Guest blog from M.L. Malcolm

Before Waleran , before Aliena, before Gwenda and Godwyn and Billy Williams, there was Faber, the German spy, an assassin known as “the Needle.” 

I don’t remember how many years ago I first read Ken Follet’s, The Eye of the Needle, but I will never forget how absolutely terrified I was by the end of it.  Faber is hunting down a woman, trapping his prey in her own house.  She wants to survive, but also to keep him from escaping, because if he gets away the Germans will learn about the upcoming D-Day invasion. “The war has come down to the two of us,” he tells her, and as nasty as Donald Sutherland was in the movie version, he could not live up to the heinousness of the Faber that Follet created in my imagination.

Follet, a best-selling writer for years, leapt into the highest stratosphere of international acclaim when Oprah selected his non thriller, non spy story, The Pillars of the Earth for her book club.  Follet writes great historical sagas, but to me his espionage tales are the true classics, because he writes so compelling about this: “The war has come down to the two of us.”  It’s a lonely business, this intelligence work, and the direct results are often imperceptible, but the dance of two quarks within one proton can change the shape of the world. 

That’s what inspired me to incorporate espionage into my latest novel, Heart of Deception.  Alas, I quickly learned that most spy work is very, very boring.  Very few spies serve as international assassins, few ever have much to report, and even fewer produce anything that changes the fate of a single country, much less the world.  Think of the Russian spies that were ejected from the country last year. What did these people do?  Were they spying within the Pentagon?  No. Were they stealing the codes needed to launch our nuclear weapons?  Nope.  It’s not clear that any one of them ever got a hold of anything that would even justify their pay.  No James Bond in that crowd. Spying nowadays is all about economics and trade secrets (at least in the western world).  All very Wall Street Journal stuff.

But World War II…now, those were the platinum years for spies.  That’s the sandbox I wanted to play in. One of the main characters in my latest novel, Leo Hoffman, is recruited to work in military intelligence at the very beginning of the war, in part because he speaks seven languages.  He accepts because by doing so he can earn his American citizenship, which will allow him to get to the U.S. and find his daughter.  So he’s off to become a spy.

The U.S. spy game began In North Africa, under the command of Colonel William Eddy.  Eddy had an outstanding service record as a Marine in WWI military intelligence.  He’d spent most of his post-military career in academia, and in 1940 was president of a small college in upstate New York when he ran into one General Holcomb at a cocktail party and offered to return to uniform.  Within weeks of that meeting he was in Algiers, having been appointed by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, founder of the American Office of Strategic Services, to head up the spy network in North Africa.  It probably helped that   Eddy was the only commissioned officer in the U.S. military who could speak Arabic; he’d been raised in the Middle East by missionary parents. 

The Allies’ efforts to delude the Nazis into thinking that the invasion of France would take place somewhere other than Normandy are well-documented, and were very successful.  But the first Allied invasion actually occurred in North Africa, Operation Torch, and it, too was successful in part because the spy network there was able to plant a suspicion in the minds of the enemy that the attack would come elsewhere: Darfur.  And Eddy had to execute that plan.

And so that becomes Leo’s mission in Heart of Deception. Plant misinformation.  Make them look the other way.  Dance with a few other quarks inside the mysterious depths of a proton, and change the way the world is shaped.

M.L. Malcolm’s latest book is Heart of Deception available now!