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Book Review: The Man Who Never Was/Operation Mincemeat

26 May

Genre: non-fiction; based on true story; international intrigue; history

Penguin Books - The Man Who Never WasPlot Summary from Amazon.com (CAUTION- SPOILERS):As plans got under way for the Allied invasion of Sicily in June 1943, British counter-intelligence agent Ewen Montagu masterminded a scheme to mislead the Germans into thinking the next landing would occur in Greece. The innovative plot was so successful that the Germans moved some of their forces away from Sicily, and two weeks into the real invasion still expected an attack in Greece. This extraordinary operation called for a dead body, dressed as a Royal Marine officer and carrying false information about a pending Allied invasion of Greece, to wash up on a Spanish shore near the town of a known Nazi agent.

Agent Montagu tells the story as only an insider could, offering fascinating details of the difficulties involved-especially in creating a persona for a man who never was–and of his profession as a spy and the risks involved in mounting such a complex operation. Failure could have had devastating results. Success, however, brought a decided change in the course of the war.

My Review:  I really had no idea what this book was about when I first checked it out of the library, but the oxymoronic title was attention getting.  The version I read was the first one that was published, printed in the mid -’50’s. I have discovered that there is a more updated version printed since then, with information that couldn’t be made known to the public even 10 years after the war.

Reading this book by an authorized person who was “in the know” was exciting. The author, Ewen Montagu, had a sense of humor that lightened it up and kept it from being a ho-hum non-fictional account of something that happened nearly 70 years ago. I have to admit, sometimes the long-winded sentences and military jargon caused me to start day-dreaming and I often had to reread sentences, and even then I did not know if I was entirely understanding what was being said. But I could always get the gist of it.

I enjoyed looking at the photographs, but was NOT expecting to see the actual picture of the decomposing corpse, which was a little gruesome!  The book is pretty short and reads fast, with many pictures throughout.  I can’t say it was an absolute thriller, a tad boring in places, but I enjoyed reading about an interesting historical event.

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre « Library User GroupSoon after, I came across the book, “Operation Mincemeat,” by Ben MacIntyre, which tells the story of “The Man Who Never Was” in the minutest detail, from the plan’s earliest origins in the First World War to the very last jot and tittle ending in the 1990’s.  Many facts are uncovered that were never allowed to be revealed in the ’50’s when the original book came out, such as who was the “Man Who Never Was”, the real story behind “Bill” and “Pam”, and all sorts of interesting tidbits surrounding the main players and supporting cast of the plot, as well as even more photographs.  It made for slightly laborious reading, but since I was only reading it as a companion to the book by Montagu, I only skim read the interesting parts.  It was enjoyable all the same.

These two books can read several ways. You could read choose to read one or the other. You could read one and skim-read through the other. You could read the short and vague version first, then “fill in” with the detailed “Mincemeat” book. Or you could read “Mincemeat” and then check out the original “MWNW”. However you choose to inform yourself, be aware that “MWNW” is really just the “minced meat” [pun intended] of the story. And “Mincemeat” is bogged down with more than what you’d probably want to know.  And then there is the movie (starring Clifton Webb), which I found to be more fiction than fact. The real Ewen Montagu actually makes a cameo appearance in one of the scenes. As MacIntyre puts it, “This was a wonderfully surreal moment: the real Montagu addressing his fictional persona, in a work of filmic fiction, based on reality, which had originated in fiction.”

This book review is my Memorial Day tribute.  Thank-you, service-men and women for all the sacrifices you make for America!  Our gratitude cannot begin to repay you.

The following dramatized documentary about Operation Mincemeat is narrated by author Ben MacIntyre.  Includes interviews with original members of MI5, “Pam” and the son of Ewen Montagu.

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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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One response to “Book Review: The Man Who Never Was/Operation Mincemeat

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