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Thriller set in Dallas and Los Angeles (a new take on the JFK assassination of 1963…) – plus author interview

20th January 2016

Fever City by Tim Baker – thriller set in Dallas and Los Angeles.

Fever City is a brilliant debut novel by Tim Baker that will go down well with aficionados of conspiracy theories surrounding Jack Kennedy’s assassination.

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In his research for the book Tim studied all the theories and came to the conclusion that the one he goes with in Fever City is more likely to be true than any other (or, indeed, than the ‘official’ lone gunman explanation…). If he is correct, then the world was / is a very scary place. US big business (oil and arms), the CIA, Cuban exiles, the Mafia, and right wing politicians – Lyndon Johnson paving the way for Richard Nixon – conspired to murder Kennedy. The detail surrounding the events in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 is convincing… even in novel form.

Though Tim Baker clearly believes he may have found the answer to the question of why and how Kennedy was killed (and this is fascinating in itself…), Fever City is a well crafted thriller that excites and has a life away from the assassination theories. It opens in 1960 with a child kidnapping at the Los Angeles estate of Rex Bannister – a much hated and extremely rich businessman. The kidnapping (and its investigation) bring together for the first time Hastings, a hired assassin, and Nick Alston, a private investigator. The two cross paths again in 1963 in the run up to the assassination. The final part of the story is in 2014 when Alston’s son, an investigative journalist, travels to Dallas with the intention of debunking some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s death… only to find evidence that his father may well have been involved on the fringes the plot. The book is not for the faint hearted (it contains a lot of pretty graphic violence), but it is extremely well worked. It is a book that it is best not to dip in and out of… far better to read it in sizeable chunks. In small bites it could be confusing… Each chapter is titled with the location and the date, but the story moves quite rapidly across the decades with the same characters appearing in the differing time lines (especially 1960 and 1963). Attention is needed! As indeed is the case with the characters themselves. A number of seemingly fairly similar villains vie for our attention – distinguishing them is not always easy. The plot is complex but very convincing, and has a surprising last page revelation.

Tim, an Australian, now lives on the French Riviera – and used to work for the Australian Embassy in Paris as their Head Of Consular Services… a role that involved liaising with international police and law enforcement agencies in cases of murder, kidnapping, and hostage taking. The experience he gained feeds through into the book and adds to its authenticity.

Fever City is a good and very thought provoking work. I recommend it as an excellent read…

Tony for the TripFiction team

We asked Tim to answer a few of our questions. He kindly agreed:

TF: You are an Australian, and you were a young child at the time of the JFK assassination. What made you choose this subject – remote in both geography and time – for your debut novel? 

TB: My earliest memory that I can actually trace back to a specific date is the assassination of JFK. I didn’t understand what was happening that day but I was aware of its significance.

There is a flashback scene in FEVER CITY, set in Sydney, which is a snapshot of my memories of that day. My parents and grandfather were devastated.

It’s pretty amazing to think that the death of a president of another country was a trauma for people half a world away but it was – and I guess that’s an indication of the impact JFK had on the world’s imagination. He embodied a yearning for change, for a generational jump, not just in his own country, but in many other countries as well.

As far as geography is concerned, it’s important to remember that because Australia is so vast, distance is relative there. Australians start with the premise that almost anywhere is a long way away, so it doesn’t really impact upon our perception of other places.

And of course the assassination of JFK was the world’s first planetary event, played out via live TV. And the impact of these planetary events – whether they’re positive like the Olympics or tragedies like the recent Paris attacks – is that people everywhere are drawn a little closer together.

So, as surprising as it may seem, I never felt that the events in Dallas were foreign to me. On the contrary, they have always been imbued with deep personal meaning.

TF: You undertook a great deal of research for Fever City. As you went through all the conspiracy theories, what made the one you chose as the basis for the book stand out from the rest?

TB: I approached all the JFK conspiracy theories as though I were an investigating magistrate – after many years living in France, I have a great deal of respect for the inquisitorial role they play. It’s a position of power and drama – perfect for a writer!

I gravitated towards one particular theory that was compelling in terms of motive, circumstantial evidence, and the participants’ prior history of criminal activity.

Not only was this plot convincing from an investigative point of view, it also occupied an incredible story landscape.

It allowed me the scope and freedom to integrate my own interpretation and to populate it with characters both real and imagined.

TF: How much of the story you tell is ‘based on fact’, and how much comes from your own imagination?

