Summers (The Shain Family at Shakertown, 1808-1922, etc.) offers a World War II thriller about espionage and betrayal overseas.
Randy Emerson studied archaeology at Harvard University, and then spent some postgraduation years living in French North Africa, becoming fluent in both French and Arabic. The suave, handsome man also created a vast network of friends and professional contacts—the perfect cover for a spy, which is exactly why the U.S. War Department approaches him in July 1941. He’s sent off for training in several countries and then dispatched to Casablanca, Morocco, tasked with hunting down traitors and enemy spies there. He’s told to assimilate as seamlessly as possible into the local culture, cultivate sources of information, and, of course, trust no one. Summers describes the setting as “an open city in North Africa where spies, current and ex-military, gun runners, pimps and scoundrels and all manner of law-breakers gathered to feast off the excess of this new world war.” Emerson is also given extraordinary autonomy in deciding how to handle problems, such as moles, as they arise. He answers to Robert Murphy, the head of a group known as the “Twelve Apostles,” and quickly finds a teammate in Mungo Craig, a native German speaker who grew up in French Québec. The two quickly establish home bases where they can clandestinely meet, send radio transmissions, and begin their hunts. Summers is a prolific author of both fiction and nonfiction, and this is the 13th volume of his Lynch’s Corner Series. Summers’ experience shows in the polished prose as well as in the rigorous research evident on every page; his knowledge of North African culture, as well as the history of the period, is formidable. Also, the story provides something of a concise tutorial on the beginnings of the Office of Strategic Services, the less bureaucratic precursor to the CIA. There’s no scarcity of sharply conveyed intrigue, but the dialogue has the feel of 1940s film noir, which sometimes makes it seem like an homage and other times like a parody. Still, there’s more than enough action here to satisfy fans of historical thrillers, and plenty of edification to boot.
A tightly structured war novel, written with intelligence and verve.