Monday, August 16, 2010

Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck

Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck
Crown Books

Did LSD kill JFK?  

As far as tag lines go, that is a show stopper.  And, ostensibly, that is the question that Shift, by TV producer Tim Kring and author Dale Peck seeks to answer.  It does, kind of.   As well written and compelling as this novel is, I walked away unsatisfied, confused and unsure of what the authors were attempting.  

A slightly boring upper class graduate student, Chandler Forrestal, is given LSD by a reluctant prostitute, Naz.  Naz, acting under coercion by the CIA, also takes the acid.  The drugs do something to Chandler, giving him extra-sensory abilities and immense physical capabilities.   Chandler and Naz soon cross paths with a vicious CIA agent known only as Melchior, who sees Chandler as his ticket to something else.  Cuba, Timothy Leary, the FBI, former Nazi scientists, Russian spies, high class prostitutes, and the Mafia all get mixed into the sprawling, fragmented narrative.

Characters flit in and out of the story, each seemingly from early 60’s central casting-- closeted, buttoned up FBI agent, sad prostitute, Russian traitor.  The given histories of each character do nothing to illuminate their actions or help them to transcend their stock attributes.  Only the “central” character, Chandler, is unique in any way.  Son of a patrician family with a political linage, he turns his back on government to seek a degree in religious studies.  However, his motivations and beliefs are only briefly explained, and he is an engine for the plot more than an actual character.  Melichor, the mixed raced CIA agent, raised to his vicious work, is also interesting, but devolves into a tough guy cliche.  The inclusion of the usual suspects in the JFK conspiracy is inevitable, but  J. Edgar Hoover, Sam Giacana, Jack Ruby and the like are tertiary to the story.

As for the plot, it’s a tangle of crosses and double crosses.  Perhaps a reader more well versed than I in the Kennedy assassination would have an easier time following along.  Standing on it’s own, it reads like a conspiracy theorist’s fever dream.  The various threads of Kring and Peck’s canvas never come together to form a coherent picture.  Contributing to the confusion are the abrupt shifts in time that bookend the novel. Most frustrating of all. the story does not end as much as it stops.  This is the first book in a planned trilogy, and it shows in the lack of a denouement. 

Despite it’s flaws, this book is very compelling in some ways.  The authors know how to put a scene together, creating a vivid picture of the 1960’s, and of a country on the brink of massive social and institutional changes.  The episodic nature of the narrative induces the reader to keep going, and exciting action sequences give the book a cinematic appeal.  The twisting conspiracy that feeds the plot would appeal to fans of “long arc” science fiction such as Lost and Heroes.   However, like those two shows, the overall narrative does not hang together as well as it should.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

No comments:

Post a Comment