Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination

Overview

In a riveting novel rooted in one of American history?s great ?what ifs,? Jim Lehrer tells the story of two men haunted by the events leading up to John F. Kennedy?s assassination.
 
November 22, 1963. As Air Force One touches down in Dallas, ambitious young newspaper reporter Jack Gilmore races to get the scoop on preparations for President Kennedy?s motorcade. Will the bubble top on the presidential limousine be up or down? Down, ...
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Overview

In a riveting novel rooted in one of American history’s great “what ifs,” Jim Lehrer tells the story of two men haunted by the events leading up to John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
 
November 22, 1963. As Air Force One touches down in Dallas, ambitious young newspaper reporter Jack Gilmore races to get the scoop on preparations for President Kennedy’s motorcade. Will the bubble top on the presidential limousine be up or down? Down, according to veteran Secret Service agent Van Walters. The decision to leave the top down and expose JFK to fire from above will weigh on Van’s conscience for decades. But will it also change the course of history?
 
Five years after the assassination, Jack gets an anguished phone call from Van’s daughter Marti. Van Walters is ravaged by guilt, so convinced that his actions led to JFK’s death that he has lost the will to live. In a desperate bid to deliver her father from his demons, Marti enlists Jack’s help in a risky reenactment designed to prove once and for all what would have happened had the bubble top stayed in place on that grim November day.
 
For Jack, it’s a chance to break a once-in-a-lifetime story that could make his career. But for Van the stakes are even higher. The outcome of a ballistics test conducted on the grounds of a secluded estate in upstate New York might just save his life—or push him over the edge.
 
A page-turning historical novel with the beating heart of a thriller, Top Down could only have sprung from the fertile imagination of Jim Lehrer. Drawing on his own experience as an eyewitness to the events described, one of America’s most respected journalists has crafted an engrossing story out of the emotional aftershocks of a national tragedy.

Praise for Top Down
 
“Lehrer (formerly the anchor of PBS’s NewsHour) draws upon his experiences as a reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963, for this unusual take on the Kennedy assassination. . . . A refreshing change from the usual conspiracy thrillers about the J.F.K. assassination.”Publishers Weekly
 
“A nice fictional counterpoint to the [many] nonfiction books coming out this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination.”BookPage
 
“PBS newsman and veteran fiction writer Jim Lehrer asks an intriguing question. . . . What if the Secret Service agent who decided not to equip the presidential limousine with its bubble top ended up blaming himself for John F. Kennedy's assassination? . . . It’s a promising plot, especially as a cultural take on the event that rocked the country a half-century ago.”—Associated Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/19/2013
Lehrer (formerly the anchor of PBS’s NewsHour) draws upon his experiences as a reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963, for this unusual take on the Kennedy assassination. His fictional alter ego in the novel, Dallas Tribune reporter Jack Gilmore, is at Love Field when the Kennedys arrive. Fact-checking his story, Jack asks a Secret Service agent if the president’s limousine will be traveling through Dallas with the plastic bubble top up or down. Since the top is intended only for use in the rain, and clear skies are expected, agent Van Walters indicates that it not be used. That reasonable choice (the top was neither bulletproof nor intended to protect Kennedy) naturally leads to feelings of profound guilt on Van’s part after the fatal shots are fired in Dealey Plaza. Five years later, Van’s 20-year-old daughter, Marti, asks for Jack’s help reversing her father’s depression, leading to a macabre reenactment in which the former agent tries to prove to himself that there’s nothing he could have done differently. Lehrer doesn’t say anything particularly profound here about the tragedy’s long-lasting aftereffects, but his premise does make for a refreshing change from the usual conspiracy thrillers about the J.F.K. assassination. Agent: Will Lippincott, Lippincott Massie McQuilken. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Top Down
 
“Lehrer (formerly the anchor of PBS’s NewsHour) draws upon his experiences as a reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963, for this unusual take on the Kennedy assassination. . . . A refreshing change from the usual conspiracy thrillers about the J.F.K. assassination.”Publishers Weekly
 
“A nice fictional counterpoint to the [many] nonfiction books coming out this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination.”BookPage
 
“PBS newsman and veteran fiction writer Jim Lehrer asks an intriguing question. . . . What if the Secret Service agent who decided not to equip the presidential limousine with its bubble top ended up blaming himself for John F. Kennedy's assassination? . . . It’s a promising plot, especially as a cultural take on the event that rocked the country a half-century ago.”—Associated Press

Praise for Jim Lehrer
 
Super
 
“Sheer delights . . . combines the rolling suspense of Murder on the Orient Express with the high jinks of [Lehrer’s] lighter novels.”The Kansas City Star
 
Oh, Johnny
 
“A warmhearted evocation of the road not taken.”Kirkus Reviews
 
Eureka
 
“A nutty, likable romp [that] quickly takes on a deeper resonance that is certain to please readers . . . quite moving.”The Washington Post
 
The Phony Marine
 
“A story of emotional depth and unexpected twists of plot  . . . [Lehrer] delivers a convincing and compelling story.”The Oklahoman
 
The Franklin Affair
 
“A serious-minded yet breezy detective story . . . perfectly suited to beach reading and deep enough to raise lasting questions about life, liberty and the pursuit of historical accuracy.”The Miami Herald

