I consider myself somewhat of a Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis expert. I’ve counted the books on my shelf that are biographies of the former First Lady, or the Kennedy Family, or memoirs of people who had some sort of relationship with her – there are eighteen (and those are just the books that I own). Since I have what some may justifiably call an obsession with Jackie, I was intrigued by the premise of this book – a young Jacqueline Bouvier working for the CIA as a spy.
Spy in a Little Black Dress by Maxine Kenneth is the second book in a series of “Jackie Spy Books.” I didn’t read the first one, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoying this book. In this story, Jackie is sent on a secret mission to Cuba in 1952. During this period of history, Batista has overthrown the Cuban government and is ruling in an oppressive manner, while Fidel Castro is living in the mountains plotting his rebellion to free the Cuban people (if they only knew). Jackie is sent there to find and meet with Castro in order to determine his intentions regarding the US, should he be successful. Then she’s to report back to Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA (who her future husband will fire in a decade’s time, ironically, over the Bay of Pigs fiasco).
While researching her mission, Jackie stumbles upon some ancient Cuban history that leads her on the hunt for a lost treasure, all the while executing her covert mission. There’s a lot of Latin American history from the 1800’s that honestly didn’t interest me, but the treasure hunt was amusing. This is a spy novel, but it’s still chick lit with talk of fashion and gorgeous men vying for Jackie’s attention. The book is full of 1950’s pop culture references, which are fun. Although a bit farfetched, she has a number of chance encounters with popular figures of the era including Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemmingway and JFK himself, he on the arm of a show girl no less. Oh girl, you shoulda run!
Being a Jackie-phile, I struggled at times with envisioning her in this role. It’s so far removed from what I’ve perceived her to be, based on years of research. She was in no way a girl who would run through the jungle, carry sticks of dynamite or stare down a crocodile who was about to eat her! I also felt uncomfortable with some of the sexual overtures Miss Bouvier made to her Latin partner in spying, which actually made me squirm a little bit. It’s just not what I’d ever imagined from my Jackie "Oh!" That noted, I will say the plot and the Cuban angle are very clever.
If you love thrills and adventure, this book is for you. It’s smart, sassy and well-written and the era will make you long for simpler times. There are some scenes that involve the early meetings of Jack and Jackie which are fun to read, as well. Just be forewarned, this is not the Jackie that we’ve all been fascinated with for decades. Perhaps to some readers, this fictional version will make her even more fascinating. I’m very curious to see how future books (I’m assuming there will be more) will handle Jackie explaining to JFK that she has, in fact, met Fidel Castro before - in the jungles of Cuba! That’ll be amusing.
Allie Smith, a former CPA who five years into her career decided that she hated working with numbers and willingly gave it all up to be a stay-at-home mom, lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and four children. In between carpool, play dates and refereeing the kids, she loves to read and write. The mother of a child with autism, she is currently working on a memoir of their journey. She can be found at her blog.
You might also enjoy: