The KGB grooms a long-lost Kennedy for an explosive assignment in this thriller by an ex-CIA agent and New York Times–bestselling spy novelist. Although in the mid-1940s no one had ever heard of JFK, Jack Adams’s mother insisted her new son be christened John Fitzgerald. Years after his parents’ death, Jack learns the reason for his name: a packet of photos showing his mother in bed with young John Kennedy. As a student at Columbia University, Jack demonstrates that he inherited more than JFK’s good looks. His irresistible charisma and political instinct make him a natural campus leader, but he has his sights set on something bigger than the student council. Young Jack Adams wants to be president of the United States, and the Soviet Union is prepared to help. A KGB spy named Dmitri recruits Jack, promising him the presidency in exchange for treason. Dmitri guides Jack for decades, putting him in a position to become the largest intelligence coup in history—unless the candidate’s libido derails him first.
Former CIA man McCarry (The Tears of Autumn; Shelley's Heart) is a highly skilled storyteller--and sometime coauthor (Inner Circles, with Alexander Haig)--whose knowledge of agentry and Washington politics is extensive but lightly worn. His background has also given him a strong degree of cynicism, however, and that is the dominant quality of this highly readable tale. McCarry's antihero is Jack Adams, who believes he is the love child of JFK and a Navy nurse, and who is singled out by the KGB during his college days as a promising "asset"--one, in fact, that rogue KGB man Peter believes could actually be placed in the Oval office as president. Jack is a charming fellow, a born liar but irresistibly likable, a compulsive womanizer without a thought or emotion that is not self-centered; ergo, according to McCarry, he's a master politician. With the aid of Morgan, a caricature of a leftist extremist woman of the 1960s, and boyhood buddy Larry, a college sports hero crippled by Vietnam, Jack works his way up the political ladder in his native Ohio until the top spot is within reach. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is crumbling, the KGB is running for cover and just where do Peter's (and therefore Jack's) allegiances lie? It's a wonderfully promising premise for a thriller, and the novel moves along at a good clip. The reader is never sure, however, just how seriously McCarry intends his fable to be taken. There are elements of farcical satire at work here, some over-the-top cloak-and-dagger background that belongs in James Bond movies, some raunchy but cold-blooded sex and a windup more cynical than anything that has gone before it. It is this uncertainty of tone, wavering between acute, sophisticated observation and glib absurdity, that ultimately prevents the book from attaining the alarming power it occasionally suggests. Author tour.