I should have known that Double Cross wasn’t going to be an easy read when I first picked it up. Books about elusive people whose actual lives meander from one disreputable pursuit to another, who then assume the identities of people who never existed at all are usually the literary equivalent of a dense London fog. At least they are for me. I had read Ben Macintyre’s earlier books, Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat, both of which expertly drew me into the world of spies and deception and people who never took a breath of life, so I decided to risk encountering the occasional fog bank.
Double Cross didn’t disappoint even if it took some self-discipline to settle into its labyrinthine narrative and I had to pause frequently to recall what code name belonged to which agent.
In wartime, the ability to manufacture disinformation is as vital as the capacity for building planes. During the early part of World War II, Tar Robertson, an operative with the British intelligence agency MI5, devised a sophisticated system to feed lies and half-truths to Adolf Hitler. MI5 and MI6 were aware of the identities of the German spies in England and all of them, through varying degrees of persuasion, were recruited as double agents.
That didn’t mean that the elaborate deceptions necessary to impact the outcome of the war were any less complex or any more assured. Nobody really trusted anybody. It was the nature of the business. (And it was much more a lucrative business than a noble calling to most of the agents.) The German operatives working on behalf of the British had, at one time, sworn allegiance to the Third Reich and had been just as convincing to the Nazi hierarchy when they were doing it.
Hitler knew that eventually the Allied forces would make an attempt to invade Europe. It became crucial to the success of the massive operation to convince the Germans that the main thrust of the assault would come somewhere other than in Normandy. In 1943, Robertson urged Winston Churchill to take advantage of his network of double agents. The prime minister, who thrived upon cloak and dagger intrigue, loved the idea.
All of the fabricated data supplied by the double agents to their case officers in the Abwehr, the German intelligence organization, pointed to the invasion sites being in Norway and the Pas-de-Calais in the northern part of France. To bolster the false impression, an entire army was created out of thin air.
The perpetuation of military mirages fell to a group of disparate men and women whose motives were not always rooted in any adherence to an ideology beyond the advancement of their own interests. Among them was the pampered daughter of a wealthy Peruvian diplomat who had fallen upon tough times, a Pole determined to restore his country’s independence, a chicken farmer, and a Russian expatriate who loved her little dog, Babs, more than anything in the world.
Lily Sergeyev, Agent Treasure, agreed to supply Germany with false information from Great Britain on the condition that Babs be allowed into the country with her. She was assured that the dog would be cared for until the proper procedure was followed for permitting an animal into England. She learned a few months later that Babs had been killed in an unfortunate “accident.” Sergeyev, who was in a position to feed the Germans exact information about the D-Day landings, vowed that someone would pay dearly for her pet’s death.
It is to the author’s credit that his readers forget, from time to time, that the invasion at Normandy was a success. If the landings had been repulsed, the war might have dragged on for years and years and exacted millions more lives. Like a nail-biting suspense story, Double Cross takes us to the edge of disaster so convincingly that the ultimate outcome of the tale becomes secondary to its evolution. In a real sense, for a period of time the fate of the free world hinged upon the planned retribution for a dead poodle.
You just can’t make up stuff like that.
Double Cross will be released by Crown Publishing on July 31, 2012.
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