I chose this book because Andy Inatkho recommended it on MacBreak Weekly. In fact he recommended it a couple of times, and I've found that my own tastes tend to run in the same nerdly directions as his, so here we are. I loved this book. I found myself returning to it on Audible whenever I had a spare couple of minutes and will probably procure myself a hard copy at some point. It is shelf-worthy.
As a quick note on the audiobook version, it took me a couple of minutes listening to adjust to John Lee's narration, having just come off his reading of Alastair Reynolds. I find that the sound of a narrator's voice tends to trigger a lot of memories associated with the last thing you heard them reading. Having said that, I think he was a much better choice to read this one than the Reynolds title, with a much a much better command of the various accents in play.
The story, of course, is magnificent. It had already been told in The Man with No Name by Ewen Montagu, one of the principal protagonists. However, Montagu agreed to leave out a lot of critical details, and to include others that would mislead the public because of the still sensitive nature of some of the revelations, including the connivance of the Spanish military and intelligence services in helping the Germans during the war.
The first couple of chapters of the book, which set the scene in wartime London, reminded me of the opening moments of Brideshead Revisited. Not that I've ever read the book, or even watched the whole series. But it always seemed to be on in the background when I was a child and I do recall the way is evoked the social life of upper-class England in the pre-war years. Macintyre has done excellent, top shelf work here in historical journalism. It's not easy. You can spend days tracking down the smallest detail which appears in only one line and is often missed by the reader in the great flow of all the surrounding detail as it rushes by.
One of the real achievements, I thought, was the way he captured character with almost Dickensian exactitude.
Ewen Montagu, in particular, was a great 'character' from the world of the pre-war elite, but one who just happened to be real, while the role of James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, added a weird, almost fantastic element to the telling. But you got used to that the further into the book you read. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the story touched tangentially on English popular culture of the postwar period again and again. The variety show, for instance, attended by Montagu, Cholmondeley and their dates, including the 'girlfriend' of Major Martin, in which some of the minor performers turned out to be major celebrities of the postwar period. Or the name Goldeneye, which Fleming bestowed on his Caribbean compound, and which was one of 007’s shorter stories. It was originally Operation Goldeneye, a Fleming plan to run insurgents in Spain should it enter the war on Hitler’s side.
The incidental characters, submarine captain Bill Jewell, the US Army ranger, Bond's future boss M, all of the spies and counter spies in Spain, they were all worth the price of admission on their own. Taken together they’d be an unbelievable cast for a thriller novel – except of course they were all real. There was even a bit of a Weapons of Choice moment for me when reading the passage where Churchill is briefed on the op, in his jammies, in bed, puffing on a fat cigar.
There were a number of lessons that rang very strongly with me. The way the German’s talked themselves into being deceived, resonated with real force. After nearly coming a cropper early in my magazine writing career I adopted the motto that the story you most want to hear is the story of which you should be most skeptical. The Wehrmacht and Hitler really, really wanted to believe in all the various phantoms the British sent their way and in giving into the desires they doomed themselves.
I couldn’t help casting a modern movie of this tory in my imagination. A slightly younger Sam Neill as Montagu. I think Guru Bob’s suggestion of John Cleese for Cholmondeley was brilliant. Kate Beckinsale as Pam (because Havoc). Maybe Kenneth Brannagh as Fleming.
And Jason Statham as Bill Jewell. A submarine captain who can round house kick a German torpedo boat.