My Friday Post: A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of my TBRs, A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre. It’s non-fiction about four young British soldiers who were trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. 

A Foreign Field

It begins with a Prologue:

Prologue

The glutinous mud of Picardy caked at my shoe-soles like mortar, and damp seeped into my socks as the rain spilled from an ashen sky. Ina patch of cow-trodden pasture beside the little town of Le Catelet we stared out from beneath a canopy of umbrellas at a pitted chalk rampart, the ivy-strangled remnant of a vast medieval castle, to which a small plaque had been nailed: ‘Ici ont été fusillés quatre soldats Britannique.’ Four British soldiers were executed by firing squad on this spot.

Followed by Chapter One – The Angels of Mons:

On a balmy evening at the end of August in the year 1914, four young soldiers of the British army – two English and two Irish  – crouched in terror under a hedgerow near the Somme river in northern France, painfully adjusting to the realisation that they were profoundly lost, adrift in a briefly tranquil no-man’s land somewhere between their retreating comrades and the rapidly advancing German army, the largest concentration of armed men the world had ever seen.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Local gossips thought that Jeanne was a’racy’ type; she smoked cigarettes, drove an automobile without gloves on, and treated everybody with exactly the same direct, penetrating and faintly lofty manner, usually from the saddle.

~~~

I enjoyed reading Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat about the Allies’ deception plan code-named Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily, so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

More New-to-Me Books

A visit to Barter Books  at Alnwick this week has added 4 books to my TBRs.

 I usually steer clear of books about kidnapped or missing babies/children, so I’m not sure about the first two books shown below. But I’ve read books by both authors before and enjoyed them so I’m hoping they’ll be OK – or at least not too heart-wrenching:

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid – a standalone psychological thriller beginning with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.

Blurb

Stephanie Harker is travelling through security at O’Hare airport with five-year-old Jimmy. But in a moment, everything changes. In disbelief, Stephanie watches as a uniformed agent leads her boy away – and she’s stuck the other side of the gates, hysterical with worry.

The authorities, unaware of Jimmy’s existence, just see a woman behaving erratically; Stephanie is wrestled to the ground and blasted with a taser gun. By the time she can tell them what has happened, Jimmy is long gone.

But as Stephanie tells her story to the FBI, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems. There are many potential suspects for this abduction. With time rapidly running out, how can Stephanie get him back?

A breathtakingly rich and gripping psychological thriller, The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid’s most accomplished standalone novel to date, a work of haunting brilliance.

With Our Blessing by Jo Spain – a murder mystery and another book about mothers and babies in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as Magdalene asylums.

Blurb

1975
A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother.

2010
The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.

Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is on the case. He’s convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.

The Visitor by Lee Child – a Jack Reacher – I’ve read one of the Jack Reacher books and did enjoy it but looking at the reviews of this book it seems a lot of readers weren’t keen on it whilst many others were. A marmite book, maybe. 

Blurb

Sergeant Amy Callan and Lieutenant Caroline Cook have a lot in common. High-flying army career women, both are victims of sexual harassment from their superiors; both are force to resign from the service.

And now they’re both dead.

Their unmarked bodies are discovered in their homes, naked, in baths filled with army-issue camouflage paint. Expert FBI psychological profilers start to hunt for a serial murderer, a smart guy with a score to settle, a loner, an army man, a ruthless vigilante known to them both.

Jack Reacher, a former US military cop, is a smart guy, a loner and a drifter, as tough as they come. He knew both victims. For Agent-in-Charge Nelson Blake and his team, he’s the perfect match. They’re sure only Reacher has the answers to their burning questions: how did these women die? And why?

A Foreign Field: a True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War by Ben Macintyre – nonfiction – because I’m interested in reading about World War One in both fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed reading his book Operation Mincemeat so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.  

Blurb

A wartime romance, survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War, from the bestselling author of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ and ‘Agent Zig-Zag’.

Four young British soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. Unable to get back to their units, they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret, where they are fed, clothed and protected by the villagers, including the local matriarch Madame Dessenne, the baker and his wife.

The self-styled leader of the band of fugitives, Private Robert Digby, falls in love with the 20-year-old-daughter of one of his protectors, and in November 1915 she gives birth to a baby girl. The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans. They are captured, tried as spies and summarily condemned to death.

Using the testimonies of the daughter, the villagers, detailed town hall records and, most movingly, the soldiers’ last letters, Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinary story of love, duplicity and shame – ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the question, ‘Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?’ In this new updated edition the mystery is finally solved.

