The Devil May Dance

A Novel


By Jake Tapper

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Charlie and Margaret discover the dark side of Hollywood in Jake Tapper's follow-up to New York Times bestseller The Hellfire Club—an "excellent" cocktail of corruption and ambition (Publishers Weekly).

Charlie and Margaret Marder, political stars in 1960s Washington DC, know all too well how the tangled web of power in the nation's capital can operate. But while they long to settle into the comforts of home, Attorney General Robert Kennedy has other plans. He needs them to look into a potential threat not only to the presidency, but to the security of the United States itself.

Charlie and Margaret quickly find themselves on a flight to sunny Los Angeles, where they’ll face off against a dazzling world of stars and studios. At the center of their investigation is Frank Sinatra, a close friend of President John F. Kennedy and a rumored mob crony, whom Charlie and Margaret must befriend to get the inside scoop. But in a town built on illusions, where friends and foes all look alike, nothing is easy, and drinks by the pool at the Sands and late-night adventures with the Rat Pack soon lead to a body in the trunk of their car. Before they know it, Charlie and Margaret are being pursued by sinister forces from Hollywood’s stages to the newly founded Church of Scientology, facing off against the darkest and most secret side of Hollywood’s power.

As the Academy Awards loom, and someone near and dear to Margaret goes missing, Charlie and Margaret find the clock is not only ticking but running out. Someone out there knows what they’ve uncovered and can’t let them leave alive. Corruption and ambition form a deadly mix in this fast-paced sequel to The Hellfire Club.


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Trouble just seems to come my way—
unbidden, unwelcome, unneeded.

—Frank Sinatra, 1971

Chapter One

Glendale, California

January 1962

Frank Sinatra handed the congressman the bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

“These places give me the heebie-jeebies,” Sinatra said, looking around the graveyard. “What about you, Charlie?”

Congressman Charlie Marder paused as he surveyed the small group circling the makeshift bar: stacks of paper cups and whiskey on top of a marble crypt.

“Sure,” Charlie said. “I mean, who likes graveyards?”

“Graverobbers,” said Peter Lawford. A young woman laughed. Her friend, who was a model or actress of some kind, rolled her eyes. They’d joined up somewhere along the way.

“How about maggots?” added Dean Martin in his rich baritone, prompting Ewws from the ladies. Earlier, Charlie had asked his wife, Margaret, if she’d caught the girls’ names. “Betty and Veronica,” she’d replied. “Or might as well be.”

The Rat Pack—which tonight included Sinatra, Martin, Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Shirley MacLaine—and their assorted hangers-on had come to Forest Lawn Memorial Park not to mourn the dead but to rage against death, to celebrate, to drink and be merry. Just a couple of hours earlier, at Puccini—the restaurant Sinatra co-owned with Lawford—they had received word that an old acquaintance, Salvatore Lucania (better known as mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano), had dropped dead of a heart attack in Naples. It put them in a reflective mood. The news was especially disconcerting because they’d gathered at the restaurant to toast the memory of innovative TV comic Ernie Kovacs, who’d been killed in a car accident two weeks earlier.

It had been pouring the night of Kovacs’s crash, but the skies were clear now. At this moment, before dawn, the heavens twinkled with scattered stars, and the lush grass of Forest Lawn Memorial Park glistened with dew.

“Fill ’er up, Smoky!” said Sinatra to Sammy Davis Jr., using the nickname that was a nod to his four-pack-a-day habit. Sinatra placed his empty glass on the marble crypt in front of Davis, who was holding the bottle of Jack Daniel’s at that moment.

As Davis poured the whiskey, ash from his cigarette drifted onto the rim of Sinatra’s glass. Davis glanced over to see if Sinatra had noticed, then quickly dusted it off. “Clark Gable’s over there,” Sammy said to no one in particular, gesturing up a hill.

“Where?” asked Betty. “I don’t see anyone.”

“He’s been dead for two years, ya quin,” snarled Sinatra.

“Now, Pope,” cautioned Martin.

“Unless I’m mistaken,” said Margaret, “wife number five arranged to have Gable buried next to wife number three.”

“Interred,” said Charlie.

Sinatra rolled his eyes. He’d turned forty-six last month and what once might have played as impish now registered as old-man cranky. The sharp light from the streetlamp near them emphasized the crags in his weathered face, the scar on his neck, the onset of sagging jowls.

“Learn to read a room,” Margaret jokingly advised Charlie.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” he replied.

“Classy broad, that Kay Gable,” Davis said about Gable’s fifth and final wife.

“She gave birth to their kid at the same hospital where Clark croaked weeks before,” Martin recalled.

