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By Dan Simmons

Harper Torch Publishing, 1999 (563 pages) $6.99.

Reviewed by Rick McMahan

Dan Simmons's THE CROOK FACTORY was a great surprise to me. Over the years, Simmons has written numerous novels, mainly in the horror genre. With his latest book, THE CROOK FACTORY, he branches into the mystery field. The novel is based on the historical fact that during World War II, Ernest Hemingway offered to run a spy ring and sub hunting crew for the Allies in Cuba.

Joe Lucas is an FBI agent assigned to the Bureau's counter-intelligence arenas both in the states and overseas. Lucas is called to Washington by J. Edgar Hoover himself. The FBI Director personally directs Lucas to go to Cuba and work with Hemingway's group of misfits. His real mission is to spy on Hemingway, who the FBI Director believes is a Communist agitator. Lucas feels the mission is a worthless babysitting assignment. However, even before he gets to Cuba members of the British and American intelligence agencies make contact with him, including Ian Fleming, all asking him to keep them in mind for any information he uncovers.

When Lucas stops someone from killing Hemingway, he realizes that there is more to the mission than he's being told. Then the writer and G-man stumble upon the murder of a German merchant marine sailor at a whorehouse that may be more than a lover's quarrel gone bad.

Throughout the novel, along with richness of the tropical setting of Cuba, Simmons's mystery plays out, unraveling the murder mystery as well as showing the cat-and-mouse game played out among intelligence agencies, both Axis and Allies vying for internal power. The author effortlessly blends historical facts with his fictional tale to the point at which the reader does not know where history ends and fiction begins.

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