Sunday, August 27, 2023

Operation Mincemeat: Ben Macintyre

The subtitle of this book is: "How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory."

Summary from the dust jacket of the book:

In 1943, from a windowless London basement office, two intelligence officers conceived a plan that was both simple and complicated—Operation Mincemeat. The purpose? To deceive the Nazis into thinking the Allies were planning to attack Europe by way of Greece or Sardinia, rather than Sicily, as the Nazis had assumed and the Allies ultimately chose. 

Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and the British naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriented barrister. But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion, then drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials, including Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond). Winston Churchill believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.

This book brought to my attention an aspect of espionage that I had not previously thought much about. It describes the efforts of intelligence agents to disseminate false information to the enemy in order to mislead them. The overall plan to deceive the Germans was named Operation Barclay, and included providing false information about troop movements in the Balkan area to the enemy.

The story of the development of the plan for Operation Mincemeat and then the carrying out of it (including finding a body to use that would fit their needs, dressing it, and creating fake documents to convey the information) was extremely interesting. Most of the book was about this effort.

But just as exciting and absorbing were the chapters on the effort to get the body delivered to the right place on the coast of Spain and the follow-up chapters at the end on how the attack on Sicily was planned and carried out, and various military men who participated. 

Ben Macintyre is a respected author of this type of nonfiction. It seems that he mostly specializes in espionage-related topics. His writing is very good. If there were any chapters that were difficult for me, they were towards the beginning when there are many people and situations described, plus the layers of bureaucracy to get agreement on the plan. Once I got settled in and the focus was on the main players in the carrying out of the plot, every chapter was a delight to read.

My husband read this book in 2013, and enjoyed it as much as I did. This is his review at Goodreads:

This history of a World War II hoax is so full of memorable characters (I find the absolutely fearless and charmed Lieutenant Bill Jewell of the British submarine HMS Seraph to be at the top of a very high memorable list) and fascinating detail that it reads like a first rate thriller. Operation Mincemeat was an elaborate British plan designed to convince German forces that an expected invasion of Sicily was actually going to take place elsewhere. In hindsight, it is amazing the plan succeeded, given all the details that needed to be accepted (or overlooked) by the Germans. A history that is not at all dry, this book is highly recommended.


Publisher:   Harmony Books, 2010
Length:       324 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Genre:       History, nonfiction
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Crime Hits Home


Crime Hits Home is an anthology from Mystery Writers of America, edited by S. J. Rozan. The book was published in April 2022 and all of the stories in the book were first published in this book.

The theme for the stories in this book is home and the crimes that endanger it. The definition of home can be expanded to be a group of people that you feel comfortable with, a team, an ethnic group.

I read the first three stories in the book. 

"Grand Garden" by Naomi Hirahara

I found this to be an incredibly sad story in so many ways. The setting is a beautiful garden in Pasadena in the early 1900's; a young Japanese-American boy lives in a Japanese-style house on the grounds of the garden. The child is ashamed of his home and knows the white boys in his school will look down on him if they find out where he lives. One day a schoolmate visits the garden with his brothers and bullies his way into the house. He insists on playing with a samurai sword, and the result is tragedy. 

"The World's Oldest Living Detective" by David Bart

This is my favorite story of the three I have read. It has an elderly sleuth and a cat named Ripley. The protagonist is a retired private detective living in a retirement home. 

Four mysteries are resolved in the 22 pages of this short story, but the best one is a case from the detective's past, where he had to work for a sleazy Senator who wanted him to retrieve a videotape from his ex-girlfriend. 

"Little House in the Big Woods" by Sara Paretsky

Paretsky tells the complicated story of Ana, a college student who is under the influence of a female priest, Reverend Olive Kanba, who supports social justice missions to Nicaragua. She meets Lance, another student working with the priest, and they end up renovating a small building in the woods that is used by the group for overnight get-togethers. This building, which is special to Ana, is central to the story. Thirty years later, Ana looks back on those times, and a traumatic event which resulted in the disappearance of both Lance and Olive. An interesting story with a lot of revelations at the end. Very satisfying.

All of these stories were excellent and each very different. If the rest of the stories in the book are of the same quality, I have a lot of good reading ahead of me.

Also see a review by Sam Sattler at Book Chase. He discusses four different stories from this book.

