The undertaking brothers, one in the front lines and the other not

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied VictoryOperation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre

An almost picaresque story about Royal Marine Major William Martin, who was lost at sea in an aircraft accident carrying important dispatches about future Allied plans in the Mediterranean. His body washed ashore in Spain and by nefarious means the dispatches were copied and forwarded to Abwehr, German intelligence.

Except that that major was no major and those dispatches were fake. It was all an elaborate plot cooked up by British Intelligence to deceive the enemy, and which disinformation Abwehr and Hitler himself swallowed whole, to the extent that the Germans moved a vitally significant portion of their forces from Sicily, where as Macintyre puts it anyone with an atlas knew the Allies would invade, to Greece and Sardinia, where the British hoped to fool the Germans into thinking they would. And fool them they did. Operation Mincemeat was, to put it mildly, successful.

The British Eighth Army had expected some ten thousand casualties in the first week of the invasion; just one-seventh of that number were killed or wounded. The navy had anticipated the loss of up to three hundred ships in the first two days; barely a dozen were sunk…The Allies had expected it would take ninety days to conquer Sicily. The occupation was completed on August 17, thirty-eight days after the invasion began.

Further, Operation Mincemeat began a cascade of other events, Mussolini’s downfall, Italy’s surrender, the abandonment of the German siege of Kursk and pretty much the beginning of the end of the European war. Macintryre writes

The Third Reich never recovered from the failure of Operation Citadel, and from then until the end of the war, the German armies in the east would be on the defensive as the Red Army rolled, inexorably, toward Berlin.

The cast of characters has to be read to be believed. There’s the British Jewish nobleman (I didn’t even know there was such a thing), his unbelievable brother (I won’t spoil), the submarine driver with comprehensive powers of seduction (I’m thinking of the car with the doors that wouldn’t open), the crazy commando who kept refusing promotion and went on to be portrayed in film by James Garner, the undertaking brothers, one in the front lines and the other not but still part of the story, and so many more. But! One of the things I particularly love is that at least three (possibly four, I lost count) of the men engaged in kerflummoxing the Germans so completely were…writers.

A rollicking story, all the more exquisite because it’s all true. Don’t pick up this book until you’ve got a few days with nothing else to do because you won’t be able to put it down. Highly recommended.

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Lies, damn lies, and the spouting forth from single-issue lobby groups.

Never mind statistics, there were lies, damn lies, and the spouting forth from single-issue lobby groups. Blinkered, fanatical and blind to counterargument and reason. Facts they didn’t like they ignored or dismissed as lies. Sometimes they were just the foot soldiers in a bigger game, being used and manipulated by puppet masters working silently in the dark. Some were misguided and wrong. Others were plain crazy. A few had valid points, but these were often lost in rhetoric and fury. Ask an animal rights supporter if he would rather have a new cancer drug tested on him first and he will say “That’s not the point.” But it’s exactly the point. If his mother were diagnosed with cancer, he would demand treatment to cure her. He’d be the first to blame the government and the health services if it didn’t exist.8520

The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 12

Warning: Spoilers spoken here.

HoZ Kate12 cover

Of course you’re all right. It’s the lock box.


Commemorated in this scene, which begins

    It was entirely involuntary, a knee-jerk reaction.  She didn’t stop to think about it, she just picked up the little tin lock box and let fly.  It’s arc was swift and her aim was true.  The box caught him just above the left eyebrow and burst open.

but also for what Kate finds in it before she launches it as an offensive weapon slash foreplay. It’s also a pretty good symbol, if I sez it who shouldn’t, of Kate breaking free of her grief over Jack to begin to live again. Even if it is with the single most unlikely guy in the Kate ‘verse. [Bonus points to anyone who remembers which book in the Kate series first signals Jim’s other than professional interest in her.]

HoZ Kate13

Next month, an object from A Grave Denied, the thirteenth Kate Shugak mystery. Please put your suggestions for said object in the comments below, and thanks!


When Providence provides, what can Jane do but investigate?

Jane and the Waterloo Map

Being the thirteenth of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries. Jane, as the newly revealed author of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, is summoned to Carlton House. Not, as you might expect, to meet its tenant, the Prince Regent, who is occupied by sitting for his Waterloo portrait, but to view the prince’s magnificent library and to avail herself of its amenities as a room in which to write her next book. Jane does not approve of the regent and after she fulfills her duty to this royal command is going to do no such thing, until a Hero (Jane and Barron make that a proper noun in the stile [sic] of the day and I follow suit) of the battle of Waterloo falls at her feet, in death throes from poisoning by yew needles. When Providence provides, what can Jane do but investigate?

From the body in the library [squee!] to the cameo appearance by the Duke of Wellington and the reappearance of that dashing painter slash spy, Raphael West (whom we first met in Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas) Jane ignores, avoids and denies the constrictions and shibboleths accruing to her sex in this time and place to seek out the villain and bring him to justice. There are false starts and red herrings, her brother Henry’s annoyance at his sister’s predilection for these unladylike exploits and her own attraction to West to navigate, but never doubt that Jane will get there in the end.

