Promises to Keep, by George Bernau

Nine stars

George Bernau delivers a powerful novel that addresses one of the great political conspiracies in U.S. History and explores it through the lens of alternate history, forcing the readers to ponder ‘what if?’ throughout. On November 22, 1963, US President John Trewlaney Cassidy is in Dallas as part of a pre-campaign swing and to address business leaders. After shots ring out, chaos ensues as it becomes clear that president has been shot in the head. Rushed to Parkland Hospital, President Cassidy is barely clinging to life, with half his head blown away and those around him covered in blood and brain matter. Doctors rush and the world waits for news, which is slow to come, exacerbated by the medical severity of the wounds and the notoriety of the patient. It is beyond grim and yet Mrs. Cassidy will not leave his side, while others hold vigil in the nearby chapel. Doctors work frantically to save the Leader of the Free World… and succeed in keeping him alive through the night. Thus begins a turn of the history wheel as Bernau weaves together a wonderful narrative where every turn begets a new unknown. While President Cassidy is clinging to life, Vice-President Ransom Gardner steps up and takes the reins of power, albeit temporarily, through a never before used presidential order to cover incapacitation. While Cassidy is unable to hold down the Office of President, Gardner takes the active role and works as best he can, alongside Attorney General and brother to POTUS, Tim Cassidy. The daily running of America waits for no man and so Gardner ‘reluctantly’ agrees to steer the ship. There is an election on the horizon, under a year away, and all eyes are on whether the elder Cassidy will be fit to run, or if Gardner ought to take the Demorats into this most auspicious battle against a group of eager Republicans, feeling they can strike at the opposition’s instability. While Washington heats up, FBI Special Agent Jim Sullivan cannot accept the single shooter premise that was presented to the world. He saw something close to a grassy knoll and is not prepared to let everything be swept under the rug. However, he is being stonewalled by his superiors and must chase down leads all on his own. This leads him to Mexico, New Orleans, and even some whispers of a Cuban connection. What Sullivan discovers is not only monumental, but could show that the failure in Dallas could spell a continued threat for all Cassidys. The deeper Sullivan digs, the more people die, leaving him to wonder if there is a major cover-up underway within the American Government. Over the next few years, Vietnam rears its ugly head and talk of Castro’s Cuba inundate political conversations in Washington, forcing the man in the Oval Office to make a major decision. Election Year 1968 is on the horizon and many are out for blood. A brilliant piece so full of twists and newly-forged history, Bernau leaves the reader wondering how much of those five years of the 1960s will be replicated in the book, and how much has been changed forever by the results of the assassination failure. Perfect for JFK buffs and history lovers alike, Bernau delivers a gem.

I have long been enthralled with the JFK assassination for as long as I can remember. Who did it? Why? What does the public not know? All this is slowly and methodically revealed in this powerful novel that allows Bernau to use the loose framework of what we all know and superimpose his own reality. The cast of characters is formidable, some of which are easily recognisable to the reader, though their altered names may force a brief scramble to recollect. The alternate history premise allows Bernau to weave an entirely new reality, which he does, while keeping a strong political flavour to the story. Of greatest interest to me was the development of the theory put forth by Jim Sullivan as to who planned and sought to execute the assassination, as well as how deep it went. Any reader who loves the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories will be salivating as the story progresses and takes many turns, some of which make total sense, even based on the actual information on hand and available to the public. Even through the novel was published close to three decades ago, it still holds a massive gut punch that any curious and dedicated reader will love. I strongly recommend this book, which reads well, though can get bogged down in detail and numerous storylines.

Kudos, Mr. Bernau for such a sensational piece. I cannot believe I knew NOTHING about this book until I saw it online for a very reasonable price. I will surely be checking out some of your other alternate history books in the coming months.