February 11, 2018
True confession? I haven’t read wartime literature since I was in the fourth grade and checked a book (whose subject was December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day) out of the school library of the elementary school I was attending at the time. It left an indelible impression on me to this day, almost sixty years later, when I can still see, hear and feel those sailors, about a dozen in all, trapped inside the engine room of a capsized battleship. Time is running out; oxygen is running out; the water’s rising, second by inevitable second.
To a fourth grader with little real experience of the world, it made an impact. To this day, every December 7th stands right up there with September 11th as days that will live in infamy … and memory.
And so, it was rather by accident that I came to Glenn Dyer’s THE TORCH BETRAYAL. As I said, not my cup of tea, as I don’t really have a hankering for wartime literature. But I had a father/Navy commander in WWII; consequently, WWII has always remained an exception to my general disdain for war. So disdainful was I of my own generation’s war, I spent the decade in Europe as a student, but also as a waiter, a U. N. employee, a G-strapped (and sometimes strapless) stage prop at a Viennese cabaret, an ESL teacher, a writer—all to support my scholarly habit. As I wrote in my review of Barbara Tuchman’s THE MARCH OF FOLLY: FROM TROY TO VIETNAM, “And the tragedy? Invariably, the loss of so many young lives to no real purpose other than to serve the interests of ambition, pride, ignorance, stubbornness — in short, of vanity.
“Yes, vanitas, vanitatis. It’s all right there in ECCLESIASTES, and not much has changed. We are a prideful, belligerent, deceitful, artful, malignant, umbragious — a word I learned in reading this book—species. In short, we’re prone to folly.”
But enough about me. I just wanted you to know a little bit about this reviewer in order to decide whether he was really qualified to review.
As I said, THE TORCH BETRAYAL is an example of wartime literature – hence, it is appropriately macho in tone and theme. One thing, however, that Dyer does exceedingly well is to interweave fictional characters with real (historical) figures. Moreover, Dyer’s writing talents are not used exclusively in the service of Mars and to the exclusion of Eros, as I believe the following passage on pp. 198 – 199 will amply demonstrate: “(h)is thoughts drifted back to the night in Rome, the last night with Maria, his lustful, daring, and beautiful mistress. Her dreams of someday leaving her disappointment of a husband and following Longworth back to England, of having his child, kept her alive. Her dismissiveness of anyone who would oppose her dreams, including the Italian military police, had emboldened Longworth. But the last night, Maria had pushed him—pushed him to take their lovemaking to ever-greater heights of ferocity, and Longworth, in one moment, saw Maria struggling in ecstasy, then plunging the next moment into a breathless silence—a moment that changed both their lives forever.”
Yes, this is wartime literature. And yet, there’s not a single battlefield scene. I could just as easily have said this book is straight out of the “Spy vs. Spy” literature—as least as I remember that genre from Mad Magazine. Less the humorous aspect, that is.
Glenn Dyer does an admirable job in setting up the principal characters for this novel. And then, he lets loose in Chapters 36 – 38, pp. 222 – 248. From that point on, the tension never relents.
In conclusion, I must say that I’m indebted to Dyer for his mention, in the Author’s Note (p. 341), of Richard Bassett’s HILLER’S (sic!) SPY CHIEF: THE WILHELM CANARIS BETRAYAL: THE INTELLIGENCE CAMPAIGN AGAINST ADOLF HITLER. While I’ve known for many years that not every German was a Nazi sympathizer during WWII, I’d never known until reading this book that there was in fact one high-ranking Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German intelligence, who was actually working to have Hitler deposed.
11 February 2018