3:15:14 A Cruel and Shocking Act, a book review

The fiftieth anniversary of that traumatic event in U.S. history--JFK's assassination in Dallas--was only a few months ago. Despite the five decades, conspiracy theories suggesting Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone linger and closure about what really happened seems but a mirage.

When Lyndon Johnson became president, he knew conspiracy rumors suggesting, for example, Oswald was a Manchurian Candidate assassin had to be squelched. He appointed an investigatory commission, headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.


Paradoxically, ten months of work by the Warren Commission, with a unanimous conclusion Oswald acted alone, produced a report that only fueled the conspiracy-mongers.

In 2008, journalist Philip Shenon got a call from a prominent lawyer who as a junior investigator worked on the Warren Commission. He asked to remain anonymous, so his fellow staffers--those still alive--wouldn't know he was proposing to Shenon the complete story of the Warren Commission be told. "This may be our last chance to explain what really happened," his caller said.

A Cruel and Shocking Act--five years in the making--covers everything. It's a hefty, 600+-page labor of love in the pursuit of truth.

I can't summarize Shenon's findings--that would be a spoiler. But one strength of the book is how Shenon creates a palpable sense of players in this story, warts and all.

Did junior staffer Wesley Liebeler--once the Dallas interview with widow Marina Oswald was over--really try to seduce her, as he bragged to his colleagues back in DC?

One gem: Before its disclosure to the author, a meeting in the book was known by only two living persons, the participants. A military boat took senior counsel William Coleman from Florida to a yacht at sea, twenty miles off the coast of Cuba. The yacht was Castro's. For about three hours, Coleman interviewed Castro about the assassination. That Castro immediately recognized Coleman from jazz clubs in Harlem days only adds to the poignancy of this priceless scene.

A Cruel and Shocking Act leads the reader to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald, from a Texas School Depository window, almost certainly was the only person firing bullets at the Presidential limousine. But on the question of whether Lee Harvey Oswald could have been stopped from assassinating JFK, Shenon's narrative strongly suggests "probably."

Read A Cruel and Shocking Act for a page-turning reprise of one of the most tragic chapters in twentieth-century America.

A Cruel and Shocking Act by Philip Shenon, Henry Holt and Company, 2013, 628 pp., ISBN: 978-0-8050-9420-6.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.

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