British spymaster Claude Marchibanks Dansey (1876-1947), head of the shady/shadowy Z Organization in the 1930s, is one of...


COLONEL Z: The Secret Life of a Master of Spies

British spymaster Claude Marchibanks Dansey (1876-1947), head of the shady/shadowy Z Organization in the 1930s, is one of those consummate deceivers (like the now-ubiquitous Sidney Reilly) about whom the truth may never out: still, Read and Fisher, authors of a bloodless account of a spectacular Dansey exploit (Operation Lucy, 1981), are as short on dramatic punch as they are on hard facts. There's some unexplored interest in Dansey's schoolboy involvement in a homosexual scandal, his subsequent dispatch to the colonial police in Rhodesia--where, the authors note, he learned to ""use his own judgement"" (as he wouldn't have in the military). During his African years, he moved into Intelligence--and the authors fall back on conjecture. The plot thickens as the trail fades: in 1906 Dansey leaves Somaliland, disillusioned by the British pull-back; 1910 finds him still aggrieved, at loose ends; in 1911, he is the protÉgÉ of American millionaire Thomas Fortune Ryan (who has Congolese interests) and manager of the posh Sleepy Hollow Country Club, in Westchester! ""Sometime between 1910 and 1911 he became a spy."" Why a British agent in the US? Because of the Fenians--though Ryan wasn't a supporter, and Dansey had no known Fenian contacts. But his Sleepy Hollow contacts supposedly enabled him to spur the formation of a US Intelligence department in WW I. (He was ""largely responsible""--goes a typical grandiose claim--for ""the special relationship between the intelligence services of Britain and America which still exists today."") Come the 1930s, Dansey was banished from the British secret service (SIS)--presumably to establish Z parallel to it. That venture culminated in the disastrous 1939 Venlo incident, when a Z agent and an SIS agent were nabbed by the Nazis; Read and Fisher not only exonerate Dansey, they see him pulling the irons out of the fire as the ""eminence grise"" behind SIS chief Menzies. On his WW II involvements, they appear to have put together his known roles--in screening refugees, in overseeing the Intelligence activities of exile-governments--with some known episodes in which he definitely or probably figured (the Hess flight to Britain, the South-of-France ""Noah's Ark"" apparatus). With the partial exception of the Lucy network, there's little here to get ahold of or get involved in.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1984