The Devil May Dance
By Jake Tapper. (Little, Brown, 337 pages, $28.)
The first two words of this book are "Frank" and "Sinatra" — a loud hint that Jake Tapper's follow-up to the political potboiler "The Hellfire Club" will turn its gaze from the McCarthy era to the glamorous 1960s landscape of the Rat Pack, the Kennedys and the mob.
Congressman Charlie Marder and his wife, Margaret, eight years removed from "Hellfire," are pulled into an investigation that spirals to include not just the aforementioned ring-a-ding-dingbats but "The Manchurian Candidate," Disneyland, Scientology and the Academy Awards. And did we mention the dead would-be starlet in the trunk, the studio- sanctioned underage sex ring and the climb up the Hollywood sign? Whew!
Tapper again shows off his love of midcentury history and the exhaustive research that undergirds the story, although too often it results in wordy asides and clunky expository dialogue. ("Have you seen 'West Side Story'? Lotta Oscar buzz. Likely nominations for both those gals, though it's possible Natalie gets a nod for 'Splendor.' ")
But he nails the bourbon-soaked decadence and the offhand misogyny and racism of old-school Hollywood. And he has admirably fleshed out his hero; so naively earnest in the first book, a much more jaded Charlie drinks and lusts — and gets the best of faux-tough-guy John Wayne to boot.
If the pattern continues we'll next see 50-something Charlie and Margaret caught up in Watergate. Here's betting that Tapper could make Richard Nixon and John Mitchell as fascinating as Frank, Dean and Sammy.