Spy in a Little Black Dress by Maxine Kenneth is the second book in the spy cozy series featuring Jacqueline Kennedy in her career as a spy before becoming first lady (available October 2, 2012).
When I first heard that there was a mystery series by Maxine Kenneth (the duo of Maxine Schnall and Ken Salikof) featuring none other than Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, I thought to myself, WTH? How is that going to work? Surprisingly well, actually. It turns out that the authors were inspired by an actual letter found in the John F. Kennedy Library written by Jackie and revealing that she had a job offer from the newly formed CIA. Yes, that Jackie Kennedy. It appears that there was more to the lady than just the ability to wear a pillbox hat.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed plausible. Throughout her life, Jacqueline Kennedy was an enigmatic presence. Almost twenty years after her death, she still seems somehow unknowable, despite the numerous biographies that have been written about her over the years. Jackie spoke fluent French and was perfectly at ease in high society. The perfect background for an international spy! Just call her Jane Bond. In fact, it’s such a fabulous idea that I’m jealous I didn’t come up with it myself.
Having completed an assignment in Paris, while always looking her best, Jacqueline has now finished official CIA training at “the Farm.” She’s excited to show her boss exactly what she can do for her country.
It was a courier run.
Her instructions had been very simple. Go to New York. Pick up a package. Return with the package to Washington, D.C. Spend the day in Manhattan doing tourist things as a cover for her covert activities. But based on past experiences, if there was one thing that Jacqueline Lee Bouvier knew for certain, it was the fact that even the most simple assignment for the CIA could metamorphose into something with complications, ones that could lead to injury or even death. All she had to do was think back on her recently concluded assignment in Paris to recognize how true this was.
But of course, there are no such things as simple assignments. Having retrieved the Hermes bag that she was sent to get, Jacqueline must lose her tail, the man in the seersucker suit. While doing touristy things (which gives the reader a nice overview of 1950s New York from the late, lamented Scribner’s bookstore on Fifth Avenue and the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit of new art including Jackson Pollock, to a matinee of Guys and Dolls and dinner at Schrafft’s), she endeavors to shake him. With the help of a new friend, a budding actress from Philadelphia by the name of Grace Kelly (yes, that Grace Kelly), Jackie manages to give him the slip only to discover that the whole thing was an elaborate ruse.
Having passed her training with flying colors, Jacqueline’s second assignment from the CIA involves going undercover in in sultry Havana, Cuba, to investigate a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro. But before she flies off to Havana, she meets a handsome young congressman named Jack Kennedy at a dinner party.
At that moment, the door burst open, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy made his entrance. He still looks so young, more like a teenager than a three-term congressman about to turn thirty-four in a couple of weeks. He couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and fifty pounds and had to be at least six feet tall, so he looked as if he was still growing. His haystack of reddish brown hair, toothy smile, and twinkling periwinkle eyes added to the boyish impression.
Spy in a Little Black Dress is an entertaining spy romp with more celebrity cameos than a 1970s disaster film. It manages to bring together a satisfying mystery and Cold War espionage with a lighthearted romance and nostalgia for the days when Havana was the place for high-rollers, mambo, and mojitos. I’m already anticipating the next book in the series.
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon loves to write about Scandalous Women and the men that loved them. Her first book, Scandalous Women, was published by Perigee Books in March 2011. Visit her at scandalouswoman.blogspot.com.
Read all posts by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon for Criminal Element.