Book Review: Double Cross by Ben MacIntyre

Title: Double Cross: The True Stories of the D-Day Spies

Author: Ben Macintyre

Genre: World War II History

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication Date: 27th March 2012

Hardback: 432 pages (including photos)

Stand Alone or Series: Stand alone. However, if you like this Macintyre has done a series of espionage books including ‘Agent Zigzag’ and ‘Operation Mincemeat.’

This is a true story of D-Day. However, instead of stories from the soldiers on the front it takes you behind the scenes into a world of secrets and subterfuge and into the minds of whom the greatest lie was formed in order to convince the Nazis that Calais and Norway, not Normandy were the targets of the largest sea invasion of World War II.

Why did I choose to read this book? Ben Macintyre had come to my attention via a friend who is a felllow history lover. I first read his book ‘Agent ZigZag’ which I couldn’t put down and since then I’ve kept a look out for anything new he’s written.

Where to read: Somewhere quiet where you can’t be distracted by people or noise – there are a lot of things to keep track of!

Refreshments: Pots of tea/coffee and water – stay alert people!

Review:

Ben Macintyre’s latest book introduces us to the double agents involved in the deception of Germany in the build up to the D-Day landings and puts forward a case for their importance in the plan’s success. Double Cross focuses on a troop of bizarre individuals that according to him were crucial in the success of this operation. There were five main D-Day agents: a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a Polish fighter pilot, a rogue Serbian, a wildly imaginative Spaniard with a degree in chicken farming and a Frenchwoman whose obsessive love for her dog almost brought the entire operation crashing down. Under the direction MI6 and with the help of Bletchley Park and Allied Wartime Intelligence we are told the story of how these spies created a web of deception so elaborate that it duped Hitler’s army and helped to carry allied troops across the Channel in relative safety.

In this book, Macintyre is taking on a huge and somewhat daunting task and although at times you feel a bit lost at sea, you are comforted by Macintyre’s genuine love and attention to detail for each of his characters. He spins a narrative about the famous five, but also introduces you to some other exceptional characters like Jonny Jebsen, and Tar Robertson not to mention Anthony Blunt who was a high ranking intelligence officer that was passing all this intelligence onto to Soviet Russia. The focus of Macintyre’s writing is definitely the characters rather than the D-Day landings. This gives an entertaining and at times amusing mental image giving you a sense of really getting to know these people.  Although not a lot of his content is new Macintyre brings his original style and flair to the subject matter. His writing is entertaining and at times you almost forget you’re reading about War and feel caught in the middle of a James Bond scene. However, for me this is acceptable as Double Cross isn’t a work of detailed military history it’s more a series of biographies to better understand the psychology of the D-Day plan.

One of the issue’s I did have, however, when reading this book was remembering who was who. With each of our five odd-ball double agents having a German and a British codename plus an actual name which combined with all the other peripheral agencies and handlers create quite the yellow pages of names to keep track of. This can at times make for quite confusing reading and a lack of focus, which is in contrast to his other books which tend to confront one individual or organization. However, Macintyre does seem to pre-empt this issue with a helpful list of the agent’s different names in a section at the beginning of the book.

Also it has to be acknowledged that MacIntyre places too much importance on the roles of these double-agents for the success of the D-Day landings. He endows them with almost a celebrity status and seems to get caught up in the characters stories rather than looking at the facts. At points you can see contradictions in his writing when he simultaneously highlights the fact that these agents were perhaps the greatest threat to D-Day plan versus how pivotal they were. The counter-argument being that the work at Bletchley Park meant the Germans had no idea what was going on anyway and rendered the need for these agents pointless.

At the end of the day, Macintyre paints an interesting story of the inner depths of the Allied Intelligence. In the end no one can really say how important the roles of these individuals were but it would be ignorant to suggest that they didn’t play some part in the success of D-Day. Whichever side of the historical coin you’re on these strange and wonderful individuals should still be recognized as unusual heroes and that’s an aspect of the book where Macintyre cannot be faulted.

Overall, although, not his best work for me, the positives outweighed the negatives and even though it might be going over old ground Macintyre skilfully introduces and engages the reader to an

Favorite Character: Juan Pujol aka Garbo aka Agent Arabel, qualified chicken farmer and creator of the most outrageous faux spy network throughout the War. His story is at once captivating and completely insane – look out for his imaginary Welsh band of anti-semites!

Extras: In addition to reading the book, I also went to a lecture on Double Cross, by Ben Macintyre himself, at the Churchill Lecture Series. Although there were parts to the lecture I already knew about it was interesting to hear about the research process as well as the personal extras that didn’t make it into the book. Such as, the knowledge that Jonny Jebsen, has a son who now lives in the United States, who had no clue about his father. It was touching to see that he could both know that his father was in fact an unlikely World War II hero but also the Macintyre’s going to visit him to share all his stories. The lecture was a brilliant support to the book and I got my copy signed not to mention a top tip about his next works which will attempt to tackle the Cold War.

Rating Book: 7 – good, but wouldn’t recommend to people who aren’t already interested in history!

Rating Churchill Lecture: 8 – very good, would recommend everyone to attend one of these lectures whether you’ve read the book or not it’s an excellent evening out for a history buff!

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