“Look at the memory on Daig,” said Sinatra.

“Ring-a-ding-ding,” said Martin, grabbing the bottle of Jack and taking a swig. “Who wants another?”

“I do.” MacLaine, elfin-looking in her pixie cut and bright red lipstick, raised a hand. “Why would she want her husband to be buried next to another woman?”

“Interred,” Lawford drawled.

“Carole Lombard was the love of his life,” explained Davis. “Kay knew that.”

“Too bright,” Sinatra growled. He was glaring at a streetlamp that cast a punishing white light, washing them all out so it was almost as if they were in a grainy black-and-white talkie, Frank reduced to Ol’ Gray Eyes. “Pucci, give me your piece.”

“Fat” Tony Pucci, Chicago mobster Sam Giancana’s gigantic bodyguard, had a face that looked like it’d been whacked with an oar. Pucci glanced at Giancana, a buddy of Sinatra’s whose presence none dared question. The mobster nodded his assent, the light reflecting off his thick glasses, and Pucci reached underneath his jacket and pulled out what looked to Charlie to be a Colt Python .357 Magnum with a four-inch barrel and a nickel finish.

Sinatra, cigarette dangling from his lips, grabbed the piece, aimed it at the streetlamp, squinted, and fired. He missed, and the bullet pinged off the metal of the pole. He fired again. Another miss.

Giancana snorted. He would not have missed.

Charlie scanned the area to see if anyone had heard the shots, but no one was around for miles, it seemed.

Margaret remembered reading about Sinatra getting arrested after he and Ava Gardner took his Smith and Wesson .38s and shot out streetlamps and storefront windows in the small town of Indio, California.

“Apparently he was a better shot in Indio that night,” Charlie whispered to her, sharing the same thought.

No one cracked wise about Sinatra’s poor aim. This was the Pope, as he was known; they kept quiet. After missing a third shot, Sinatra calmly handed the gun back to Fat Tony.

“You do it,” Sinatra said to the bodyguard. “Jack Daniel’s keeps moving the target.”

“Wobble-wobble,” said Martin.

Fat Tony aimed and fired, and the bulb exploded, dropping a cloak of gray upon them all.

“How’s your bird, Pope?” Martin asked, a Rat Pack inquiry about the status of a fellow traveler’s penis or, more broadly, his happiness in that arena. The others held their breath. Above them hung a half-moon, about which Sinatra started to sing:

Something, something, man in the moon

something, something, baboon,

something, something swoon…

Everyone exhaled; the wind had blown his dark mood away with the clouds. Lawford led the pack in a charge up the hill as Martin sang a song mocking the very young girlfriend of Sinatra’s rival Elvis Presley. “Are you lonesome tonight?” he crooned. “Are you horny tonight? Have you reached puberty yet, my dear girl?”

Sinatra cackled. He’d hosted the television special Welcome Home, Elvis after Presley’s discharge from the army, but Sinatra made no secret of the fact that he found most rock and roll deplorable; he thought the music was written and performed by cretinous goons, and Presley was the gooniest of them all.

Charlie and Margaret walked slowly, bringing up the rear. Margaret sighed, seeming annoyed.

“Stop pretending that this isn’t a little cool,” Charlie said, indicating the scene—they were hanging with icons of the zeitgeist, boozing in a celebrity graveyard in the middle of the night.

“Ring-a-ding-ding,” said Margaret dryly.

The crack of a gunshot echoed across the grass. It took Charlie and Margaret a moment to make out what was going on: Davis was firing Fat Tony’s gun at a grave. Or, more precisely, at the sculpted angel on top of a crypt.

“What th—” said Margaret, poking Charlie in the ribs.

“I think ‘Who the’ is more like it,” Lawford said to Margaret. “Doyle, the guy buried there, was a producer who screwed Sammy back when he was touring the country on the Chitlin’ Circuit with his dad and uncle.”

Charlie looked at the crypt. He didn’t recognize the name.

Davis yelled, “Son of a bitch!” as he fired off another round. The angel’s head exploded.

“There ya go, Smoky!” Martin cheered. He ashed his cigarette on a freshly dug grave, then took a swig from a paper cup.

“I’m not done yet,” Davis said, pulling the trigger once more. The blast hit the cherub in the crotch, shattering the statue. One of the pieces of concrete clipped Charlie.

“Oof,” he said, grabbing his shoulder.

“Honey!” Margaret cried.

“I’m fine,” he said, rubbing the bruise.

“Oh, man,” Davis said. “I am so, so sorry.”