Which one would you recommend I read first?

Six Degrees of Separation: from Like Water for Chocolate to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins begin with a book that Kate says people may not have discovered, were it not for the hugely popular movie version – Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. I hadn’t discovered it at all until now! But I see that it’s a ‘bestseller’, a book about passion and the magic of food (including recipes), a tale of family life in  Mexico.

Like Water for Chocolate

The first link in my chain is a book also set partly in Mexico:

The Lacuna

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father and it’s told through his diaries and letters together with genuine newspaper articles, although whether they reported truth or lies is questionable. As you can see from the cover swimming plays a part in this book. As a boy, Harrison, loved swimming and diving into a cave, which was only available at certain tides, a cave that was there one day and gone the next – a lacuna.

Swimming also features in Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie.

Evil Under the Sun (Hercule Poirot, #23)

Poirot is on holiday in Devon staying in a seaside hotel. It’s August, the sun is hot, people are enjoying themselves, swimming and sunbathing until Arlena is found dead – she’d been strangled.

The next book in my chain is also crime fiction  – Blue Heaven by C J Box.

Blue Heaven

This is a story set in North Idaho about two children, Annie and William who decide to go fishing without telling their mother, Monica, and witness a murder in the woods. One of the killers sees them and they run for their lives. It’s fast-paced and full of tension right to the end.

I chose Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the next link, a book that also has a colour in its title.

Half of a Yellow Sun

It’s based on the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967 – 70. Focusing on the struggle between the north and the south, the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa people, it brings home the horrors brought about by war, the ethnic, religious and racial divisions and the suffering that results.  It is also a novel about love and relationships, a beautiful and emotional book without being sentimental and factual without being boring.

Another book about war, but this one is non-fiction about a spy operation during World War Two – Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre.

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II

It’s about the Allies’ deception plan in 1943, code-named Operation Mincemeat, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was. I thought it was so far-fetched to be almost like reading a fictional spy story. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.

Operation Mincemeat led me to think about a fictional spy in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

This is set in the Cold War period in the 1960s and tells the story of Alex Leamas’s final assignment. It’s a dark, tense book and quite short, but very complicated; a story  full of secrecy, manipulation, of human frailty and its duplicitous nature.

What a journey! My chain moves through time and place – from Mexico to Devon, North Idaho, Nigeria, Sicily and Berlin. It encompasses fiction and non-fiction and takes in several wars. All, except for the book that starts the chain, are books I’ve read and enjoyed. Six Degrees of Separation is always fascinating to compile and I’m always surprised at where it goes and where it ends up. Who would have thought that a book about family life in Mexico would end up linked to a spy novel about the Cold War?

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre: a Book Review

Subtitled The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II, Operation Mincemeat is about the Allies’ deception plan codenamed Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was.

The success of the Sicilian invasion depended on overwhelming strength, logistics, secrecy and surprise. But it also relied on a wide web of deception, and one deceit in particular: a spectacular con trick dreamed up by a team of spies led by an English lawyer. (page xi)

At first I found this book a little confusing and far too detailed, but as I read on I became absolutely fascinated and amazed at what had actually happened. The plan was to take a dead body, equipped with false documents, deposit it on a beach in Spain, so that it would be passed over to the Germans and divert them from the real target into believing that the preparations to invade Sicily were a bluff.

Operation Mincemeat would feed them both a false real plan, and a false cover plan – which would actually be the real plan (page 58)

The corpse was a Welsh tramp who had committed suicide. His body was clothed in the uniform of an Royal Marine with documents identifying him as Major William Martin and letters about the top-secret Allied invasion plans. This involved creating a fictional character, a whole host of imaginary agents and sub-agents all with their own characteristics and imaginary lives – just as in a novel. The details of the deception were dreamt up by Ewan Montagu, a barrister and Charles Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), a flight-lieutenant in the RAF seconded to MI5, the Security Service. Both were enthusiastic readers, which stood them in good stead:

For the task of the spy is not so very different from that of the novellist: to create an imaginary credible world, and then to lure others into it, by words and artifice. (page 62)

The plan was not without its faults and and indeed it contained some potentially fatal flaws, but incredibly it succeeded.

Operation Mincemeat was pure make-believe; and it made Hitler believe something that changed the course of history. (page 307)

This is a book, totally outside my usual range of reading. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did and I think I did enjoy it because it was so far-fetched to be almost like reading a fictional spy story. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.