The anthology features these authors:

  • Naomi Hirahara
  • David Bart
  • Sara Paretsky
  • Susan Breen
  • Gary Phillips
  • Neil S. Plakcy
  • Renee James
  • Connie Johnson Hambley
  • Gabino Iglesias
  • A.P. Jamison
  • Walter Mosley
  • Tori Eldridge
  • Ellen Hart
  • G. Miki Hayden
  • Jonathan Santlofer
  • Jonathan Stone
  • Ovidia Yu
  • Bonnie Hearn Hill
  • Steve Liskow
  • S.J. Rozan

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Books Read in July 2023

I had a good reading month in July. No complaints at all. I noticed that I read no vintage mysteries at all, this month or in June. I guess that is because I chose only one of those for my 20 Books of Summer list, and mostly I have been sticking to that list.

And now to the seven books I read:


The Book of Forgotten Authors (2017) by Christopher Fowler

This is a reread. I read this book first in October 2020, and read it again this year for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge, hosted by Susan  at Bloggin' About Books. Christopher Fowler was interested in finding out about forgotten authors, and wrote a column on that subject in a British newspaper for many years before this book was published. Fowler's essays are entertaining and opinionated, and this is a book well worth reading. 

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers (2014) by Margaret C. Sullivan

This book compiles two hundred years of book covers for Austin's six novels and her other writings. It cannot cover every edition ever published but with over 200 images it is very impressive. The book also includes historical commentary and Austen trivia. I also read this book for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge.

Historical Fiction

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2009) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This epistolary novel set in London and on Guernsey in 1946 depicts the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II from the eyes of the residents. This was another book I read for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge. My review is here.

Science Fiction / Alternate History

SS-GB (1979) by Len Deighton

SS-GB is an alternate history in which England has been invaded by Germany. Len Deighton is one of my favorite authors and I was not disappointed in this book. My review is here.

Crime Fiction

The Nature of the Beast (2016) by Louise Penny

This book is the 11th in the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and is set in Three Pines, Quebec in Canada. I like these books no matter where they are set, but when they are in Three Pines, it means that some of my favorite characters will feature: Ruth, Clara, Olivier and Gabriel, and Myrna at the bookstore. My review is here.

Disco for the Departed (2007) Colin Cotterill

This is the 3rd book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. This series is especially interesting because of the setting: Laos, in 1977, when the Communists are in power. My review is here.

Murder Most Fowl (1994) by Bill Crider 

This is the seventh book in Bill Crider's longest running series, the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. This one provides a picture of rural Texas in the 1990's. The series has 25 books total and the last book was published in 2019. My review is here.

Garden Plants in August 

The photos at the top of this post are of Tibouchina heteromalla (Silver leafed Princess Flower) plants in our front flower beds. We just started seeing purple blooms on the plants in the last week. The foliage is also lovely, all year round. 

The top photo immediately above is the red lantana that is planted beside the Princess Flower. Those plant started blooming in late July which seems awfully late to me. 

Directly above is a volunteer strawberry plant that somehow grew in a pot of our succulents out front.

Photos taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Murder Most Fowl: Bill Crider

Dan Rhodes is the sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas; he only has a small crew to work with, himself and his deputy and a couple of people in the office. In this story, he is chasing down stolen emus, while looking for the person who murdered Elijah "Lije" Ward, who has recently had to give up his hardware store due to the competition from Walmart. Along the way, the sheriff discovers that the murder victim had recently gotten involved with cockfighting, which is illegal but a way to make money. 

My thoughts:

Crider's mysteries starring Dan Rhodes are always an entertaining read, and this one seems to be a good picture of Texas in the 1990's. Sometimes they are described as almost cozy, with a good bit of humor, but this one has a dark side too. Later there is a second death, and it is clear that someone in the community is responsible. 

Murder Most Fowl was published in 1994 and I think raising emus was pretty new in the US back then. I did not even know that emu farming existed. And I learned more about cockfighting in this book than I wanted to know.

I always enjoy the recurring secondary characters. Hack Jensen, the dispatcher, and Lawton, the jailer are older men, well past retirement age, who work for next to nothing, and love their jobs. They provide some of the humor. Hack is always pushing for new technical gadgets for the sheriff. Ruth Grady is the only deputy, and I would not mind seeing more of her in the books. Rhodes' wife, Ivy, has to put up with a lot, with the amount of time he has to put into his job plus worrying about his safety. Speedo, the dog, was orphaned in Shotgun Saturday Night, the second book in the series, and Rhodes took him in. He is still around, of course.

