'In wartime,' said Winston Churchill famously, 'truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.' 'The Deceivers' is a monumental work and clearly labour of love, which provides both its strength and its weakness. It is not the book for a reader seeking an introduction to the subject: this is a book for the serious scholar seeking detailed information, with a lengthy, minutely detailed record of virtually every deception operation carried out by the Allies, that could bewilder someone without a solid previous knowledge of the war. Fortunately for the casual reader, Mr Holt treats his subject with a lightness of touch that means it reads quite well as a novel, since one very interesting aspect of it is the attention to the personal details of the men and women behind deception operations.
Mr Holt has written a compelling account of an obscure and fascinating aspect of the war more closely related to show business than the brutal reality of killing. In what other military sphere could one hope to meet David Niven, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, magician Jasper Maskelyne, Peter Fleming (brother of Ian) and the strange writer, Dennis Wheatley? Because one purpose of deception is to beat the enemy with as little fighting as possible; to make him 'quite certain, very decisive, and wrong'. The hero of the story, if there is one, is an otherwise obscure colonel of Royal Artillery called Dudley Clarke. As Clarke wrote in the foreword to his unpublished memoirs, 'the secret war was waged rather to conserve than to destroy; the stakes were the lives of the frontline troops, and the organisation which fought it was able to count its gains from the number of casualties it could avert'. Here at last is just tribute to his efforts.
Like the Curates egg, good in parts. Very complimentary about Hoover and the FBI but no mention of him deliberately ignoring the warning delivered by agent Tricycle about the impending attack on the Pearl Harbour.