In her literary persona Jane is currently editing Emma, or she is when her new publisher finally gets the proofs to her.

“Suprizes are foolish things,” I intoned in Mr. Knightley’s voice. “The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.” I have a decided talent for an epigram; I hope it delights my readers as much as myself.

It does, Jane, it does, and Barron knows this full well and shamelessly and delightfully exploits Jane’s own real world words to enhance Barron’s narrative. There are echoes, too, from Jane’s novels in this one that are so poignant as to be a little painful.

I should have spoken. I should have said, loudly or softly, You know that you may command me in anything, Raphael West.

Jane Bennet, anyone, who nearly lost Bingley because Darcy thought her indifferent? And see Jane’s thoughts on Anne Elliott, the heroine of her next novel, Persuasion.

I shall spend my hours in consideration of a young woman long since On the Shelf, the daughter of a foolish by privileged family, whose good sense in chusing a man of action and prowess is rewarded as such wisdom usually is: by being dissuaded from risk, and channeled with the best possible motives into an oppressive and stultifying spinsterhood.

Ouch. Jane’s voice is so clear and so real and often so acerbic in these novels that you feel as if you are residing behind and just to the left of her occipital lobe throughout. I could move in for good.

And great news for Barron and Austen fans, Stephanie Barron is signing Jane and the Waterloo Map at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale at 7pm tomorrow! Click here to order your signed copy.

PW Private Eye Interview

[from PW’s 2011 feature on mystery writers and their PI’s]

What first appealed to you about the PI as a heroine? Did you always envision Kate Shugak as a series character?

If I had been smart enough to see A Cold Day for Murder as the first in a series that would last 19 books and counting, I would never have killed off Abel, Kate’s mentor and the eminence grise of that novel. No, the first Kate Shugak novel was written more as a writing exercise, in between writing two science fiction novels. It was definitely the lazy woman’s way to write a book–it was set in my home state so little research required, it featured Aleuts (I was raised with Aleuts), and Kate was a woman because I’m a woman and it’s always easier to write in your own gender.

How were you influenced by earlier examples of PIs in crime fiction, both classic ones like Philip Marlowe and more recent (and more female) characters like V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, and Anna Lee?

I was more influenced by Sherlock Holmes, whose stories I had about memorized by the time I was twelve. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t read a lot of crime fiction until I started writing it, and then, look out! Beginning with Sharon McCone, the first woman PI who could take a punch, Kinsey, Vic, I inhaled them all. Later I even started reading Miss Marple and Miss Silver and Lord Peter because he was smart enough to fall for Harriet Vane, no mean sleuth herself.

Are there any drawbacks to writing about a character who exists, in a sense, between the civilian world and the world or law enforcement?

Rather the reverse. “Let’s face it, you never met a rule of evidence you liked,” as Chopper Jim once said to Kate Shugak. She can get away with much a sworn officer cannot. Very results oriented, Kate, and not one to worry about fruit of the poisonous tree if she can nail a perp who is hurting her Park rats.

Private eyes often have strong ties to the areas where they work. How do locations and settings help define Kate?

The Kate Shugak novels are as much about Alaska as they are about crime fiction. Alaska is one of the characters, it is omnipresent and all-influential, from the oilfields in Prudhoe Bay to the crab fishing grounds of the Aleutian Islands to the Quilak Mountains in the Park. But then all my novels are like that. I always start with a place, then I figure out who lives there, and then I see what kind of trouble they can get themselves into.

In P.D. James’s first Cordelia Gray novel, men scoff at the idea of women in the PI field, calling Gray’s chosen profession “an unsuitable job for a woman.” Do you think there are any inherent differences today between male and female PIs in crime fiction?

Would anyone but a fool dismiss Vic Warshawski or Clara Rinker because of their gender? Or Kate Shugak? Not unless they wanted their nuts handed to them on a platter.

A Cold Day for Murder Cover

The first Kate Shugak novel is free on Kindle and iTunes. Such a deal…

He took our quarters one by one.


He was an ancient gambler
long vanished from the window table
where the game became a way of life.
Dim-eyed and reptilian, Willie Provencher
sat on his favorite bench near the door and scanned the murk for fish.
we came ducktailed and dumb
from school to lose at nineball
to that dank and wrinkled shark
who held a dime store magnifying glass
against his eye to line his shots
before he cleaned the table.
He took our quarters one by one.

A fingerling anxious for the light,
I left that world. There’s no small change
in this Alaskan city where I live.
You can see earth’s inviting bend toward Asia,
and at times the coastal mountains buckle
clouds that form a vast and empty moonlit
tent above us. At times I long
to shine like bait in Willie’s hand.

–Tom Sexton

Tom Sexton

But I want someone to park my car.

The illusion of the seventh veil was the illusion that you could get somebody else to do it for you. To think for you. To hang on your cross. The priest, the rabbi, the imam, the swami, the philosophical novelist were traffic cops, at best. They might direct you through a busy intersection, but they wouldn’t follow you home and park your car.

–Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All