As Jake Tapper’s new thriller, “The Devil May Dance,” opens in the year 1960, New York Republican Congressman Charlie Marder is being extorted by none other than the U.S. attorney general.
Robert Kennedy is concerned that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, likes to pal around with Frank Sinatra, who in turn likes to pal around with mobsters. Fearing scandal, Robert Kennedy wants Marder to discreetly investigate Sinatra’s mob connections. To persuade him, he has the congressman’s father imprisoned on trumped up charges and won’t release him unless Marder cooperates.
Why Robert Kennedy would want a congressman to play detective when he could hire a real one remains a mystery. Readers may also wonder why the attorney general fails to realize that that extorting a congressman from the opposing political party risks scandal as well.
Nevertheless, Marder and his feisty wife Margaret resentfully travel to Hollywood to ingratiate themselves with the Sinatra and his Rat Pack.
Nine pages of source material cited in the back of the book indicate that Tapper, best known as a CNN anchor, researched 1960s Hollywood to give the tale an air of authenticity. It didn’t, although it did result in a blizzard of name dropping.
When the Marders arrive in Hollywood, they encounter nearly everybody who matters from Sammy Davis Jr. and John Wayne to Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Monroe. They also fall into a sewer of drunken parties, drug use, prostitution, pedophilia, blackmail, police corruption, backstabbing, organized crime, and murder.
Except for the Marders and actress Janet Leigh, Tapper puts the stink of the place on nearly every character to such a degree that it’s difficult to care what happens to any of them. Meanwhile, the prose rarely rises above graceless and the plot is so farfetched and convoluted that it is difficult to follow.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”