Friday, July 19, 2013
Review: DOUBLE CROSS, by Ben Macintyre
Earlier this year I read the great book Agent Zigzag, about World War 2 double agent Eddie Chapman, an Englishman recruited by the Germans to spy on the British, then recruited by the British to spy on them. Chapman was part of a program run by MI5 called Double Cross, a system that MI5 used to feed misinformation to the Germans throughout the war, involving many agents from different walks of life. These agents were used in a variety of operations, the most spectacular of which was the deception leading up to the invasion of Normandy, the crucial turning point for the Allies on their way to victory.
Double Cross tells the story of the program and the way that five agents planted the deception and helped it grow. Dushko Popov, a Serbian playboy, Lilli Sergeyev, a Franco-Russian artist, Elvira Chaudois, a Peruvian socialite, Juan Pujol Garcia, a Spanish civil servant, and Roman Czerniawski, a Polish military intelligence officer, worked independently with MI5 handlers to manipulate agents of the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency, into believing that the D-Day landing would take place on the Pas de Calais and not the Normandy beaches. A sixth agent, Johnny Jebsen, was also pivotal to the deception and could be said to be the true hero of the Double Cross system; Macintyre also tells his story here, and it's one you won't forget.
The story of Double Cross is really the story of the relationships between the spies and their handlers, both German and British, and Macintyre tells us much about how both intelligence services worked. We meet characters like Thomas Argyll "Tar" Robertson, head of the Double Cross system and other handlers like John Masterman and Guy Liddell. How they did or didn't get along with their charges would have a big influence on the success of the deception. Macintyre goes into each agent's story in detail so by the time they are needed for the D-Day operation, we know their stories in depth. Macintyre also tells us about other aspects of the deception, such as the story of the double-agent pigeons and various crises that threaten to blow the whole thing.
I loved this book. I was hooked on it from beginning to end and hung on every word. John Lee, narrator of the audio, does a great job holding the listener's attention. He brings the characters to life with accents and mannerisms that flesh them out without being distracting. He is particularly effective with the more comic elements of the story also. There is just so much to enjoy about this book. Macintyre's writing is fresh, engaging and accessible; he combines the thorough research of a top-notch journalist with the punchy writing of a detective novelist into a thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating and memorable package. I've already bought his book Operation Mincemeat and can't wait to get to it. There are so many crazy stories behind World War 2, so many improbable, unlikely and just plain bizarre things that went on and Macintyre illuminates a corner of the espionage game here and in his other books. If you are interested in World War 2 history you have to read this guy!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.