Sunday, June 7, 2015

My Amazon Review of Francine Mathews' "Too Bad to Die: A Novel"

When Ian Fleming Became James Bond

Former CIA analyst Francine Mathews places the real life Commander Ian Fleming at the center of a German assassination plot to kill the Big Three at the Tehran Conference in late 1943. We first see Fleming at a pre-conference gathering in Cairo with Roosevelt and Churchill and their respective entourages. We get caught up in the political and sexual intrigues of such players as Pamela Churchill, Churchill’s daughter-in-law, who while longing for her boyfriend Averill Harriman, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, she had time to have an affair with CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow. There is also Churchill’s daughter Sarah Oliver who though married is having an affair with Gil Winant, the U.S. ambassador to Britain.

In Cairo Fleming, in his capacity as assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence, uncovers the German plot, code-named “Operation Long Jump”. He does this with the aid of Bletchley Park’s Allan Turing. As an aside “operation long jump” was a fictitious NKVD operation set up by Stalin to curry favor with the west to give him credit for foiling an assassination plot. Here it is all too real and as in the fictitious plot German commando and probably the exemplar of special operations Otto Skorzeny plays a leading role.

The plot involves an internal spy within the British or U.S. delegation code-named Fencer along with an accomplice code-named Kitten. It turns to Fleming to uncover the plot which takes us through the bazaars of Cairo and Tehran all the while we eves drop on the summit meeting that is setting the date for the invasion of Europe and beginning to redraw the map of Poland. Along the way Fleming is captured and tortured and of course runs into a very attractive spy. Here James Bond becomes his alter-ego.

Because we know the Big Three walked out of the Tehran Conference very much alive, the focus is on who is Fencer. For me that was an easy call, but despite that Francine Mathews knows how to tell a great tale of historical fiction.

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