Monday, September 08, 2008

Cardigan Bay


Cardigan Bay by John Kerr
(Corona Publishing / 0-972-06304-8 / 978-0-972-06304-3 / July 2008 / 342 pages / hardcover / $25.00 / $18.38 Amazon)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

Cardigan Bay is at once a romance and an espionage thriller, set during World War Two. The story is woven from several threads, some of them fairly well known – such as the elaborate and ongoing planning for the Normandy invasion by the Allies, the work of the top-secret code-breakers at Bletchley Park and the plot by anti-Nazi German military officers to assassinate Hitler. The central character, a British Army officer named Charles Davenport, is a thoughtful and erudite man – unhappily married and even more unhappily divorced. Upon recovering from wounds sustained in the fighting in North Africa, he moves into a staff job, working out a means of landing masses of soldiers on the Normandy beaches. He has a brief meeting with a lonely Irish-American woman, Mary Kennedy, who has returned to her grandparents’ seaside house in County Wexford. Mary, widowed and grieving for a child and a husband, had been corresponding with a soldier in Davenport’s company. Mary and Charles strike up a friendship – a love affair even – through letters over the next few years. The final thread, which binds the rest together, is the neutrality of Ireland during that war, and the proclivity of the Germans to work with certain elements of the violently anti-British IRA. The premise that any enemy of my enemy is my friend in practice led to some interesting and today embarrassing episodes, such as an official message sent by the Irish government to the German ambassador in Dublin conveying condolences upon the death of Hitler in 1945. German agents operated fairly freely in neutral countries, including Ireland. The writer has used this circumstance to create the surprisingly sympathetic character of the Abwehr agent who goes by the nom du guerre of Eamon O’ Farrell. That he is not who he says he is at first is obvious; that he is revealed as a German spy is something the alert reader can see coming from several chapters away, so I am not giving up any plot development. But the final character revelation is an interesting twist and one that in the narrative is left hanging.

Although carefully researched, and in places almost lyrically descriptive, there are a handful of flaws. Charles’s dialogue does not quite sound entirely British, in places – he says “Sure,” to indicate agreement and assent, where an Englishman of that time and place would have said “Certainly” or “Of course.” And as a career military person and somewhat of a historian, I thought the conversation where Charles and a fellow officer exchange talk about their respective wartime top-secret jobs was definitely a false note. That was the sort of thing that was and still is not talked about outside the ‘shop’, even among close friends. There is no way that someone at the highest level of planning the invasion plans would have talked about it to an outsider, nor would a Bletchley insider have voiced the slightest whisper about the Enigma device. It was necessary for the plot for those two characters to know what the other was involved in – but I think it would have been more realistic and more historically accurate for the two characters to merely have dropped some allusive hints about their work, and let the other character have figured it out, rather than just laid it all out openly.


See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Celia's B&N Review

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