Sunday, August 28, 2011

#61: Operation Mincemeat by Ben McIntyre

New York, Harmony Books: 2010. 321 pages

I saw the movie The Man Who Never Was when I was a kid, but did not appreciate that it was based on a true story. Here it is in skeletal form:
1. Allies need to keep the Germans from bulking up defenses in Sicily
2. British spies plan to utilize the ol' false documents approach
3. All we need is a corpse, fake documents, something to keep the body from decomposing and a submarine to place them all in Spanish waters.
4. We also need a coroner with the name Bentley Purchase, who when making appointments with people at the morgue suggests that they can take a cab "or be hit by one" to arrive at the same destination.
5. A cool name for the operation, which is not Operation Dead Welshman in a Can. Or, Operation Do You Have Prince Albert in a Can?

As you may guess, the hunt for a suitable body and the preparation of the documents is where the strengths of this book lay. It has it all, right down to the model of "M" from the James Bond films. Ian Fleming, author of the books, is involved on the periphery. The description of the impact of the documents is somewhat anti-climactic, leaving the last 100 pages or so of the text a little dry. With the exception of one of Hitler's Intelligence officers who knowingly passed false info to the Fuhrer there are none of the characters who drive the first half of the text.

Why are spies just inherently cooler than anyone else? Even the German guys are downright fascinating (this takes me quite a bit to admit). What is it? Ability to speak 14 languages, shoot people, play cards, golf and be chock full of idiosyncrasies? Yeah, I guess that's it. I am idiosyncratic, can't speak my native language 2/3 of the time, hate playing cards and believe the only golf that exists includes large Hippos, Windmills and ice cream at the end,. Hence, I am not as cool as a spy.

McIntyre is a distinguished author of "true operations" stories, and his style is excellent. His bibliography is detailed (listing several other books that sound worthwhile) and the afterwards section, detailing the fate of the major players in the story, is well done. Overall, a great first 230 pages followed by a weaker 100.

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