review Ben MacIntyre and his book Operation Mincemeat

Toppings bookshop certainly knows how to choose its authors. The store was packed for an evening with Ben MacIntyre, bestselling author of Agent Zigzag. As a captivating raconteur and thoroughbred historian, he retold the story of his latest book Operation Mincemeat with the passion and excitement of a true enthusiast.  

Many members of the audience had good reason to attend. The brother-in-law of a member of the audience had been killed in the explosion of HMS Dasher off the coast of Scotland during the Second World War. His family firmly believed that ‘the man that never was’ had been a member of that crew.  Without referring to any notes, Ben was able to dispel this myth. His research had been so thorough and his knowledge so unfathomable that he could describe in full detail the circumstances surrounding the events of the highly secretive Operation Mincemeat.

Ben retold the tale, bringing to life the English eccentrics and highly colourful characters who had devised this famous World War 2 plan. The Germans were duped into believing that when the Allies attacked Southern Europe, they would land in Greece and Sardinia rather than the more likely Sicily.  

In a clever master plan of subterfuge and disguise, a dead body was planted with false papers that gave it a new identity and that implicated the feigned Allied attacks. The body was left in the waters off the coast of Spain to drift ashore and be discovered. His papers eventually found their way to the heart of the German military and the hoax worked. Hitler left Sicily vulnerable to the Allied attack while Sardinia and Greece were flooded with his troops. This had been a major turning point in the war.

As the listeners sat spellbound, Ben described how this amazing ruse had been born in a basement beneath Whitehall.  A host of fascinating individuals including a homeless Welshman, a famous forensic pathologist, a humorous coroner , a transvestite spymaster, a daredevil racing car driver, a beautiful secretary and even  Lord Mountbatten played a part in this amazing deception.  In his vivid description, Ben contrasted the unfettered English creativity that gave birth to this plan with the hierarchical homourless precision of the Germans that lead to their downfall.

Ben is a fascinating storyteller and source of information, humour and wit. His latest book is available from Toppings bookstore: http://www.toppingbooks.co.uk or ely@toppingbooks.co.uk.

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