I will be the first to say that I am always ready to read anything pertaining to the OSS in World War II and love the genre. I’ve read many of W.E.B. Griffin’s books and they follow along a same general outline. The plot and character development take up the vast majority of the novel and the action sequences are nearly an afterthought and seem to be shorted out too quickly. It sometimes seems he’s looking to set up another novel by always leaving you guessing at how the action plays out.
“The Double Agents” is no different, using his same characters from earlier work, Griffin spins the tale of the Dick Canidy, the OSS and upcoming invasion of Sicily. The one thing I like about Griffin’s novels is the meticulous detail to get every little facet of life during the World War II years as close to perfect that he can. He weaves his characters around real ones, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wild Bill Donovan and sometimes you have to remind yourself that it IS a novel when you read the dialogue between FDR and Donovan.
Throw in the machinations of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the jailed Mafia don who helps the Allies by getting the Sicilian Mafia on board (which really did happen), to pave the way for the invasion, and you have the stuff of intrigue. Griffin obviously had some fun by weaving in the characters of Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond books), and actors David Niven and Peter Ustinov as well in this tale. The two actors, Fleming and OSS operative Lt. Hoche weave a tale about a dead British Major’s body that washes ashore in Spain. It is it believable? Ah, no…but it makes for a fun ride.
Our OSS hero Major Richard “Dick” Canidy is en route to Sicily. The ruggedly handsome, playboy type is also a hard-core, Special Operative that is equally at home blowing a German ship out of the water as he is romancing the ladies…. Isn’t that the description of every Special Operations trooper? At least in our own minds….but I digress.
The story has a few subplots that can be distracting at times but starts with a Dr. Rossi that has proof that the Nazis (dastardly buggers that they are), have infected Allied POWs with Yellow Fever. And our hero Canidy, has blown up the aforementioned boat with Tuban, a dangerous nerve agent that Hitler is going to use against the Allies. So Canidy has to ascertain whether the nerve agent sunk with the boat or burned in the explosion.
He also has to work with Luciano’s man Frank Nola, who is the prototypical Mafia Don who sets Canidy up with the local Mafia in Palermo. And from the previous books, Canidy’s love interest Ann Chambers resurfaces for those who like a little bit of romance thrown in with their war stories.
Griffin’s book nicely mixes the true events, the Sicily invasion, Luciano’s help with securing the Mafia’s cooperation, the dead British Major floating ashore in Spain with faked documents and weaves them around his fictional characters.
This particular novel by Griffin I thought could have been much shorter. He used quite a bit of filler that perhaps didn’t need to be in there. One of the more common complaints about Griffin’s novels pertains to filler and the amount of swearing that goes on in them. Welcome to the real world folks. Having worked in Special Operations, the amount of cussing going on in Griffin’s novels is pale by comparison to what you’d find in a Special Forces team room. An American Ambassador in South America once told me having Special Forces A-Team guys in the Embassy was educational. How so, I asked him? He said, he never knew there were that many ways to conjugate the verb “To F**k” before he met us.
I really liked the part with actors Niven and Ustinov, and Ian Fleming it was a fun, enjoyable part of the book and the interactions among the characters were priceless. Having watched Niven (Guns of Navarone) and Ustinov (Spartacus) in countless films, it is easy to see this scene playing out. Especially being a fan of James Bond. They behave as I’d see them behaving…or perhaps as I’d like to see them.
Like all of his novels, Griffin’s believability scale is about pegged out. Our hero Canidy always seems to get things worked out exactly in his favor. Like the jet-setting Green Berets in Griffin’s later series, one has to roll their eyes at times. But truth be told, I would have loved to serve in Griffin’s Special Forces.
But that’s not why we read novels, at least speaking for myself. We/I read them to be entertained. And when reading a military novel about World War II and the OSS, Griffin has woven plenty of true facts around a story that makes for a very enjoyable ride.
I’ve read about 10 of his books and still have seven (friends and colleagues borrow and “forget” to return them), so there is a good reason why I keep coming back for more. I wouldn’t say this is the best of his work, but even as one of his lesser efforts, it was well worth the time.
For you aspiring Special Operations candidates as well as its veterans, you will enjoy the OSS and Green Beret Series of his books. They make for light, enjoyable reading. I bought this particular book for a long flight to the Middle East. I ended up not reading a lick of it on the plane, but lost two nights of sleep after arriving as I couldn’t put it down once I began to turn the pages. Just like his other books.
In the jacket of the book, Griffin dedicated to Colonel Aaron Bank and Captain William Colby, both members of the OSS during World War II. Bank ended up becoming the “Father of Special Forces”, being the first commander of the 10th Special Forces Group. Colby was an OSS operative who joined the fledgling CIA after the war and worked his way up to become the Director of Central Intelligence. He never forgot his OSS service and could be seen for years, cutting his grass with his Army Patrol Cap on.
Photos Courtesy: Wikipedia, author