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Jake Tapper's 'The Devil May Dance' Is A Sequel To 'The Hellfire Club'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When he's not anchoring the news for CNN, Jake Tapper writes fiction. Today, he's out with a new novel. It is called "The Devil May Dance," a sequel to his first novel, "The Hellfire Club." Central to both books is a power couple named Charlie and Margaret Marder. He's a New York politician. She's a zoologist. It's the 1960s. The attorney general, Robert Kennedy, sucks the Marders into an investigation involving Hollywood and the mob. It's a fictional story about the Rat Pack, too - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. But the entire plot revolves around some very real events.

JAKE TAPPER: Frank Sinatra campaigned his heart out for John F. Kennedy in 1960, and then he had his compound near Palm Springs constructed so as to welcome President Kennedy on a visit. But there were people in the Justice Department who said to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, how can you cozy up to Frank Sinatra while you're taking on organized crime at the Justice Department? Sinatra hangs out with all these mobsters. So the part that's fictitious is Attorney General Kennedy basically blackmails my characters, Charlie and Margaret, to go out and find out if Sinatra is actually mobbed up or not. But the central premise actually is real. Sinatra really wanted President Kennedy to stay at his Rancho Mirage compound, and that became a real bone of contention in the Kennedy administration.

MARTIN: So where did you go? What kind - who'd you talk to? What kind of source material did you draw on?

TAPPER: I read a ton.

MARTIN: Yeah.

TAPPER: I read a ton. There's a lot written about the Rat Pack and a lot written about Sinatra, a lot written about that era. And I would not say this was a choir, a church choir, the Rat Pack. They were pretty notorious when it came to infidelity, when it came to - I wouldn't say that they were the most enlightened fellows on the planet when it came to women. And that's something that I tried to write about and capture in the book, the way that women were, you know, basically passed around like hors d'oeuvres among this crew.

MARTIN: There are some pretty difficult scenes or just bits of dialogue where the misogyny is right up in your face. And the racism - the way that Sammy Davis Jr.'s friends in Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and the rest of them treated him is pretty horrible to observe through their dialogue.

TAPPER: Yeah, I mean, I wanted to be true to what it's like, while obviously not glamorizing any of it. But I will say one thing about Sinatra that people who read the book might walk away not having known is that he actually - even though he made racist jokes about Sammy Davis Jr., he actually was on the forefront of civil rights in a lot of ways in terms of demanding that hotels in Las Vegas integrate for Sammy Davis Jr. and for Black musicians, you know, that performed with them. He actually did a lot for civil rights in his own way. It was the Kennedy family in some ways that was actually more racist. And Sammy Davis Jr. - his wife was white. And that was an embarrassment to the Kennedy family. And, in fact, Sammy Davis Jr. postponed his wedding to a white woman at the behest of Ambassador Kennedy, the father.

MARTIN: Wow.

TAPPER: And then Sammy Davis Jr. was not invited to the inaugural ball performance because he had a white wife. In some ways, Sinatra was actually more enlightened on civil rights when it came to 1960, 1961.

MARTIN: So years ago, you wrote a nonfiction book called "The Outpost" about an American unit that was overrun by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This was COP Keating. Eight Americans were killed in that attack. I think you've maintained touch with the families of those who died and survivors, right?

TAPPER: Yeah, with a lot of them. It was the most meaningful journalistic experience of my life - was writing that book and talking to the men and women who serve there. And yeah, no, I'm in constant contact with a bunch of them.

MARTIN: I bring it up because you have existed at all the different points if you think about fact and truth as a spectrum. You have written nonfiction account of that very grim war, and you have existed on completely the other end of the spectrum in writing fiction like the book we've been talking about. How have you thought about where we are as a society when it comes to the truth and fact of news and journalism and political discourse?

TAPPER: Well, I mean, I'm troubled, as I think a lot of us in journalism are troubled, by the fact that President Trump and so many in the Republican Party are so locked in in pushing this fiction that he actually won the election, and it was stolen from him. I mean, it's - I think it's very unsettling because there's this fiction that is causing an unwillingness to believe facts among millions of Americans than I ever thought was possible.

MARTIN: What does that mean for your choices about how you do your work and whose perspective is valuable and who has lost their credibility as a result of supporting the so-called big lie?

TAPPER: Well, I have not put on TV anybody who has pushed the big lie about the election. It's not a policy. I'm not saying I never will. But right now, I'm just in a point where if you're willing to lie about these things and I know you're willing to lie about them, then why should my viewers listen to anything you have to say about anything else, whether it's Afghanistan or all the spending programs that Biden is proposing? And I'm sure you grapple with it, too. You want to have a thriving Republican Party. There are millions of Americans who are conservative and do not agree with Democratic Party values. There needs to be a thriving party. But, you know, there are voices that are conservative Republicans who are telling the truth about the election but also opposed to Biden policies. I'm just going to interview those people.

MARTIN: Jake Tapper - he is the anchor of CNN's "State Of The Union" and the author of the new novel "The Devil May Dance." Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T CARE WHO KNOWS")

SAMMY DAVIS JR: (Singing) And I don't care who knows. Baby, I'm yours. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.