Bill Crider often included references to his favorite foods and other things he liked (old paperback mysteries and vintage films) in his Dan Rhodes books. The sheriff's favorite soda is Dr. Pepper but Ivy has put a stop to his eating the high sugar and high fat foods he loves. Rhodes does admit that he fits into his clothes better now, but he still occasionally sneaks in a favorite lunch or snack while working. In this book he is watching old Randolph Scott westerns with Ivy (my husband and I have a few of those on disc that we haven't watched yet). And Rhodes discusses Ed McBain and his various pseudonyms with his friend Clyde Ballinger, the funeral director.

This is the seventh book in Bill Crider's longest running series; there are a total of 25 books; the final book was published in 2019. I want to read the whole series in order, but at this point I have a good number of the later books in the series and will have to locate more of the earlier ones.


Publisher:   St. Martin's Press, 1994
Length:      200 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Sheriff Dan Rhodes, #7
Setting:      Texas
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.
Dust jacket painting by Lars Hokanson.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "The Castle of Rose Tellin" by Kate DiCamillo

I found this story by Kate DiCamillo while looking around on the Harper's Magazine site, inspired by Todd Mason's post at Sweet Freedom last week. I was allowed to read the story but could read nothing else, so I guess one free article is allowed per month. It was published in Harper's Magazine, July 2023. (I have now subscribed to Harper's Magazine.)

"The Castle of Rose Tellin"

Pen remembers an event from her childhood, when she and her brother Thomas go with their parents to Sanibel for a vacation at the beach. The year is 1968; her father is a famous judge, but he is also an abusive father. The family has come to Sanibel because her father needs to relax. Pen is six years old; her brother Thomas is three years older and goes out of his way to irritate his father. Which leads to some unhappy events.

It was a very good story. Uncomfortable, sad, and compelling. 

This is the first piece I have read by Kate DiCamillo.  Most of her writing is for children and she has won two Newbery Medals, in 2004 and 2014. I am assuming this story is aimed at adults. Her first published story for adults, “On a Winter’s Night”, appeared in the December 2022 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: from Romantic Comedy to The Beast Must Die


The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six books, forming a chain. The common points may be obvious, like a word in the title or a shared theme, or more personal. Every month Kate provides the title of a book as the starting point.

The starting book this month is Curtis Sittenfeld's Romantic Comedy. I have not read that book or any of the books by that author, although I am curious about her writing.

For my first link, I will start with a romance novel ...

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a romance, but definitely not a comedy. I like romance in a book, but usually not if that is the only focus. This one is also a mystery and a classic.

I like it when a book features a romance but the romance is secondary to the main plot, as in...

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman, the second book in the Thursday Murder Club series. In this book the mystery plot is primary but a secondary plot is DCI Chris Hudson's developing relationship with his PC's mother, Patrice. 

Elizabeth, one of the four main characters in The Man Who Died Twice, was formerly an MI5 agent, and in this book she is helping her ex-husband Douglas, who is still working for MI5. This leads me to my next link, also featuring an MI5 agent...

The Last Defector by Tony Cape features Derek Smailes, an MI5 agent sent to London to work at the UN. The plan is for him to aid in a plot to convince a Soviet (also working at the UN) to defect and provide information on disarmament plans in Russia. 

This leads to another book I read featuring a defector...

Catch a Falling Spy (apa Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy) is one of seven novels featuring an unnamed British spy. The agent is tasked with evaluating a Russian defector, Professor Bekuv. This novel felt like a world tour. It starts out in the Algerian Sahara Desert and returns to that spot for the denouement.  In between they visit the US, France, and Ireland.

My fifth link also features an unnamed spy, this time working for the CIA ...

The Mulberry Bush by Charles McCarry is about a man whose main focus is getting revenge for his father, a spy for the CIA whose career ended in disgrace. Now the son has succeeded in getting a job with the CIA and is bent on avenging the wrong that Headquarters did to his father. I am currently reading this book and have only about 100 pages left.

I did not realize how many books I have read that have revenge as the prime motivation.

The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake is a classic mystery novel, part of the Nigel Strangeways series. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym use by Cecil Day-Lewis, who was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. In this book, a father seeks revenge for the death of his son, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Nigel Strangeways does not show up until midway into the book.

My Six Degrees takes me from a romance set on a fictional late night comedy sketch show set in the US to a classic mystery novel set in Gloucestershire. Along the way I discussed several novels in the spy fiction genre.

If you are participating in the Six Degrees meme this month, where did your links take you? If not, have you read these books? 

The next Six Degrees will be on September 2, 2023, and the starting book will be Wifedom by Anna Funder.