‘One April morning in 1943, a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in train a course of events that would change the course of the Second World War”.
Operation Mincemeat is one of the most audacious true stories of the 20th century if not ever. Featuring, as it does, Mr Ian Fleming (he of James Bond authoring fame), you may be deceived into thinking this is a fiction book, but that is the first bit of misdirection you will come across in this true story spy thriller.
And thrilled you certainly shall be! The mission, (should you choose to read it, will happily not destruct five seconds after you finish) was to comprehensively hoodwink the entire German hierarchy into believing the Allies would attack Greece instead of Sicily, by deploying a dead soldier with fake plans and forged papers into the seas off of ‘neutral’ Spain.
This dead man however is no soldier, he has a history that is entirely made up and a past life lived for him by British wartime intelligence. A personal life that is so detailed in its planning that its perpetrators eventually start to believe their own duplicity.
Operation Mincemeat is much more than just a dry retelling of a historical event however, it actually reads like a wartime thriller, and essentially that’s what it is. Ben MacIntyre clearly has a passion for wartime espionage and it shows through here with this rollercoaster historical account which shows the lengths the coverup had to go too, and the paranoia and spy shenanigans that both sides partook in.
By turns romantic, funny, tense and farcical . In fact so farcical some of it wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On film. The mishaps and sheer gullibility on display really are something special. That is not to say the book lapses into cheap laughs, quite the contrary it makes the experience richer. The imagination and inventiveness that go into the whole charade are absolutely enthralling.
The obvious pleasure MacIntyre has had telling this story really shows throughout, With such a varied cast of characters (including a transvestite English spymaster and a dead Welsh tramp), the book is never confusing and is immensely readable throughout. It has that ability to grip and draw you in, which seems to be lacking in some of the less than sensational war books that have been churned out of late.