Friday, 2 October 2015

Too Bad to Die

Finished September 24
Too Bad to Die by Francine Mathews, read by Matthew Brenher

This World War II spy novel has Royal Navy intelligence officer Ian Fleming as the main character. Early in the book there are flashbacks to Ian's childhood, where we see the beginning of his long friendship with American OSS agent Michael Hudson. This allows us to better understand the motivations of Fleming as well as the relationship between the two men who have met again as adults.
The book is set in real historical events, with real historical figures, and Mathews has done her homework in bringing these real figures to life.
The story begins in Cairo in late 1943 where Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have met to confer before the Tehran Conference with Joseph Stalin. Besides the two leaders, we have present Churchill's daughter Sarah and daughter-in-law Pamela Harriman, as well as Roosevelt's son Elliott . Other real life figures include Alan Turing and Lavrenti Beria, It continues in Tehran where the three leaders meet. Through listening to Enigma-coded messages, Turing has discovered a Nazi assassination plot against the three leaders. While this is hardly surprising, the realization from some of the messages that the one sending the messages, code-named The Fencer, and his Kitten, are actually within the trusted inner circle of the Allied camp is a game changer.
Ian has been largely a behind-the-scenes man focused on gathering and analyzing information, but here he is forced into a more active role. Mathews shows the beginning of Ian's later spy novel writing and gives origin stories to several of the plot elements from his novels from James Bond to "shaken, not stirred".
There are plenty of beautiful women, British, Russian, and Chinese, and they are also women that do more than just look good. The character Ian isn't in his element here, but he is earnest and sympathetic. While some of the bad guys are discoverable early, the plot is interesting and the historical elements a great setting. I liked the weave of fiction into fact and the attention to detail.

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