Letters for a Spy, by Stephen Benatar

A corpse is recovered from the sea, and attached to the dead man is a briefcase containing letters which are passed to the Abwehr. The letters hint at a change in British strategy in the Mediterranean, but the germans are concerned that perhaps this is an elaborate plot on the part of the British, so they send an agent to England. His job is to establish the authenticity of the story, based on the personal effects that were found on the recovered body.

This book was one of about four that were pushed into my hands by the author himself last year, and since I am going through a WW2 phase at present, I chose this one (the others were not set in this period, as far as I remember). After buying the book, I googled the author and it turns out that he spends his weekends in bookshops. An article in the Guardian had a few responses from people saying that they liked his books so I was looking forward to reading it.

It wasn't until after I'd finished reading the book, and read the foreward, that I realised it was based on a true story ("Operation Mincemeat"). But it's an imagined story: in reality the germans accepted the truth of the documents, and didn't send a spy to England.

Given that I didn't realise all this while I was reading the novel, I hadn't really got an idea of what kind of story it was - a spy story? a war adventure? a love story..? It had elements of all these.

The writing was very good, but I didn't feel the book quite worked - partly I think because it couldn't quite decide whether it was a spy/war/love story and so it was hard to know where to direct your attention and feelings - should I be getting anxious about whether he'll uncover the secret? Or worried that he'll break her heart? I enjoyed it, but don't think it fulfilled its potential.

I'd read more by the author though, especially "Wish Her Safe at Home" which seems to be the one most people rate.

Completed : 13-Mar-2010

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