Blacklist is one of the best novels I've read this year. Maybe this is because the McCarthy Era, the persecution of American citizens during the Red Scare, and the Red Baiting by Hoover has always fascinated and frightened me. The lives that were ruined, the vindictiveness of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the betrayals of friends--are all part of a shameful episode in our past that most people now don't even remember and many have never heard of.
However, although this is a period that interests me, that is not all that makes this novel a stand-out. It is exceptionally well-written, capturing the essence of Hollywood, the abuses of power, the harassment, and the psychological damage to both those who refused to name names and to those who succumbed and named their friends and colleagues.
The novel is written from three viewpoints: David Weaver, son of blacklisted writer Teddy Weaver, who left the country rather than testify against his friends; Jana Vardian, daughter of Leo Vardian, whose father testified and betrayed friends; and FBI Agent Brian McKenna, Hoover's man in Hollywood. This was a particularly effective technique that allowed the author to present so many versions of the truth.
Within a few pages, I wondered if the author had intimate experience with this time period and went to the final pages to find out. The ADDENDUM to the novel turned out to be almost as interesting as the novel itself. Ludwig explains his connections to Hollywood and to many of the individuals who endured the witch hunt. He knew two of the Hollywood Ten (those who went to prison for Contempt of Congress because they invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer HUAC's questions); the description of the remarkable Dalton Trumbo is particularly fascinating.
The parents of one of the author's best friends were blacklisted when he was a child--Ludwig includes other details about his friend and his family that make it obvious that the friend was the inspiration for David Weaver's family. Ludwig knew Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman (who was blacklisted and told HUAC that she would "not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." Ludwig knew many others, including the famous namer of names, Elia Kazan.
So...what is the novel about? David Weaver returns to Hollywood in 1959 to bury his father. He desperately wants to renew his relationship with Jana Vardian, his childhood sweetheart. Agent McKenna is immediately aware of his arrival. These three characters are all connected in the web of past events, and from them, we get information--past and present--from different points of view.
Then people who had ties with HUAC begin turning up dead. David Weaver looks like a good suspect.
The murder mystery is interesting, but it is the characters that make this novel several cuts above the rest. The characters and Ludwig's ability to create the atmosphere of Hollywood during the 1950's feel absolutely genuine making this a great book in several ways.
My thanks to NetGalley for this one. Highly recommended!
Historical Fiction/Mystery. Macmillan-Tor/Forge. June 10, 2014. Print length: 416 pages.