of German money that has been flooding the United States to buy the 1940 election—an election that Adolf Hitler intends Roosevelt lose.
In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage tale that explores what might have happened when a young Jack Kennedy is let loose in Europe as the world careens toward war. A potent combination of history and storytelling, Jack 1939 is a sexy, entertaining read.
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"...one of the most deliciously high-concept thrillers imaginable..."
—The New Yorker (read the full review)
"Jack 1939 is most assuredly a work of fiction, but it takes skeins of history we all know well—Churchill's England, Hitler's Germany, Roosevelt's White House, the rise of the Kennedy family fortunes—and ravels a hair-raising tale...a cross between Jane Austen and Dashiell Hammett...The pace is so propulsive that you'll read every word."
—The Washington Post (read the full review)
"Though this reviewer was skeptical about how well a fictional Kennedy would work, she should have trusted Mathews. Young Jack Kennedy makes for a flawed but appealing protagonist, and the espionage plot is complex and thrilling in equal parts."
—Library Journal, starred review
"This fiction has potential for a case of the giggles. But grounding her thriller in spycraft and historical detail, Ms. Mathews pulls it off."
—New York Times (read the full review)
"A striking photograph of a rail-thin 22-year-old Jack Kennedy, clowning on a street in Nuremburg, Germany, was the catalyst for former CIA intelligence analyst and mystery writer Mathews' vivid and sexy historical thriller. In spite of his poor health and the gathering storm of war in 1939, Harvard student Jack is determined to go to London, where his father is ambassador to England, to work on his senior thesis. On the eve of his departure, he is shocked to find himself meeting clandestinely with FDR, who believes Jack will be 'a perfect spy.' Locked in a vicious battle with the unsavory J. Edgar Hoover, FDR suspects that the Nazis are involved in a plot to keep him from serving a third term. From London to Rome, Berlin, Paris, Prague, and the French Alps, brainy, romantic, and intrepid Jack is shadowed by a serial killer, steered by Resistance operatives, and inflamed by an enigmatic beauty as his high-wire investigation imperils his family loyalty and his life. Jack is beguiling, and Mathews' strobe-light, fact-infused drama of covert pre-WWII operations is riveting."
"...this imaginative, well-researched mix of fact and fiction... provides an intriguing look at pre-WWII politics, both in the U.S. and Europe, as well as a meticulous character study of the future president, who, overshadowed by his more promising older brother, is eager to prove his own worth."
—Publishers Weekly (read the full review)
"Jack 1939 is a triumph: an exciting thriller, an intriguing exploration of a troubled time, and an absorbing take on the early history of one of America's most iconic figures. Highly recommended."
"Jack 1939 is a marvela brilliantly conceived, riveting tightrope race across Europe in the predawn of World War II. Francine Mathews' thrillers all come infused with smart evocations of history and place, and this one is no exceptionher words swell at the enormity of the stakes and ache with the romance of the time. The pace relentless, Mathews describes a Europe fracturing under the most consequential intrigue of the twentieth century. At her story's heart is a brash young John Kennedy, who is just learning his game. With Jack 1939, Mathews is definitely at the pinnacle of hers. Read this."
"Like JFK himself, Jack 1939 is smart, sexy and unafraid of taking risks. With nimble prose and easy charm, Francine Mathews leads us beyond the frontiers of history to make us believe in her vision of a young Kennedy at large in a dark world of prewar spies and secrets."
"...riveting...an edge-of-the-seat journey...a must-read story that stands out from the pack."
—Barbara Clark, Bookpage (read the full review)
"Author Francine Mathews (a former CIA analyst) exercises poetic license in her gripping historical-fiction novel, which tracks a 22-year-old JFK through Nazi Europe as he gathers intelligence that will help FDR clinch the 1940 election."
—Holley Simmons, Express Night Out (read the full review)
"As charming and complex as its hero, the novel offers a hot love affair, a young man's brave struggle with physical and moral peril and a Gestapo goon with a grudge."
"An obsession with Jack before he was JFK became an entertaining historical thriller in Mathews' capable hands...Before there was Camelot, there was Jack, proficient at Morse code and steady with a Luger. Who knew?"
—Jeff Baker, The Oregonian (read the full review)
"The story works because Mathews starts with some historical facts (FDR's problems with Kennedy Sr. and J. Edgar Hoover, JFK's tour of Europe, the Enigma machine, Churchill's efforts to prepare for war despite Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's utter cluelessness and the actual Nazi efforts to influence U.S. opinion via German-American groups) and imagines a spy thriller tale that forges a personal connection between two of our most popular presidents."
—James Barber, Under the Radar Blog (read the full review)
Riverhead, hardcover, July 2012, ISBN: 9781594487194
Riverhead, trade paperback, July 2013, ISBN: 9781594631443