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Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
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How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory

A-Operation MincemeatNot only did Ben Macintyre, an associate editor for the Times (UK) and the author of five previous works of nonfiction (including Agent Zigzag, 4.5 of 5 Stars Selection Mar/Apr 2008), gain access to recently declassified records concerning this historic stunt, but he was also the lucky recipient of never-before-seen MI5 and MI6 files, letters, memos, drafts, and photographs belonging to the operation’s chief counterintelligence officer, Ewen Montagu.

The Topic: On April 30, 1943, the body of Major William Martin of the Royal Marines washed up on the coast of Spain with crucial letters outlining the Allies’ planned invasion of southern Europe. These letters eventually fell into Nazi hands, prompting Hitler to redirect Axis troops from Sicily to Greece and Sardinia. Thus unfolded one of the most elaborate, audacious, and unbelievable hoaxes in the history of espionage, argues Macintyre: Major Martin was an invention of British intelligence, his alleged body was the corpse of a homeless man stolen from the morgue, and the documents he carried were forgeries. Operation Mincemeat, originally proposed by none other than Lt. Comm. Ian Fleming, paved the way for the relatively bloodless Allied conquest of Sicily and, later, Italy.
Harmony. 416 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780307453273

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"With his mix of meticulous research and a good hack’s eye for narrative, it is hard to think of a better guide to keep beckoning us back to that fascinating world. ... Macintyre, by means of extensive sleuthing--there are more than 30 pages of impeccable annotated notes--and a fortuitous visit to the son of intelligence officer Ewen Montagu, one of the main players possessed of the necessary ‘corkscrew mind’, gives the final word on this extraordinary episode." Euan Ferguson

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"What makes Operation Mincemeat so winning, in addition to Mr. Macintyre’s meticulous research and the layers of his historical understanding, is his elegant, jaunty and very British high style. The major players in this spy story seem to have emerged from an Evelyn Waugh novel that’s been tweaked by P. G. Wodehouse." Dwight Garner

Spectator (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The author has got right inside the minds of the staff who prepared the plot, as well as those who were deceived by it, and has also detected several sub-plots of interest. ... The many and revealing illustrations enhance a chillingly good book." M. R. D. Foot

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"With its fantastic plot and its cast of eccentric characters, the book reads like the most improbable of spy stories. It is a tribute to Macintyre’s skill that we never for a moment forget that it is actually all true." Keith Lowe

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Here, finally, is the complete story with its full cast of characters (not a dull one among them), pure catnip to fans of World War II thrillers and a lot of fun for everyone else. ... Could it really have been like this? Full of daring and self-effacing heroism and romantic conquests in Algiers? Operation Mincemeat suggests that it really was--at least some of the time." Joseph Kanon

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Macintyre’s thumbnail sketches of Montagu and company are adroit, if at times dangerously close to being over the top. He ignores [an intelligence officer’s] warning about the danger of ‘overcooking’ an espionage ruse, but for the most part all the rich trimmings and flourishes make for great fun." Jennet Conant

Critical Summary

Thanks to Macintyre’s meticulous research and discovery of original documents, here, finally, is the definitive version of this incredible tale, complete with an eccentric cast of characters and thrilling, suspenseful moments. Critics on both sides of the pond lavished praise on Operation Mincemeat, citing Macintyre’s flair for detail and his skill in rendering the Allies’ convoluted machinations into a cohesive story, which races along with a novel’s momentum. The New York Times Book Review grumbled about some overly embellished characters (but also considered the book "great fun"), while the Washington Post considered Macintyre’s delightful protagonists--dashing officers, suave scoundrels, beautiful damsels, and colorful oddballs--his greatest achievement. A riveting page-turner, Operation Mincemeat will captivate fans of all genres.

Supplemental Reading

The Man Who Never Was World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation | Ewen Montague (1953): This official, but censored, version of the story, written by a primary organizer of Operation Mincemeat, sold more than three million copies.