Last Call at the Hotel Imperial
What a strange book.
The subject is irresistible: a group biography of John Gunther, Dorothy Thompson, H. R. Knickerbocker, and Vincent Sheean, four icons of journalism who roamed Europe to create and hone the role of foreign correspondent before, during, and after World War II.
In a brilliant prologue, author Deborah Cohen offers a preview of this gripping, all-important period of history as we’ve rarely seen it, through the eyes and words of the talented quartet, journalists who didn’t just report events but tried to reach beyond facts to something like the truth. Sometimes they succeeded, other times not, but their efforts were rarely less than heroic.
The book delivers on that promise, and more. The problem is the more.
Two-thirds of the narrative is the fascinating, sometimes riveting story of their adventures and reports. But the remaining third focuses on their sex lives, in great detail. He was sleeping with her. She was sleeping with him. She was sleeping with her, and he with him.
Do we care? We do not.
Obviously sex was part of their lives. It affected their work and their relationships, so it’s legitimate to include. But do we really need to know who was having orgasms and who wasn’t?
What a shame. Deborah Cohen is a fine writer, and she has found a great subject. In exploring it, she has written two-thirds of a very good book.