Murder, Inc.: The CIA Under John F. Kennedy
By James H. Johnston. (Potomac Books, 343 pages, $32.95.)

Many books touching on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy have an agenda, jumping through a series of conspiratorial hoops to bolster a conclusion already arrived at. James Johnston's "Murder, Inc.," is different: He dispassionately sifts through the evidence regarding the CIA's activities during the Kennedy administration and the president's keen interest in overthrowing Fidel Castro, and comes up not so much with answers as with some very intriguing questions.

Did Castro warn JFK of possible retaliation for the CIA's many (and inept) attempts to kill the Cuban dictator? Was the CIA campaign to kill Castro the reason why it withheld information from the federal investigations into Kennedy's assassination? And just what was pro-Castroite Lee Harvey Oswald (who, whatever else we know about him, almost certainly was the shooter, Johnston says) listening to on his Soviet-made portable radio during lonely evenings in the tiny bedroom of his boardinghouse?

Johnston, a Washington, D.C., attorney who served as lawyer for the 1970s Senate investigations into CIA assassination plots, here puts that knowledge to good use. He wrote much of the book with the aid of recently declassified "secret" government files on the JFK assassination, offering a complete analysis of the CIA's so-called AMLASH operation to kill Castro — plans for which were being discussed in Paris even as Kennedy's car entered Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

Castro later denied any role in Kennedy's death. But the administration's tireless efforts to remove him from power later led President Lyndon Johnson to believe that his predecessor had been killed in retaliation. We likely will never know for sure exactly what happened, but Johnston has built a firm foundation to argue that the U.S. government's own efforts to kill Castro may have backfired in the most tragic way imaginable.