The Art of the Devil describes a plot to assassinate President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Inspired by a real event – the severe heart attack suffered by Eisenhower in October 1955, near the end of his first term – the book suggests that the coronary was in fact a failed attempt on his life, and speculates on events both preceding and following the incident.
The book grew from a consideration of the extraordinarily partisan nature of contemporary U.S. politics. After World War II, America was a newly minted superpower facing a historical crossroads. During his first term, Eisenhower revealed himself to be far more moderate than many Republicans would have liked. Alienating the base of his own party, he set the nation on a course which his enemies considered weak and irresolute, squandering, in their view, a singular chance to assert America’s global dominance. But if the heart attack suffered by Eisenhower in 1955 had proved fatal – as it very nearly did – Vice President Richard Nixon, a favourite of the far right, would have been installed in office, and history would have followed a very different path.
The Art of the Devil is also about keeping secrets. The Baudelaire quote from which the book takes its title reads ‘It is the greatest art of the devil to convince us he does not exist.’ Elisabeth Grant, the beautiful and deadly ex-Nazi assassin posing as domestic help on Eisenhower’s secluded Gettysburg farm, must conceal her true identity until she can complete her mission. And Francis Isherwood, the Secret Service agent who finds himself in a unique position to frustrate the plot, harbours secrets of his own. Burdened with the horrors of war, Isherwood is tragically out of step with a nation determined not to look back as it embraces the simple values of Norman Rockwell, Doris Day, and Father Knows Best. Isherwood’s secrets threaten to ruin his marriage, his health, his career and his sanity; Elisabeth’s put at risk Eisenhower’s vision of a world defined by cooperation, compassion, and tolerance.
John Altman – The Art of the Devil/Severn House