British Writer Praises JFK Assassination Book, “The President’s Mortician”

Garrick Alder writes for a UK publication called Lobster.  It appears quarterly and is billed as an on-line magazine which deals with “politics, parapolitics, and history.”  In addition to book reviews, there are articles about conspiracy theories, economics, global politics, and contemporary history.  The President’s Mortician caught Alder’s eye, and the subject matter stimulated the review reprinted below.

“The publication of Tim Fleming’s book marks, to my
knowledge, the first real attempt to (forgive the phrase) put
flesh on the biographical bones of John Melvin Liggett, a
shadowy character whose apparent connections to the JFK
assassination are discussed in my own ‘Doubles and
Disinformation’ in this issue of Lobster.

“There is good news and bad news about this book. The
bad news is that, despite the author’s first-hand research into
Liggett’s life, his book is so heavily fictionalised as to count as
a novel. The good news is that it’s actually well worth buying
and reading despite this. Fleming is a devoted JFK researcher
and writer, and runs a worthwhile blog1 about US politics from
a leftist perspective in general and the JFK killing in particular.

“The narrative of The President’s Mortician is compelling
and convincingly unpredictable, despite being entirely based
on a completely bogus ‘McGuffin’ (the murder of a fictional
character by the real-life Liggett and the characters’ attempts
to solve the case). Of particular interest to researchers will be
the ‘book within the book’ setting out one of the characters’
interpretation of the assassination and its consequences. It
came as little surprise to me when Mr Fleming confirmed in an
e-mail conversation that this metatext was an excerpt from his
own unpublished writing, and I recommend that he pursues
finding a publisher for it. He also told me that he had originally
planned a non-fiction biography of Liggett. This is maddening
(to me, at least) because it means that we are left to sift
through a cast of fictional, composite and real characters and
events with no idea of which is which. For instance: Liggett’s
youthful participation in David Ferrie’s Civil Air Patrol outfit and
his recruitment by the CIA therefrom. This is plainly of key
importance to understanding Liggett’s life but I have no idea
whether it’s real or pretend. Mr Fleming’s characters are all
equally well-drawn and rounded, making it even more difficult
(although I have a strong suspicion that the wholly-fictitious
characters are the ones with a noticeable tendency to ‘infodump’
in order to move the plot along in leaps and bounds).

“And some of his work is plainly a synthesis of his own reading
and beliefs. For example, one character anachronistically
provides an unattributed précis of David Lifton’s Best Evidence,
fifteen years before it was published.

“Mr Fleming has expressed his hope that The President’s
Mortician will stimulate others to carry out their own research.
In the sense that it tantalised me so much that I want to pick
up the phone and hammer the Internet until I have tracked
down his primary sources (whom he declined to identify in any
way) and bled them dry of information, he can count his hopes
fulfilled. Others will perhaps be more sanguine about the
matter: perhaps, at this distance, a novelist has more hope of
untangling Liggett’s life than anyone else.

“Liggett himself moves through the novel like a predatory
fish in a muddy river, glimpsed here and there as the action
unfolds, but rarely surfacing. The key points of interest to
researchers are the two chapters which describe Liggett’s
alteration of JFK’s body and the way in which a second body
was used as a ‘stand-in’ for the dead President while
Kennedy’s real body was doctored. Mr Fleming plainly knows
his stuff on the real-life witnesses and events relating to JFK’s
post-mortem handling and manages to weave them into a
coherent narrative.

“While by no means an expert on this aspect of the
assassination, I found Mr Fleming’s portrayal of proceedings
very interesting indeed and (as far as I can ascertain without
in-depth research) somewhat credible. For instance the
photographer at JFK’s autopsy told the Assassination Records
Review Board that the pictures she took were not the ones
later released by the National Archives and that Kennedy’s
body had been in a very different state when she saw and
photographed it. I asked Mr Fleming whether his
reconstruction of the events of that night was based on
evidence or imagination. As I had anticipated, he did not
respond to this question, and I respect his choice to remain
silent on the matter. I therefore conclude that the ‘body
alteration’ narrative is a mixture of both fact and fiction – and
none the worse for that. I enjoyed it so much that I read the
whole thing in one sitting. Researchers will find this book at
best a thought-provoking and stimulating read and at worst a
frustrating hybrid of truth and fiction. Either way, I would say
that it deserves to be read by anyone interested in this aspect
of the assassination controversy.”

–Garrick Alder


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