Davis was soused but clearly concerned. He made his way precariously toward Charlie, wobbly and contrite. The singer was a wee man, not even five foot five, all bone and sinew, maybe ninety pounds dressed for winter.

“It’s nothing,” Charlie said.

“Yumpin’ Yiminy, now it’s a clambake!” yelled Sinatra. “More booze!” Another bottle materialized as the pack continued its run through the cemetery, minus Giancana and Fat Tony, who’d turned to walk back to their car. Charlie and Margaret stayed in place, leaning on a thick, slightly cracked tombstone.

“Irish exit,” Charlie said, motioning toward the departing mobsters.

“Not sure they’re Irish, honey. Did it tear your shirt?”

Charlie lifted his hand, revealing a small hole in his suit jacket. “That might have been there before,” he lied.

She poked her finger into the hole. “You’re bleeding,” she said. She held her finger up to capture whatever light she could steal from the moon. “We should go back to the car, see if we need to take you to a hospital.”

“Oh, c’mon,” said Charlie, who still had shrapnel in his chest from World War II. “I’m fine.”

His shoulder might be fine, but Margaret knew that Charlie was not. He slept poorly and drank too much and worked too many hours. He often lost his temper over trivial things, and she worried about how to deal with it. Eighteen years earlier, Charlie had experienced the horrors of war, fighting the Krauts in France after D-Day, and in the past few years Margaret was often reminded of the army’s slogan that “every man has his breaking point.” She was constantly looking for ways to prevent Charlie from reaching his. Whatever the doctors were labeling it, combat exhaustion or combat neurosis or battle fatigue, Margaret knew it would be with him forever. Beyond that, his life in Congress, where he’d been for almost a decade now, was infinitely frustrating—accomplishing anything good required Sisyphean efforts, while ethical compromises were everywhere. And at some point along the way, Charlie found that the constant fundraising and glad-handing to stay in office for his New York constituents had begun to eclipse the work itself.

Ahead, the members of the Rat Pack and their hangers-on were oblivious to the Marders’ concerns; they were soaked in bourbon, singing, laughing, and loudly gossiping about ghosts as they stumbled around the graveyard. Charlie and Margaret could make out pieces of their conversations.

There goes Wallace Beery.

He won an Oscar too, Frank!

Remember he and a couple mobsters beat that guy to death at the Troc?

Suzan Ball.

Lucille’s cousin.



Bit parts. Aladdin and His Lamp.

Here’s the Garden of Memory.

Some reverence, folks, Bogie is over there.

Bogart, Sinatra’s hero, was credited with coining the term Rat Pack to describe an altogether different group of friends, but both the term and Bogie’s beloved Lauren Bacall had been posthumously co-opted by his protégé Sinatra.

Charlie and Margaret headed back, and the snatches of conversation soon grew too distant for them to hear. They made their way over the hills on narrow paved roads to the parking lot. Earlier, Margaret, the ever-prepared former Girl Scout, had stashed the small first-aid kit she brought with her on all family excursions in the trunk of their rented white 1962 Impala convertible.

“We’re missing all the fun,” Charlie said as a gunshot followed by the pop of an exploding light bulb cracked in the distance. “I’m really fine, honey.”

“Sure sounds like fun,” Margaret said as she held out her hand for the keys. Charlie reluctantly produced them.

She inserted the key and opened the trunk while Charlie looked to the hills, where the echoes of crooning and guffaws sounded almost like local wildlife. Then Margaret screamed.

From the gauzy illumination of a distant streetlamp, Charlie saw the shape in the trunk, a big shape.

It was a body.

Charlie stepped closer. He recognized the face, as did Margaret, who turned away. He looked with horror at the woman that they’d last seen days before and that he’d seen quite a bit of in the past few weeks.

Her eyes were two bloody caverns; they must have been shot out. There was some brain and bone residue in the trunk but not enough to suggest she had been shot there. Her mouth was agape, her jaw helplessly, horrifically slack.

Charlie and Margaret stood frozen until the sudden arrival of the Rat Pack, who apparently had raced over in response to Margaret’s shriek.

Sinatra looked into the trunk.

“Charlie,” he said. “Just what the hell have you done?”

Chapter Two

New York City

One month earlier—December 1961

The Marders’ phone did not usually ring at five in the morning, but Charlie had been up, staring at the ceiling, so he picked it up right away.

It was his father, Winston Marder. “Call my lawyer, Alistair Crutchfield. Then go to my house, get my diabetes medicine, and bring it to me. I’m in the Tombs.”

“You’re what?”

“It’s a nickname for the federal—”

“I know what the Tombs are!”

“Good, then I don’t need to give you directions.” The line went dead.

