Verdict: Author Glenn Dyer breathes new life into the most mined of genres, the World War II espionage thriller, in this page-turning tale of agents trying to uncover embedded traitors seeking to subvert the Allies’ first invasion of Nazi-held territory.
Once upon a time, World War II was off-limits to writers who trafficked in moral ambiguity. In the hands of writers like Alistair MacLean of “Guns of Navarone” fame, the motives of the Allied high command and those who headed the intelligence services were not cynical or sacrificial of the soldiers’ lives but were sturdily and selflessly patriotic. But then along came Vietnam and Watergate, and with it the perception that it was the “values” of the “Greatest Generation” that landed America in that quagmire while at the same time turned the US into a fascist security-state. As such, the characterizations of LBJ and Nixon and especially the CIA and FBI as on the same moral plane as the Soviets were applied to the Allied war effort against the Nazis.
Since 9-11, however, the pendulum has swung back, and overall the populace appreciates the armed forces and CIA and FBI who guard them while they sleep. THE TORCH BETRAYAL combines all three of these perceptions. In this highly-entertaining tale an OSS agent determined to redeem himself over an incident that got him drummed out of the Navy, and a female MI5 agent almost pathological in her desires to destroy Nazism engage in a desperate mole hunt that, if not uncovered and silenced, will result in the deaths of thousands of Allied soldiers.
The operation in danger of being exposed has usually—ad nauseam—been the D-Day invasion. But Dyer instead uses Operation Torch, the planned invasion of Nazi-held North Africa in 1942, and the first large-scale battle between the US and Germany. This is a wise choice from a literary perspective. For it allows Dyer to exploit the rawness of US forces and particularly the fledgling American intelligence group, the OSS; the latter hastily tacked together after Pearl Harbor. In harness less than a year, this forerunner of the CIA was pratfalling on several fronts, which earned it condescension and even distrust from the decades-old British intelligence.
The OSS officer, Conor Thorn, tasked by Eisenhower himself in uncovering the Nazi mole funneling information about Torch to Hitler is on a mission to redeem himself, and if successful will also redeem the reputation of American intelligence. The condescension of the British toward the Americans is well represented by the female MI-5 agent who partner ups with Thorn to find the mole.
Dyer is never in doubt that World War II was a “good war,” and he effectively imparts to readers just how dire the consequences would have been had Torch failed. And he appreciates in a 9-11 way how necessary an American spy organization was and is in protecting national, and in this case, international security. He also merges the World War II and 9-11 belief over how noble it is for the few to sacrifice for the many. But he also allows in a cynicism born of the Vietnam era. He doesn’t go the whole route in comparing America to Nazi Germany, but he does wreck the bedrock World War II era belief that a clean-cut American could be capable of spying for Hitler.
Dyer also departs from the World War II era belief—admittedly not held by all at the time—that the Soviet Union, engaged in a desperate scorched-earth war with the German war machine, was a “democratic” ally. Dyer instead draws from the post-Cold War view of the Soviets as an “evil empire,” and Stalin a treacherous dictator. As such, Dyer has Thorn encounter duplicitous Soviet agents bent on things more sinister than merely defeating Hitler.
To give away more would ruin this excellent tale for the reader. Suffice to say, Dyer has hit all the right notes in the thriller genre, while at the same time highlighting just how bush league US intelligence was in 1942. That factor enhances the suspense.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader