Saturday, November 22, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Slate.com and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: 'Back Channel'

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Patrik Henry Bass of Essence Magazine reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

By day, Stephen L. Carter is a noted Yale law professor. Somewhere in-between he manages to create highly addictive novels that flip race, class, politics, and history on its ear. “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” his 2002 page-turner memorably led us to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, where a prominent family is harboring more secrets than a priest's confessional booth.

Now, in “Back Channel,” his sixth novel, Carter richly reimagines the events that led to the Cuban missile crisis.

As Carter did in The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, his absorbing 2012 mystery, the author blends fact and fiction to great effect.

The fact: In October 1962 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was resolute that he would install nuclear missiles in Cuba, and President John F. Kennedy was even more resolute that he would not. The fiction arrives in the guise of Margo Jensen, a plucky 19-year-old Cornell student, who plays a key role in the tense negotiations between the two world leaders.

Lucky for us Margo Jensen is no Nancy Drew, and “Back Channel” is no routine spy novel. This is less Robert Ludlum terrain and far more John Le Carre territory. Like the complicated protagonist in Le Carre's masterpiece “The Little Drummer Girl,” Margo finds herself in an unexpected role: accidental undercover agent. How Margo ultimately ends up back channeling highly classified information between Soviet insiders to President Kennedy in The White House is handled with cleverness and skill. While reading this fast-paced thriller just remember that Cold War motto: “trust no one.”

What you can trust is that we haven’t seen the last of Margo just yet, and that Back Channel is a perfect way to spend some of the last days of the summer.

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