Charlie dressed quietly so as not to wake Margaret. She’d gone to sleep before him last night; these days, she regularly turned in before he did. Charlie’s nights were consumed with meetings, fundraisers, drinks with aides and consultants. He’d been in Congress for roughly eight years now, providing constituent services, pressing the flesh at street fairs and parties for local big shots, helping veterans, pushing for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and, less successfully, the Equal Pay Act for women. Charlie did whatever he could to stay viable as an Eisenhower/Rockefeller Republican in an increasingly Democratic Manhattan.

He tiptoed down the steps of their Greenwich Village brownstone and quickly hailed a cab to the Manhattan House of Detention, called the Tombs because the original structure, built in 1838, had resembled an ancient Egyptian mausoleum. The prison had been torn down and rebuilt twice since then, but the nickname stuck, as did its reputation for unrivaled wretchedness.

Two hours later Charlie was wedged into a small booth deep in the bowels of the facility looking through a thick pane of glass at his freshly arrested father.

“This place is infested with cockroaches and rats,” Winston Marder barked into his end of the telephone. “My cellmate weighs around eight hundred pounds and was pinched for molesting children. How do you think I’m doing?”

“But what did they charge you with?” Charlie asked.

“Some nonsense about consorting with known criminals. You can blame the playboy in the White House and his prick brother,” his father said, apparently by way of explanation. “A particularly specious charge to level against an attorney, as Alistair will prove. I’m sure they’ll cast it as part of Bobby’s crusade against organized crime.”

By his inflection, Winston conveyed his contempt for the attorney general. Charlie wondered if there was any truth to the charges but didn’t ask; the walls probably had ears.

“But why aren’t they offering bail?” Charlie asked.

“Some nonsense about me being a flight risk,” Winston said. “Where’s Alistair? Didn’t you call him?”

“He’s in Washington, he’s coming back on the first train.”

Winston grunted, a guttural note of dissatisfaction.

Winston Marder had a predilection for dark rooms and evening hours, so it had been years since Charlie had seen his father in such harsh light. What he saw under the fluorescent bulbs was dismaying. Winston’s skin looked almost greenish. The bags under his eyes appeared inflated and underlined. He was sixty-five but looked eighty, and his voice was shaky.

To the outside world, Winston was a savvy fixer and New York power broker who had worked his way up from a Brooklyn tenement to a four-story Upper East Side residence by making the right friends and the right deals. A Teddy Roosevelt Republican, he’d fought on the western front during the Great War and was wounded in the Second Battle of the Somme. Winston had a hand in every political pot he could reach. Seeking distraction after his wife’s death, he’d worked hard with his friend Governor Rockefeller to deliver the Empire State to Nixon in 1960, only to see that slick Jack Kennedy and his bootlegger father snatch it away.

The double blow of his wife’s death three years before and the election-night loss seemed to defeat Winston. Charlie’s father now often failed to show up for lunch dates at the Harvard Club—something that would once have been as unthinkable as putting ice in his whiskey—and Charlie frequently paid unannounced visits to his home to check on him. His dad initially would seem as sharp as the knuckle-duster trench knife he’d brought back from the war, but after a few drinks he’d sometimes repeat himself or descend into non sequiturs. Now, looking at his father through a cloudy, scratched glass window in the tiny room that stank of filth and mildew, Charlie worried that the trauma of the arrest had accelerated Winston’s decline.

There was a rap on the steel door, and Charlie turned to see a guard and a man he guessed was an associate sent by Crutchfield. The young man—closely cropped blond hair, air of noblesse oblige—dripped with disdain for his surroundings. Winston gave the slightest nod to acknowledge their arrival, then lowered his head and whispered urgently into the receiver: “Find out what Bobby wants and give it to him.”

Charlie looked at his father, waiting for more, but the guard grabbed Charlie under his arm and roughly pulled him out of the seat so the young lawyer could take his place.

Chapter Three

New York City

December 1961

Charlie couldn’t wait to breathe the cold air outside after the stench and claustrophobia of the Tombs. A brutal wind ripped his coat open; a winter storm had rolled onto Manhattan Island, pelting the city with freezing rain. He looked left and right for a neon sign. He needed a bar.

Ah. Across the street: the Last Shot.

It was 9:40 a.m.

The day drinking had started when his shell shock—a constant state of restless anxiety—had returned in full force, around the time of his fortieth birthday. So far he’d done a decent job of hiding it. Pushing away thoughts of what would happen if Margaret found out was as much a part of his routine as the mouthwash and chewing gum.

