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The Unlikely Spy Mass Market Paperback – May 6, 2003
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“Evocative…memorable…a classic World War II espionage tale.”—The Washington Post
“Briskly suspenseful.”—The New York Times
“A satisfying and fast-paced World War II espionage thriller.”—San Francisco Examiner
“Bodies pile up, and Silva keeps the suspense keen as he advantage shifts back and forth between the good guys and the Nazis.”—Los Angeles Times
“[Silva] has clearly done his homework, mixing fact and fiction to delicious effect and building tension—with breathtaking double and triple turns of plot—like a seasoned pro.”—People
“Layers of depth and intrigue…Silva succeeds with panache.”—USA Today
“[A] tautly drawn thriller…Plenty of nail-biting scenes.”—The New York Post
About the Author
Daniel Silva is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the Assassin, The Marching Season, and the Gabriel Allon series, including The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, Moscow Rules, The Defector, The Rembrandt Affair, Portrait of a Spy, The Fallen Angel, The English Girl, The Heist, The English Spy, The Black Widow, and House of Spies. His books are published in more than thirty countries and are bestsellers around the world.
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We all know now that the Allied Forces were able to successfully confuse the D-Day landing location from Hitler. Thousands of deaths were possibly saved because Hitler concentrated his defensive forces around Calais and left the Normandy coast comparatively lightly defended. There are many stories of how British intelligence helped Hitler to choose the wrong invasion point - this is a brilliant fictional story of how this happened.
The main character is Alfred Vicary, a Professor of History who is drafted by an old friend, Winston Churchill to join MI5. Vicary takes to espionage like a duck to water following Churchill's adage that in war "truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." Vicary has tracked down most German spies, imprisoned them and continues to send deceptive messages back to Germany. But he hasn't tracked down a handful of "sleeper" operatives sent over before the war by Kurt Vogel, one of Admiral Canaris's top spymasters.
One of these operatives is Catherine Blake, a beautiful ruthless psychopathic assassin, and spy, who remains inactive in London until a key part of the war - the preparations for the D-Day landings. Her assignment is to become romantically involved with Peter Jordan, an American engineer working on a top-secret D-Day project and report back on where the landings will take place.
There follows a tale of deception on a grand scale both with the spies and within MI5. Silva writes a masterly plot with fascinating characters on both sides of the action-packed battle. While some of the deceptions fail, the ultimate deception is not known until the very last pages. This is definitely a 5-star espionage story.
This is a wonderful debut novel written in 1996 by an author who has gone on to become a world-renowned best-selling author with his Gavriel Allon series about an Israeli art restorer, spy, and assassin. I look forward to reading the next book in this brilliant series, "The Black Widow", in the next few days.
One reason that this book works so well is that you and I know the ending. In the real world, the Nazis knew that there was a big construction project underway in England before D-Day, and every bit of Intelligence suggested the Allied landing would be either at Calais or Normandy. But somehow they got the wrong information about what was being built and where it was headed -- which obviously had a huge effect on the outcome of the war. The book's premise is: How did they get their data _almost_ right?
The result is a solidly good page-turner in which we follow several characters: the spies and the spy-finders, the innocents and the warmongers. Each of the many characters is well drawn, with motivations that make sense... enough so that I found myself rooting for the "bad guys" sometimes, as they each had their own dreams to pursue.
It's not so much that this is a James Bond-ian action film on paper -- though it does have some decent shoot-out scenes -- as much as a tension that exists in the reader's head. You read what the British spymaster Vicary is doing to find out where the spy is, followed by what she is doing, and you practically want to shout, "LOOK OVER THERE CAN'T YOU SEE HER?" It's fun, and a different twist than a typical mystery wherein you (or at least I) expend energy in figuring out who the perpetrator is.
This isn't an important book that you're going to remember forever. But it's an engrossing story, perfect for a beach read or a long plane flight. I liked it.
The biggest problem I have is the plot is way too complicated, so much so that it’s confusing and hard to follow and, conversely easy to lose interest in. This is exacerbated by its excessive length. It is 754 pages long which is much too long to tell a relatively simple story like this. The actual operation to feed the enemy misinformation about the invasion plans, including the artificial harbor code named Mulberry which is central in this book, was elaborate, but it was also pretty straightforward and had none of the convoluted elements in this book. This overly complex plan would have surely collapsed under its own weight and most likely had the opposite result. It would have been much better to tell the story closer to how it actually occurred.
There are other problems. While most of the spy action is what you would expect in a good spy novel some of it is grossly unrealistic. One situation was comic book like ridiculous. The honey pot spy needed information about the comings and goings of her naval officer target in order to stage a chance meeting with him. So what does she do? Why, she hires a trio of local prominent organized crime figures to tail him of course. And then upon completing their task the thugs provide her with… of all things… a detailed written report of their findings. How absurd! What was Daniel Silva thinking? Another problem is it contains a lot of graphic sexual content, which in my opinion adds an air of cheapness.
I could have easily rated this book two stars because of these things, but I gave it three stars instead because it is so well written, and despite the flaws, I found it to be somewhat entertaining.