Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
By chance, two new treatments of the Kennedy Assassination appear within a few days of each other. One is Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill’s The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence (Simon and Schuster), the other is the title before us. One is a memoir, the other is fictional; oddly, apart from their subject, they also share a means of production, the use of a co-author. Lisa McCubbin, in the Secret Service men’s case, while Tim Kring (better known as the TV producer of Heroes) has teamed up with Dale Peck, who has eight previous titles to his credit.
Shift is a work of paranoia; not only in the existing worlds of the American intelligence services, but in the sense that the characters are not mentally normal. In some cases that abnormality comes from the sense of being overwhelmed by events, in others from a disturbed upbringing, or even from drugs. Paranoia, of course, has to be distinguished from honest fear: such worry as one might feel if one knew that one of the atomic weapons that Mr Kruschev intended to ship to the Caribbean during the Cuban Missile Crisis had not gone home; concern that one might feel if one knew that the mafia which had been driven out of Cuba was still showing an interest there; and terror that the CIA’s Project MK-Ultra had led to the discovery of frightening new fields of human potential. According to Shift, renegade sections of US intelligence discovered that taking LSD allowed some of its consumers to develop telepathic powers, though the experiments in which that discovery was made was less than salubrious.
Against the background of what were then called military advisors going out to Vietnam, and home experiments in which university researchers such as Dr Timothy Leary were encouraged to research the use of psychedelic drugs, and unwitting victims were doped by honey-trap prostitutes, Shift follows the struggles of three agents – each apparently the opponent of the others – as a clock ticks from late October in Cuba to November 22nd in Dealey Plaza. With the possibility that the telepathic comprehension of one man by another means that the target and motive would be obvious, there is only one way the story could go: the man who will do the killing cannot ever know what he is going to do. The true killer will act at one or two removes upon him – perhaps in distance, perhaps even in time. School physics, though, teaches that action at a distance is not possible. To understand the true ways of assassination one must overcome that rationality, as Kring and Peck’s Melchior, Caspar and Doctor Keller have done. The actual Blaine and Hill would hardly understand the concepts.
Readers of Paddy Chayevsky’s Altered States or John Luther Novak’s Existenz (there were film versions of both) will have experienced something of the world of Shift. Fans of modern history will also know something of Project MK-Ultra, and of Lee Harvey Oswald’s travels about the world before his final trip up the stairs of the Texas School Book Depository. Most, though, will not have experienced the world of changed minds here. The step sideways. The shift into the world of the paranoid.
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