In this debut novel, an undercover American agent navigates a complicated web of threats and schemes in early World War II Morocco.
Having barely escaped Nazi-occupied France after an attack on his life, Drexel “Drex” Ellis settles in Tangier. The early 1940s are a time of simmering tensions and plotting in northern Morocco, with the unstable Spanish and French governments both maintaining control over various territories. Unusually for an American, Drex is recruited by MI6 to help stranded French pilots make their perilous way over the Strait of Gibraltar to the Rock of Gibraltar. But he decides to cut his heroics short when he marries Neva, a French war widow. Drex swaps his gun for a camera, pitching a story about Aryan-looking Berbers to National Geographic and traveling around the countryside to find the perfect shots. But an agent who’s told to keep his “eyes and ears open” will inevitably attract trouble. First, he meets Daryan al Zayani, a childhood friend of Neva’s who now commands a Moroccan force opposing Vichy France. With his savvy worldview, multicultural experiences, and influential family, Daryan appears to be another perfect MI6 recruit. Then there are figures Drex is less fortunate to encounter: Oskar Prahm, a member of the Gestapo who’s looting valuable art for Hermann Göring’s private collection; and Lt. Weingart, another Gestapo recruit, who tried to kill the protagonist back in Paris. The escapades steadily escalate, with Drex meeting more and more characters whose requests create more and more missions. If this is all beginning to sound like a list of names and backstories, it’s because the book itself often reads more like nonfiction than fiction. With such a tangle of cultures, events, and political circumstances, Wenman feels an understandable urge to contextualize. Issues arise when this leads to characters speaking in strained forms of over-explanation, or delivering gratuitous facts about everything from boating maneuvers and toy manufacturing to Moroccan ethnic groups. The end result is that the players generally feel less vivid than the surrounding scenery. Nevertheless, the author’s obvious love for this time and location shines through, steadily drawing readers into the endless intrigues and dire consequences of the era.
A somewhat dry but ultimately enjoyable espionage tale.