He had gone from nearly daily to assuredly daily drinking earlier that year, after a tough election. Forced into a brutal contest for his House seat against a young Democratic city councilman, Charlie reluctantly hired an Albany consultant with legendarily fungible morality, a man who made promises to local labor unions that Charlie learned about only after he’d won. Some union goons came calling with a list of demands Charlie couldn’t possibly accommodate, and they made it clear they were backed by friends in Chicago whose manners weren’t so genteel. They had delivered the union vote for Charlie Marder and now it was time for Charlie to deliver for them.

Charlie kept all this stress from Margaret, said nothing about the fire that burned inside him that only booze could quell. But now, before he could even step off the curb and cross Canal for that breakfast bourbon, a black Chrysler Imperial pulled up. On the passenger side, a man with white hair and a bullfrog neck that swallowed his chin rolled down his window and flashed his ID.

“Addington White, Department of Justice,” he said. “Hop in.”

Charlie hesitated, looking longingly at the entrance to the bar, then ruefully did as he was told. He guessed that the driver and the man in the back seat were also with the Justice Department. Based on their washed-out faces and similar builds, he assumed they were once-trim veterans now growing soft due to too much time behind their desks.

Charlie focused on his breathing, which sometimes helped him overcome the agitation in his soul until he was able to get his hands on the means to drown it. Back in France, fighting the Krauts, he’d learned to jam his anxieties and emotions into some faraway corner of his mind. He tried to do this now; he needed to channel all his energy toward figuring out a way to extricate his father.

The agents were quiet. Then White said, “We’ll be there in a few short minutes, Congressman.”

“There?” Charlie said. “Am I under arrest?”

“No, no,” White said. “Nothing like that.”

“And you’re taking me” Charlie said.

“To a meeting,” White said.

“Do I need to call my lawyer?” Charlie asked. “My wife?” He looked at his watch; at this hour Margaret would have dropped Lucy, seven, off at elementary school and would likely be at a playground with Dwight, five. He probably wouldn’t be able to reach her on the phone until after lunch. He and his wife had moved back to his Manhattan congressional district after an insanely crazed first year in Congress, during which both he and Margaret had been enveloped in a vast conspiracy. Charlie now spent his weeks in DC and traveled home from the capital on the weekends and during congressional breaks, as was the case now.

“No,” said White. “The attorney general wants to see you.”

“Well, great.” Charlie wasn’t sure which made him angrier, being shanghaied by the Feds or missing his morning appointment with Jack Daniel’s. The sight of his father—stooped in his prison grays, undereye bags so big they could hide contraband, hands shaking—had hollowed him.

“Find out what Bobby wants,” his father had said, “and give it to him.” What Attorney General Kennedy wanted, Charlie could not yet fathom.

Winston Marder hated Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and, by association, his sons Jack and Bobby with the intensity of the hellfire that the Allies had unleashed on Dresden. Charlie, for his part, had gotten along with the Democratic princes, an attitude born of both hope and necessity.


  • “Frank Sinatra, Robert Kennedy and Charlie Marder — you can’t lose with this combination of characters in The Devil May Dance. Jake Tapper explores the thin lines between politics, pop culture and crime, and the story is always gripping, accurate and right on target when it comes to underlining that the past is prologue and politics are always played for keeps.”—Michael Connelly
  • "Tapper’s excellent sequel to 2018’s The Hellfire Club opens with a highly effective tease. . . .Tapper makes good use of the rich source material."

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “One helluva a mystery—bursting with early-‘60s luminarios from Bobby Kennedy to Frank Sinatra and his swinging gang. Tapper effortlessly blends a journalist’s sharp eye with a storyteller’s keen sense of suspense: The result is as bracing as the bourbon the book's Rat Packers knock back and as fizzy as the champagne the Hollywood stars swig. Raise a glass.”—Gillian Flynn
  • "From the moment you enter The Hellfire Club's world of suspense and intrigue and sex and danger, you won't want to leave. The swampy world of 1954 Washington DC feels vividly relevant in our current day politics. A must read!"—Shonda Rhimes
  • "Jake Tapper's deep inside knowledge of power, greed and politics fuels this riveting page-turner. Warning: Don't start this book late at night unless you have no plans the next day." —Harlan Coben

On Sale
May 17, 2022
Page Count
336 pages
Back Bay Books

Jake Tapper

About the Author

Jake Tapper has written two New York Times bestselling novels, The Hellfire Club and The Devil May Dance, as well as the bestselling nonfiction book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, which was turned into a critically acclaimed film in 2020. He is the lead DC anchor and chief Washington correspondent for CNN. A Dartmouth graduate and Philly native, he lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, daughter, and son.

Learn more about this author