Saturday, August 2, 2014

Promising debut novel mines the intelligence war behind D-Day

The Best of Our SpiesThe Best of Our Spies by Alex Gerlis

My former BBC colleague Alex Gerlis makes the career transition from news journalist to novelist with complete conviction in this, his first novel.

The Best of Our Spies is an ingeniously constructed tale set in the intelligence war surrounding D-Day. Gerlis' fictional characters operate within an authentic historical background that must have been the product of some serious historical research.

If the lengths that Britain's intelligence services go to in the story seem to stretch credibility, Ben Macintyre's Double Cross shows that with so much at stake nothing was considered too much trouble - or indeed too ludicrous - if it might put the German occupiers of France off the scent of the planned Allied invasion of Normandy.

Indeed, if you have read non-fiction accounts on the same theme, such as Macintyre's, then Gerlis' introduction of real historical figures such as Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, gives his story a real plausibility.

There is also interest in how ordinary parts of West London such as Ealing, Wandsworth and Ham were the scenes of potentially grisly espionage activities out of keeping with their pleasant but mundane character today.

Gerlis' hero, Owen, grows as a character, so much so that the surprising denouement is genuinely moving.

It's easy to imagine the novel as an exciting movie, with great locations and good male and female leads.

Gerlis has written about becoming a novelist in a blog for the BBC College of Journalism here.

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