I chose to read this one next as I have been reading a lot of fiction, and as the last one (Clare Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn) was a little on the depressing side, I thought I would mix it up a bit with something that guaranteed to be entertaining. I’d heard a lot about the subject matter of this book and when I saw it in a charity shop thought I would buy it.
The cover calls it “the true spy story that changed the course of World War II”. If you didn’t know it was true, you would find it pretty unbelievable. In a nutshell, its about how the British intelligence services dumped the dead body of a Welsh tramp off the coast of Spain with a briefcase containing documents which suggested that the Allies would not attack Sicily but instead invade via Sardinia and Greece, hoping that the Spanish authorities would pass the information on to the Germans. It is not much of a spoiler to say that it worked!
Knowing the story, the fascinating thing for me about this book is the ‘back stories’ of everybody involved and the little details and connections with which Macintyre furnishes us. We find out about the famous racing driver who had the job of driving the body up to Scotland to be put on the submarine, the network of agents and double agents across Europe, the (probable) life and death of the tramp and all the characters working in British intelligence. On this point, thought, I do have a little niggle. As fascinating as it was, I don’t quite know why so much time was devoted to Ivor Montagu, the brother of Ewen, one of the architects of the plot. Macintyre is obviously scandalised that he was a Soviet spy but its not really that relevant to Operation Mincemeat. Similarly, its hard to be completely convinced that they whole success of the invasion of Sicily and subsequent defeat of the Axis power was ALL down to this one scam. He does a good job of trying to persuade you, but doesn’t quite succeed with me… maybe I’m too cynical!
One final stylistic point which bothered me a little, and that is largely because I have ‘done academic History’, is that I don’t like end notes that aren’t numbered in the text. My personal preference in a book is for footnotes as its easiest to read but I understand this is ‘popular history’ (ugh I sound like a horrible snob) and they might not want to clutter the page, but its a real pain to have to look it up in the back, find the sentence they are referring to etc etc. It disrupts the flow of reading and I ended up just not bothering to look at them, which is bad really.
Up Next: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver