Thursday, February 24, 2011

Judgment Day, by Wanda L. Dyson

We all, whether we want to admit it or not, like to see the corrupt get their due.  "Why do the wicked prosper?" we ask, with Jeremiah, wondering why the righteous suffer and the just suffer.  But every now and then, we see a story in the paper or on the evening news which makes us cheer, bringing to light the deeds done in darkness by people who should know better.  Suzanne Kidwell doesn't necessarily have a great moral compass, but she knows that TV viewers like to see the sins of the high and mighty exposed for all to see.  With a taste for what sells, and some questionable tactics, she rakes in the ratings on her hit show, Judgement Day.

Kidwell thinks she's above the fray, one of those who moves in a different moral universe than the rest of us.  She tells a good story, but her shoddy investigative techniques inevitably bring more attention to her than she wants.  When her car explodes with her fiance at the wheel, was the assassination meant for her or him?  When his nurse turns up murdered in Kidwell's home, with Kidwell's fingerprints all over the bloody knife, she feels trapped.  Who would frame her for murder?  Was it a story she had done?  Was it a story she should had yet to do?  With nowhere else to turn, her lawyer brings in the best investigation team around, Kidwell's ex-fiance, Marcus Crisp, and his partner, Alexandria Fisher-Hawthorne.  Kidwell swallows her pride and relies on this man, whom she had betrayed in college, to uncover the truth.

Judgment Day is Dyson's fifth novel, and, just as Suzanne has learned to string her audience along, Dyson skillfully strings her audience along with page-turning action, plot twists, and suspenseful surprises.  As is the case with many a suspense novel, Judgment Day packs in so many twists and turns, so many random connections between events and characters, and so many improbable events, that there is an air of the unbelievable about the story.  But, forgiving the excesses of the genre, Dyson wraps a moral message around the plot.

Events toss Suzanne headlong into a forced reconsideration of her methods as a reporter.  Do the ends justify the means?  In some cases, she may have, through her unsavory investigative techniques, rightfully brought truly despicable public figures to justice.  In many cases, though, she inaccurately or downright wrongly convicted people in her personal court of justice for the sake of TV ratings, sometimes with tragic results.  Has it all been worth it?

Then, on a deeper level, the murder investigation begins to unravel the details of crimes more insidious than even she imagined.  The perpetrators insist what they are doing is right.  But can it be justified?  What if their crimes might benefit Suzanne's own mother?  Her moral reflections contrast with the faith and moral integrity of Marcus and Alex, whose faith guides their lives and their careers as investigators.  Things might not have worked out the way Suzanne would have planned, but justice wins out in the end.

I know, and I suspect Dyson knows, that Judgment Day is not a literary masterpiece.  This will not go down in history with Wuthering Heights and Of Mice and Men.  But Dyson does craft a compelling page turner, with a thoughtful moral message to boot.  Check it out.

This is the first book I have received from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.  They sent it along for free for me to review.  Don't worry, they didn't force me to say nice things.  I enjoyed the book!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre

Spy novels are exciting, fun reads.  Even more exciting are tales of real-life espionage.  Most of the great spy novelists have spent at least some time as spies.  I suspect the stories they tell may not be as intriguing as the stories they can't tell.  The work of spies is similar to the work of a novelist, spinning tales, creating characters, making up believable scenarios, so the crossover between the two is not surprising.

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory tells a remarkable story of deception, wits, and luck.  The basics of the plot may be familiar to you: the British devised a plan in which they deposited a dead body, dressed as an officer, on the coast of Spain, knowing that the Spanish were in cahoots with the Nazis.  They planted documents on the body which would misdirect the Germans concerning the upcoming invasion of Europe. 

"Bill Martin" serving his country.
Ultimately, the scheme worked.  The Nazis swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.  The Allied invasion focused on Sicily, but because of the misdirection in the fake documents, Germany focused its troop strength to the eastern and western Mediterranean.  Their ploy literally saved countless thousands of Allied troops' lives.  The invasion did meet with resistance, but much, much less than they otherwise would have.  With Germany's key forces to the east and west, uninspired Italian troops and a nominal German presence were left to defend Sicily.  The success of this invasion became a turning point in the war.

As the British agents put together the plan, they approached it like writing a novel.  Not surprisingly, a number of novelists and future novelists had their hands in the plan.  Basil Thompson, a former spy, had written several novels, one of which involved a dead body with false papers.  A certain young assistant in the Naval Intelligence Department, Ian Fleming, happened to own all of Thompson's novels, and recalled this plot device.  British expatriate and mystery novelist, Alan Hillgarth, played a key role as the naval attache in Spain.  Like writing a novel, the Operation Mincemeat team had to create a character, give him a back story, recreate his life and the events of his final days leading up to his (fictional) unfortunate drowning after his plane went down off the coast of Spain.  All of his personal effects, letters from his dad and fiancee, incidental pocket litter, all had to match up with the information in the "top secret" documents he carried.  As careful editors, they had to make sure that all parts of the story were consistent.  Then they had to figure out how to get the Germans to take the bait, without the Germans knowing the British knowing the Germans took the bait!  As MacIntyre says, the British had to fool the Germans into thinking the British were fooled.

As Macintyre, a journalist with the London Times, began his research for this book, he contacted the family of Ewen Montagu, one of the key players in Operation Mincemeat.  To Macintyre's delight, Montagu had kept a trunk full of documents related to the operation, most of which had never been seen before, and much of which was top secret.  Montagu himself had written a book about Operation Mincemeat, The Man Who Never Was, which was made into a movie and remains in print to this day, but it was limited by the British intelligence; even Montagu couldn't tell the full story.  So Macintyre's book provides details that fill out and complete the story.

Woven through Operation Mincemeat are reminders of the heroism of the Allies in WW2, as well as the luck that it took to defeat Hitler.  The more I learn about WW2, the more convinced I am that God's hand favored the Allies as they fought an enemy who personified evil.  I don't believe any conflict since has been as morally unambiguous as this one.  So give a cheer to Montagu, his colleague Charles Cholmondeley, and the countless others who worked to weave this web of deception and turn the course of the war in the Allies' favor.