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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In October 1964, Washington socialite Mary Pinchot Meyer, the ex-wife of CIA cold warrior Cord Meyer and one of the more distinguished mistresses of President John F. Kennedy, was found shot to death in the Georgetown section of the nation's capital. Ray Crump, an African American man, was lurking near the murder scene, and was subsequently fingered as the single suspect in the case, only to be found not guilty due to reasonable doubt. Almost 35 years later, Meyer's murder remains unsolved, and like many cases of that particular era, its lack of resolution reeks of a conspiracy.
Mary Pinchot Meyer was a New York debutante, attending Brearley High School and Vassar College and traveling in social circles that included the young John F. Kennedy, among other future luminaries. During World War II, she became a feature writer for the United Press and, being the free spirit that she was, moved in with a navy man who worked for a military newspaper, before sacrificing her freedom to marry war veteran and CIA division head Cord Meyer. What began as a marriage of shared ideals quickly unraveled, as Cord grew more confrontational and temperamental, and their fledgling marriage gave way to infidelities on both sides. Mary left her husband to pursue her painting, and achieved a sense of independence that was rare for women of that generation. She experimented with Reichian therapy, LSD sessions with Timothy Leary, and carried on a series of love affairs with men from both the art world and politics.
Because of her marriage to Cord, and her intimate liaison with the President, Mary Meyerwasthought to have had access to highly classified government secrets and was considered a risk to national security. CIA psychologist John Gittinger assessed Meyer's personality type as "Internalizer, Flexible, and Uniform" because she was, in his words, "self-oriented and kept her own counsel, was open to experiences but tended to be unfocused...and that she would have at some point in her life rejected the mores she had been brought up with." To this day, no one really knows what Mary knew, for her diaries, which copiously documented every detail of her life, were apprehended by the CIA and presumably destroyed, leading many to believe that her murder was, in fact, part of a CIA conspiracy.
Burleigh describes the various conspiracy theories that surround Meyer's death, but A Very Private Woman, does not attempt to solve the mystery. Rather it is the author's intention to portray the enchanting, original spirit this woman possessed, set against the backdrop of the baby boom, the cold war, and the beginning of one of America's most pivotal, most tempestuous decades. She succeeds in this aspect, and further succeeds in evoking the tempo and texture of Washington, D.C., and the bravado and disillusionment of the CIA agents during the height of the era. Ultimately, the greatest strengths of this biography lie in the thoroughly rendered depictions of the paranoiac James Jesus Angleton, the head of the CIA's counterintelligence division; Meyer's brother-in-law and newsman Bill Bradlee; the promiscuous nature of John F. Kennedy; and Ray Crump's lawyer Dovey Roundtree, an African American woman whose courtroom charisma and strong defense earned her client an acquittal.
Written with the chilling pace of a thriller, A Very Private Woman, is page-turning entertainment and an enlightening lesson in postwar American history.
— Kera Bolonik, barnesandnoble