Being an avid fan of both historical fiction and John F. Kennedy, I immediately reached out for Leon Berger’s “The Kennedy Imperative.” I find that this is the first of The Kennedy Trilogy and was published in September 2013 by Premier Digital Publishing. The other two are scheduled to be published later this year.
I admire authors who write historical fiction for their ability to build a fictitious story based loosely on real life events, as done in this book. In “The Kennedy Imperative” Berger makes real life people like the then US President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy and the redoubtable General Lucius Clay share space in the story with his fictitious characters like Philip Marsden, the young CIA agent; Yuri Vasiliyev, the KGB agent in Berlin; Anya Zhakarov, the beautiful KGB agent; Sheila Marsden, Philip’s mother, who was born a Russian and who has a past which very few people know about, and Major Henry “Hank” Leland of the US Military Intelligence.
The backdrop to the story is the infamous Berlin Wall (‘der Mauer”) which came up in August 1961 and stood then as one of the most enduring images of the Cold War. Remember that Berlin was actually a small pocket deep in the Russian sector. Berlin changed the complexion of relations between the Allies in the Second World War who had carved out sectors for themselves in Berlin when Germany was defeated and the war ended. It was then that West Berlin and East Berlin came into being with Checkpoint Charlie becoming famous the world over as the gateway between Capitalism and Communism.
History tells us that there was a stand-off in Berlin between the Russians and the Americans in 1961. Berger captures this event and skillfully weaves a story around it. There is some back story which tells us about the life of Sheila Marsden, the mother of the CIA agent, Philip Marsden. Was she a double agent or more? You get to see her interactions with more real life people like Guy Burgess, the spy master instrumental in getting many bright young students at Cambridge to work for the Russians. Likewise, on the other side, is back story too about the Kennedys and how JFK and his team grapple with new and complex issues they had to face in the initial months and years of the Presidency.
The story begins with Philip Marsden being given an assignment which will take him undercover into the Russian sector. He is caught and exchanged by the Russians for someone they dearly want to have: his mother.
The story builds up with Marsden once again making a trip to East Berlin tasked to find out crucial information about the Russian strength there, and about his mother. Berger’s climax is unexpected and is gripping.
Berger compels you to think how difficult it really is to go in as an undercover agent. Marsden achieves his objective in the book, and I guess Berger achieves his too. The story keeps you hooked. The realism in the book makes the story that much more credible. If at all there is an area where Berger could have done better, I feel he could have spent less time on the build up to the actual events in Berlin and more on the action during Marsden’s trip into forbidden territory. But that doesn’t take away from the story being interesting and well-written.