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Gripping panoramic first novel (first published in Britain in 1950) showing the often well-meant but idiotic shortcomings of an incompetent British Army intelligence unit in Holland, Belgium and Germany during WW II; by the late MacInnes, author of the more powerfully original London underground novels City of Spades, Absolute Beginners and Mr. Love and Justice. Sergeant Mac, the truth-telling narrator, is operationally in charge of a security unit seeking out and interrogating Nazi collaborators, spies and war criminals. The handful of officers above him are nitwits, and all the real work is done by the team's sergeants and company clerk, Norman. But, in fact, everyone is unsuited for the job he's doing: all labor in a happy ignorance of what Intelligence work is all about. The unit's younger men are really boys and haven't the temperament for ferreting out spies--""They didn't realize that to find out a man's secrets against his will, you have to be treacherously sympathetic and calculatingly brutal. That you have, at any rate, to be interested."" Dennis, Mac's voraciously opportunistic right-hand man, is interested only in upgrading his various impounded sports cars as well as his meals and sleeping quarters. None of the security unit has ever fired a shot in anger, ranging as they do safely behind the front lines. We follow them through Holland and Belgium and behind the Allied advance through the Rhine villages. The novel's climax is the unit's taking over a surrendered German prison full of allied prisoners and discovering that the unit can't just release 1400 prisoners at will. To where--the countryside? And some of the Allied prisoners and discovering that and psychopaths who deserve to be in jail. The German guards 'must continue their work as each prisoner's dossier is studied. Meanwhile, big Nazis are queuing up to surrender--they come, with their rucksacks, like lambs to the slaughter. How is the little security unit to interrogate these civilian Nazis who are overflowing the jails--and to what point? A marvelously clear minor classic, full of irony layered on irony, and a must-read for anyone anywhere who is at all involved in Intelligence.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1986
Publisher: Allison & Busby--dist. by Schocken