FALL FROM GRACE by larry Collins


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Collins's first solo novel since 1980's The Fifth Horseman (written with Dominique Lapierre, who teamed with him on the pop history Is Paris Burning?) is his best book yet, a firmly placed World War II melodrama about a tremendous real-life hoax that the British Intelligence worked on the Gestapo and the Abwehr--a hoax intended to divert German troops from resisting the Normandy invasion until the Allies had an unbudgeable foothold. The novel focuses on Catherine Pradier, a British citizen born in France, whose mother died under strafing by a Stuka and whose father is now in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. She begs her godfather, an admiral, to let her really help out, and he turns her over to Major Fredrick Cavendish, head of Special Operations Executive sabotage efforts in Occupied France. Cavendish makes Catherine an unwitting pawn in a vast military deception, Operation Fortitude, a mock invasion force being mounted near the Dover Strait. The British pretend that this is the Allies' major invasion force and that it will strike at Pas de Calais--a pretense which has pinned the major German strength in France to Calais. The British have also cracked Ultra, the German code, and for two years they've been running the entire German spy network in Britain. What's more, they have invented a complete fictional team of turned spies (disgruntled Brits supposedly working for Germany) who are ready to announce when the ""invasion fleet"" sails. Catherine is flown into the Loire Valley, falls in with triple agent Paul (or Gilbert, or Henri) and becomes part of a team set on sabotaging a vital big gun emplacement defending Calais harbor. She successfully subverts the fuse box for the emplacement's electrical system, fixing it so that the big gun's motors will burn out instantly upon cue by the saboteurs. A terrific accomplishment, cry her SOE superiors, when she returns to England. So good, in fact, that Cavendish (smiling fiend!) sends her back--to help with the actual cuing of the sabotage, which must be done (Cavandish warns her) at the exact hour of the Calais invasion. Actually, she's being sent as a Judas goat, a sacrifice, since SOE tips off the Gestapo that she's coming. Soon she's arrested and tortured mercilessly--all to give verisimilitude to an invasion that will never happen. But indeed it is her returning to cue the sabotage--and her eventual confession after having her toe nails torn out slowly, being whipped, and drowned repeatedly in a tub--that persuades Hitler to keep his troops in place at Calais. Last seen Catherine is in Ravensbruck and bound for the gas ovens. Lively hopscotch plotting, bound for a big audience, though Catherine--despite her appealing heroism--never emerges as a full-bodied character. She's totally ""fictional"" but, as Woody Allen has pointed out, you can't have everything in a romance.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster