"DOUBLE CROSS: The True Story of the D-Day Spies," by Ben Macintyre, Crown Publishing, $26, 416 pages (nf)
Ben Macintyre's new book, “Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies,” contains some wonderful stories and genuinely thrilling moments, but ultimately is an uneven, unsatisfying read.
A British journalist, Macintyre is the author of “Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured Allied Victory” and “Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal.” “Double Cross” builds upon similar themes from these books, namely the efforts of the British secret service to pull the wool over the eyes of German intelligence.
“Double Cross” details the career of five German agents who supplied the Nazis with detailed information throughout the course of World War II. These spies proved highly valuable to the German high command for the critical information they passed on. Knowledge of allied military dispositions and sensitive political material flowed into occupied Europe from the British Isles, giving the Germans a unique, crucial picture of what their enemies were up to.
There was only one problem: These spies were all double agents acting under the control of the British secret service, MI5, and the military and political picture the Germans had of their allies was exactly what the British wanted them to see.
The spies themselves are flawed characters who gravitated to espionage for various reasons: Roman Czerniawski, the Polish emigre who hates what the Nazi have done to his homeland and vows revenge; Dusko Popov, the German-educated Yugoslav who was recruited by a best friend, who then learns Popov holds the Nazis in the utmost contempt; Lily Sergeyev, the French-Russian journalist whose love for her little dog will be her undoing; Elvira de la Fuente Chaudoir, the Argentine whose expensive tastes nearly bankrupts both MI5 and German intelligence.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the spies, however, is “Agent Garbo,” the Spaniard Juan Pujol, whose desire to work for the British leads to incredible risks and ever greater rewards for the allied cause.
The book's subtitle is a bit misleading as the events around D-Day cover perhaps only 50 pages or so of this 350-plus page book. Rather, much time is spent detailing the careers' of the spies, which by turns is engaging and monotonous, and supplemented with a barrage of tangential stories. Some of these smaller stories, like the actor who was recruited to impersonate Gen. Bernard Montgomery, are interesting but draw away from the main narrative and never really explored with the depth the stories deserve. Macintyre begins to discuss Gen. George Patton's role in Operation Fortitude, the D-Day deception plan, but doesn’t offer more than a general overview.
The general impression of this book is that it is too ambitious and only partially successful. Had Macintyre focused more on the spies' role in Operation Fortitude, it might have made for a better, more concentrated and ultimately more readable work.
It should be said that Macintyre's research is exhaustive and impressive. Had he adopted a more academic approach rather than one bordering on the sensational, this book might have worked better. One gets the sense that Macintyre hoped to milk all of the drama out of this story that he could. It is a good thing to find and present the dramatic narrative of history, but unfortunately too often he sacrifices focus as he leaps from one story to the next without ever quite giving any its due, or lingering too long while laboring to get to the point.
"Double Cross" does contain some occasional foul language and sexual innuendo references, though nothing explicit.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the codeveloper of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: email@example.com