Letters for a Spy
In April 1943, the British set up Operation Mincemeat with the aim of fooling the Germans into thinking that the Allies would attack Europe via Sardinia rather than Sicily, the more logical choice. They arranged for the body of a drowned “Major Martin”, carrying top secret documents to that effect, to be washed up on a Spanish beach. The Spanish authorities allowed a German agent to remove the documents. He believed them to be genuine and the Germans duly altered their war plans.
So much is history. In this enjoyable book, part thriller, part romantic adventure, Benatar has the young Erich Anders, working for German Intelligence and a fluent English speaker, come to Britain to check out the story. Erich is a likable young man: diffident, intelligent and with a niggle of unease about some of the German top brass but a patriot all the same.
Erich’s brief is to test the “evidence”, which includes seeking out Martin’s fiancée, Sybella, in the hope that, if it’s a hoax, she will give something away. But what begins as a simple quest soon turns into something much more challenging, as holes in the story emerge and Erich’s relationship with Sybella becomes more personal. This is a book of shifting realities and shifting truths, together with the ever-present danger of Erich being captured and shot as a spy.
For me, Letters for a Spy fulfils the criteria for good writing set out by that acknowledged master of English prose, George Orwell: Benatar uses simple, clear English, without clichés, long-windedness or overuse of the passive. I found it impossible to put down. It was like reading a kaleidoscope – the patterns were ever shifting – and I was engrossed both intellectually and emotionally.
A terrific story, beautifully told, and I recommend it highly.