Library Journal
09/15/2013
Lehrer (former executive editor & anchor, NewsHour) has written ten times more fiction than nonfiction. This new entry increases the imbalance, but, as with his other novels, it's rooted in Lehrer's own life. In the "'Where Were You When You Heard?'" section of The Day Kennedy Died, above, Lehrer writes of his time as a Dallas Times Herald reporter assigned to cover the Kennedy arrival in the city. Lehrer asked the secret service agent there, Forrest Sorrels, in charge of the Dallas office, whether the Kennedy motorcade car would have its bubble top on. Upon hearing that downtown Dallas weather had cleared, Sorrels ordered the top removed. As Lehrer states in his "Author's Note" here, that episode formed the establishing circumstances for Top Down, which takes place five years after the assassination. Reporter Jack Gilmore is called upon to follow up about secret service agent Van Walters, who has blamed himself for Kennedy's death in an open car. This title will be most satisfying to those seeing some of Lehrer himself here: Will the reporter create a major news story, divulging the details of that agent's decision? Or will he hold off, aspiring to some brand of nobility? If he holds off, perhaps he'll get to write about it all in years to come, maybe in fictional terms. VERDICT Recommended to Lehrer's many fans and to all who are keen for the what-ifs that both reality and fiction can bestow.—MH
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-01
Who shot JFK? In longtime PBS stalwart Lehrer's novel, the question better becomes: How shot JFK? In a blend of police procedural and peek behind the curtains at how journalists do their jobs, Lehrer (Super, 2010, etc.) posits an uncomfortable scenario, at least for a beat reporter: A story returns, years after the fact, with a new and unforeseen wrinkle. In this instance, Dallas Tribune writer Jack Gilmore is going out to lunch--well, speaking before a lunch, anyway--on a strange twist to the assassination tale, relating how a request came from the copy desk for him to find out, before JFK's motorcade set out for Dealey Plaza, whether the top on his limousine would be up or down. Hmmm. It had been raining before, but now on this beautiful warm day--well, Gilmore asks, the agent in charge orders the top taken off, and the rest is history. Or is it? That agent has been a seething erosive mess of guilt ever since, and the Secret Service has done what it can to hide him in the hinterlands. His protofeminist daughter--for this is 1968--is meanwhile looking to answer the burning question of whether "the bubble top, if it had been there, might have prevented the assassination--or at least the death--of Kennedy." Well, weird things happen when a reporter's obsession matches a source's, and Lehrer expertly sails that particular sea. The writing sometimes seems a little tossed-off (" ‘Food of the World'...seemed to mean Greek and Italian versions of scrambled eggs and toast"), but the way that Lehrer covers the ground (always skirting that "who" question) is fresh and convincing--and a couple of payoffs, including the longish denouement, come as a nice surprise. A footnote to the vast library surrounding the JFK assassination, but a good read nonetheless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400069163
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 308,495
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Lehrer

This is Jim Lehrer’s twenty-first novel. He is also the author of three memoirs and three plays and was the executive editor and anchor of PBS NewsHour. He and his novelist wife, Kate, have three daughters.

Biography

Jim Lehrer didn't always aspire to be a writer -- when he was 16, he wanted to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since he wasn't a very good baseball player, he turned to sports writing, then writing in general. As a member of what he's called "the Hemingway generation," he decided to support himself as a newspaper writer until he could make a living as a novelist.

After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, Lehrer served for three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, then began his career as a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in Dallas. His first novel, about a band of Mexican soldiers re-taking the Alamo, was published in 1966 and made into a movie. Lehrer quit his newspaper job in order to write more books, but was lured back into reporting after he accepted a part-time consulting job at the Dallas public television station. He was eventually made host and editor of a nightly news program at the station.

Lehrer then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as public affairs coordinator for PBS and as a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT). At NPACT, Lehrer teamed up with Robert MacNeil to provide live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, broadcast on PBS. It was the beginning of a partnership that would last more than 20 years, as Lehrer and MacNeil co-hosted The MacNeil/Lehrer Report (originally The Robert MacNeil Report) from 1976 to 1983, and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour from 1983 to 1995. In 1995, MacNeil left the show, but Lehrer soldiered on as solo anchor and executive editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

When he wasn't busy hosting the country's first hour-long news program, Lehrer wrote and published books, including a series of mystery novels featuring his fictional lieutenant governor, One-Eyed Mack, and a political satire, The Last Debate. Lehrer surprised critics and won new readers with his breakout success, White Widow, the "tender and tragic" (Washington Post) tale of a small-town Texas bus driver. He followed it with the bestselling Purple Dots, a "high-spirited Beltway romp" (The New York Times Book Review), and The Special Prisoner, about a WWII bomber pilot whose brutal experiences in a Japanese P.O.W. camp come back to haunt him 50 years later. His recent novel No Certain Rest recounts the quest of a U.S. Parks Department archaeologist to solve a murder committed during the Civil War.

Across this wide range of subjects, Lehrer is known for his careful plotting and even more careful research. Clearly, this is a man who cares about good stories -- but which is more important to him, journalism or fiction? Lehrer once admitted that he's known as "the TV guy who also writes books. Someday, maybe it will go the other way and I'll be the novelist who also does television."

Good To Know

During the last four presidential elections, Lehrer has served as a moderator for nine debates, including all three of the presidential candidates' debates in 2000. He also hosted the Emmy Award-nominated program "Debating Our Destiny: Forty Years of Presidential Debates."

Lehrer lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, novelist Kate Lehrer. The two also have an 18th-century farmhouse close to the Antietam battle site. Visits to the site helped inspire Lehrer's thirteenth novel, No Certain Rest.

Robert MacNeil, for many years the co-host with Jim Lehrer of PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, is also a novelist. His books include Burden of Desire, The Voyage and Breaking News.

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    1. Also Known As:
      James Lehrer
    2. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 19, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wichita, Kansas
    1. Education:
      A.A., Victoria College; B.J., University of Missouri, 1956

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