The author of three previous accounts of World War II espionage (The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, 2008, etc.) returns with the story of the Childs and their associates during their turbulent, eventful years with the Office of Strategic Services.
Although her title identifies the Childs as her focus, Conant devotes even more attention to the puzzling case of Jane Foster, friend of the Childs and fellow OSS operative later indicted as a Soviet spy. It’s hard not to notice Foster—wealthy, attractive, flighty, loquacious, and “impossible to resist.” The author is certainly interested in Paul and Julia Child—their backgrounds, protracted courtship, wartime activities, postwar lives and Julia’s emergence as a celebrity author and TV personality. But Conant continually returns to the charisma and conundrums of Foster. Was she just irresponsible? Capricious? Careless? Or was she truly ensnared in a vast web of deceit spun by the KGB? The author concludes that Foster was either strikingly dense or actually culpable—near the end she calls her a liar and a “snob to the core.” Conant begins her tale in 1955 when Paul Child, called to Washington for what he thought was a promotion in the United States Information Service, discovered, instead, that he must undergo hours of interrogation. The government was seeking out crypto-Commies—was Paul one? His wife? And what about Jane Foster? Conant then sweeps back into the chaotic days of Wild Bill Donovan and the creation of the OSS, its recruitment of the principals, their activities during the war and their subsequent lives, loves and enterprises. Conant reveals both indignity at the excesses of McCarthyism and disgust with those who committed betrayal.
Thoroughly researched, fluid and compelling.