There’s a book of historical-fiction I recommend entitled The Information Officer published in 2009, by Mark Mills. Set during WWII on the island of Malta, a British protectorate just south of Sicily, in the Mediterranean Sea. Leading up to the North African campaign between Rommel and Montgomery in 1942, the German Luftwaffe and Italian Regia Aeronautica were ordered to soften up Malta as a prelude to invasion, serving as a convenient staging base for North Africa and the Middle East’s oil fields and the Suez Canal.
The story revolves around its main character, Major Max Chadwick whose job is to write press releases manipulating news events that serve to bolster the morale of the population, while denigrating theenemy. The rape and murder of three young Maltese women is brought to Chadwick’s attention by a close friend and military surgeon, as writer turns detective in an attempt to uncover its perpetrator and motive.
While the chase ensues, other some wonderfully developed characters which are close to the major are brought into the story, from fellow officers, to lovers, to the general populace, all trying to continue as best they can while under daily bombardment from the enemy planes. Mills moves the story quickly, and makes the reader think about the facts, only to be shown the ‘real’ facts.
The author does a really fine job in building credible fictional characters by creating emotions of urgency, fear, and resolve, as well as humor and camaraderie. Descriptions of the island also lend the reader a visual sense of Malta by detailing its topography and vulnerability to the enemy.
The book successfully endeavors to be part war novel, with exciting battle scenes, part mystery, in which the motive is intricately tied to the outcome for control of the island, and part love story, growing out of the interactions of people brought together in a war zone.
The background to the novel is based on historical fact, and own personal favourite: war novels. Much is made of the eventually successful attempt by the British to fly in planes, and rearm and provision Malta in order to defend against an ominous enemy invasion. The main thrust of the book and its characters are fictitious, but support the true nature of a pivotal base of military operations and its allure for spies.
The book’s chapters rotate between a focus on the Major’s background and exploits, and the mystery person’s story – revealing the effects of his past on his psychological metamorphosis.
The novel clips along at a fluid pace as the denouement brings the offsetting chapters together. It’s a good start and I hope to read more by Mark Mills.
In keeping with the theme of exotic war/spy zones and novels I would also recommend two other novels by well-known authors and their books.
The first book I recommend is John Le Carre’s, A Delicate Truth, published in 2013. This is about a contemporary joint American-British covert operation on the island of Gibralter to snag a high-level jihadist, that ends up being botched. Despite an attempt at a cover-up one ethically-conflicted member of the team decides to probe deeper into the affair, risking his career and his life as well as those who choose to help him.
It’s fast paced, and I would recommend it as one of Le Carre’s finest novel of writing, made all the more relevent in today’s world with the ‘war in Iraq” and other areas of the world. He is a man who has lead a very interesting life and it shows in his writing. I would have trouble recommending many others who don’t deal with thrillers more than him on this blog.
The second book is The Panther, 2012, by Nelson DeMille. An anti-terrorist task force agent is sent with his FBI agent wife to Yemen to track down the mastermind behind the 1998 USS Cole bombing. The protagonists are repeat players to DeMilles’ novels. The John Corey character brings a humorous respite to the fast-paced, intense feel of the novel.
In both stories the descriptions of the historical and geological features of the sites lend insightful credibility to the narratives, just as in the case of the featured novel.
These are two very well-respected authors in the action/spy genre. They have numerous novels of equal integrity available.