TB: All of the main protagonists in the novel are fictitious, but there is a supporting cast of historical figures, including Dick Nixon, J Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes and Marilyn Monroe.

The figure of Old Man Bannister, like the Old Man of the Mountain, is a composite of history and mythology. I see him as the grandfather of all the bankers, white collar criminals and tax evaders who nearly succeeded in destroying the world economy in 2008!

Regarding the plot, most of it is invented, except for the details surrounding Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. But I did make sure to layer in references to real life incidents, so that readers could continue their own investigations.

TF: Did the 1960 kidnapping at the Bannister estate actually happen? I can find nothing when I Google it…

TB: I’m very happy to hear that you Googled the Bannister kidnapping because it means it was convincing enough to make you think it might just be real.

That’s so important to me because the Bannister kidnapping is the fictitious counter-balance to the factual assassination, and for the story to work, both narratives have to possess the same inherent authenticity and emotional resonance.

TF: You describe Dallas very eloquently in the book. Did you visit the city as part of your research?

TB: Thank you very much, I’m delighted you found it convincing! In 2010 I went to Los Angeles to collect an award from the Producers Guild of America. That first visit to LA made a huge impression. I found a lot of noir nuance there; something very sinister yet also redemptive. I realized immediately it was a perfect physical and psychological terrain for my story.

I was supposed to visit Dallas right after LA but for several reasons I didn’t make it. I planned to go back, but the writing of the book kept getting in the way!

This was initially of great concern to me but after a while I just decided to trust my imagination and create the city that best served the story.

In the end, a sense of place is more about tone than detail. I’m so glad – and relieved – that you thought I got that particular tone right!

TF: The book is pretty graphic at times in its descriptions of some intense violence. Quite definitely ‘noir’. Is this deliberate, or did it just flow naturally from the subject matter?

TB: I’m the kind of person who gets up during an episode of Luther when the violence gets a bit much! I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to permeate the entire narrative with a foreboding sense of menace and lethal tension.

This hovering threat of violence reflects the major events of the book: the kidnapping and the assassination of JFK. It also finds resonance in the flashbacks to Iwo Jima – which was a particularly savage battle. This sombre mood reflects the historical realities as well. The two main narrative events bookend the Cuban Missile Crisis and the planet’s brush with nuclear oblivion.

Shocking they may be, but these episodes of violence are not gratuitous and always mirror acts from the characters’ past. Actions have consequences. Violence begets violence – not so much in a biblical sense as in a Taoist one.

I sensed there’d be bursts of short, intense violence along the way, but I didn’t know where they’d erupt or what they would be, and they always surprised me.

TF: How do you write? Do you plan a book in detail before you start? Do you work fixed hours a day?

TB: When I start a screenplay I always begin with a treatment and never move on until everything has been absolutely nailed down. But when I’m writing a book, I never really know where I’m going. I start with a sense of tone and place, and then I get a voice and eventually a character. Then I’m off, although I never know where I’m heading.

Once I start a draft, I just keep going. Writing is addictive, especially when you’re on a good run.

I like to start as early in the day as possible and keep writing all day with breaks like walking the dog or going for a swim or a quick sail. I think it’s important to interrupt the sedentary nature of writing with some physical activity, and I also think this allows for ‘out of office’ rumination. If I go a few days or even weeks without writing, I don’t give myself grief. I know I’m just re-charging my batteries.

Our biological life runs according to certain rhythms, why shouldn’t our creative life? And when you are not actually writing, there are countless ways in which you can still work on your career as a writer.

TF: I understand you are currently working on a novel about the Ciudad Juárez femicides in Mexico. What made you choose this particular subject matter?

TB: I was in Mexico in 1998 for a film project, and that’s when I first heard about the killings. I was stunned by their ferocity and appalled by the indifference of the authorities.

It’s the kind of powerful story that never lets go once you’ve been exposed to it. I slowly became immersed in the ramifications to the point where I began a novel.

Like the JFK assassination, there are many conspiracy theories about the murders and who carried them out. And like the JFK assassination, there is something tragically symptomatic about the crimes that speak to all of us.

TF: And I also understand that you are working on a sequel to Fever City. Where (if you can tell us) will this take the story?

TB: All of the main characters return for the sequel, which takes place in the United States, Corsica, Italy and Australia in the 1960s, and the South of France in 2014…

Thank you to Tim for his fabulous and informative answers!

You can follow Tim on Twitter, and catch TripFiction on Social Media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.

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