The author has landed upon a fantastic character. Stranger than fiction, indeed. I am not exactly a history buff, and my knowledge of WWII in particular is only what one would call superficial. Honestly, I had no idea of the role the British secret service had in WWII, and particularly with respect to the Normandy landings. It turns out there was a lot more going on than just cracking the enigma code. This book provides a startling perspective. Were it not for double agents like Garbo (the British code name for Juan Pujol Garcia -- "The Spy with 29 names") the outcome of WWII would have been quite different. This is made explicit here where Jason Webster tags on a short "what if" chapter to the end, which was very thoughtful of him, and ultimately leaves the reader with a great sense of wonder.
From what I can discern, there is much written about Garbo already -- his files were declassified in 1974. I have not read these other books, and so have no basis for comparison, and cannot say whether this book is a "good Garbo book". I can say that it is very well written, however; and has left in me a burning desire to read more on the subjects and characters which were only briefly and tantalisingly introduced.
on 6 April 2014
The Spy with 29 Names is the story of a man who was almost lucky that the Second World War was raging. Had it not, his behaviour and attitude probably would have gotten him into trouble. A master of disguise, a man who had charming down to a fine art, a deceiver who could tell any lie. The spy known as `Garbo' set up another, almost implausible, 28 spies from all walks of life and locales, and tricked the Germans into things no other spy managed during the war effort.
The book covers Juan Pujol Garcia's early life from his birth in 1912 and the effects the Spanish Civil War had on his family in Barcelona. Pujol tried to fight for the Nationalists after his family got imprisoned by the Republicans, but he ended up with hate for the ideals of both sides of the conflict. Pujol harboured desires of being a WWII spy for the British but got rejected early on by the Embassy in Madrid, so he set out to work alone. Living in Lisbon, he started feeding downright false information to the Germans. The lies seemed to be trusted with impunity, so was Pujol's ability to deceive.
British Intelligence crossed paths with Pujol first in 1941 when the code-breakers at Bletchley Park started finding messages to `Arabel', a German agent who appeared to be in Britain. The messages started capturing their attention when they could see the information was blatantly false, but still seemed to be believed by the Germans. Kim Philby, the famous British spy, decided they needed to recruit `Arabel' to help their own efforts and keep the British spy operations a secret. MI5 discovered the identity of `Arabel' and Pujol went to Britain and worked with Tomás Harris to help with the effort and increase his false intelligence operation. While the information that Pujol spun to Germany was a pack of lies, he peppered it with a few genuine facts, only increasing his believability. The deeper Pujol went with Germany, the more elaborate he became, eventually having both male and female `spies' on his side, reporting from the UK and abroad.
MI5 gave Pujol the code name `Garbo' because he was a top-quality actor. Pujol went on to name his spy aliases with simple names, such as Rags the Indian poet, Mrs Gerbers the Widow, the Treasurer, the aptly named Con, and my personal favourite the Mistress, whom the Germans knew as Amy. Pujol's ability to play the role of 29 different people would sound preposterous if it hadn't been a real man who made such a massive contribution to the Allied endeavours. Pujol then become the main agent in `Operation Fortitude', and his main objective was to tell the Germans that the proposed Allied invasion of Europe would happen anywhere other than Normandy.
As Pujol increased his involvement, even Hitler himself believed that Normandy would not be the D-Day location. For weeks leading up to the D-Day invasions, the Germans were diverting men and supplies away from Normandy. Pujol planned to tell the Germans a location and time of an invasion, only an hour before it happened. He then banked on them missing the transmission so his lying operation wouldn't be blamed when the Allies stormed Normandy rather than up the coast, and `Garbo' changed the war forever.
Two months after D-Day, the Germans awarded Pujol with the prestigious Iron Cross and a whopping payout for all his work. Even after the pivotal point in the war had damaged their operations, the Germans still believed all Pujol told them. Did anyone ever truly suspect Pujol? We will never know. Pujol moved to South America for his own safety after the war, and didn't return until 1984 when he received his belated MBE and got the chance to visit the site of the D-Day landings. He passed away in 1988.
The story of Juan Pujol could have been lost to history while the stories of Kim Philby and other British spies were shared. Spain's contribution to the Allied effort with one man's charisma, lying and genius ideas is a story that needed to be told. Webster has woven a tale so astounding that it could be mistaken for a work of fiction and lets the light of day shine on the network of deception which saved countless lives. With meticulous planning and a clear, easy to read style, Webster has made an espionage tale that can appeal to those who enjoy war history and those who don't. From the offices of the code-breakers to the complex conversations with the Germans and everyone in between, both the real-life and entirely fictional characters of the most fascinating spy are brought to life. Webster has written a book where everyone feels so authentic that a reader could be forgiven for falling for Pujol's lies 70 years later.
Thanks to my father being a WWII buff, I grew up with a good knowledge of the war from the British point of view, but that level of knowledge isn't required to enjoy this book. Webster also supplied a marvellous collection of photographs to feed the imagination of the reader. The book can sit proudly among all the fabulous works of fiction and non-fiction by this author. The Spy with 29 Names is an extraordinary account for all to enjoy as they recall how one of the most powerful weapons that saved the lives of our own relatives wasn't a bomb - but a concoction of fiction.
on 31 March 2015
Fascinating tale researched in considerable depth, as are all of this author's books. I had never heard of "Garbo" and his contribution to the history of espionage so a big thank you to Jason Webster for enlightening me. It would appear that this individual got scant reward for his efforts, being packed off with a low order honour and a modest bundle of cash, even taking inflation into account, but I guess that is the nature of spying and he simply outlived his usefulness. Perhaps his reward was more than most spies receive for their duplicity. Highly recommended read.
on 9 May 2014
Webster writes a very lively, suspenseful account - though we know the outcome, you're on the edge of your seat. Previous reviewers have outlined the story, but I dont think have mentioned that, though terrible events are described, the story is often laugh out loud funny. Webster has added short quotes to the section headings that point to a deeper interest in the nature of truth in such a fantastical storyteller's world.
Anyone who has enjoyed the author's detective novesl will surely enjoy this.
on 10 March 2015
Jason Webster correctly identifies the Key Skill of the double-agent as the successful distribution of totally believable false stories. Garbo (JP) in fact achieves his mastery of subterfuge mostly as a "storywriter", inventing a consistent and extravagant farrago of literary nonsense that is so moody and plausible that Hitler personally awards him the Iron Cross, Germany's highest military honour. This is a brilliantly adept book by a master about an earlier one — the difference being that Webster unravels the incredibly complex strands of Garbo's deliberate falsehoods to write as close to the historical truth as we'll probably ever have the delight of getting near.
on 15 May 2014
This was a well plotted story, it not only brought us the life of britain's foremost secret agent but wound the narrative like a good story, it really does a good job of evoking the awfulness of D-Day but also the small but crucial roll a few cunning chaps from MI5 had in making sure it wasn't even more awful. Of course we know the ending already so it's no surprise the good guys win but Webster does a good job of keeping up the tension of the last days of the war.
on 8 December 2015
Since the publication of Pujols book with Nigel West most of the information regarding the Garbo spy network has been out in public view.There have been numerous books on the topic,of which this is the latest.Generally well written covering familiar ground.I appreciated the final chapter which covered the post war activities of the main participants.
on 6 July 2014
This is another 'must read' from Jason Webster. Jason carries you along in his telling of this almost unbelievable piece of history. The time was a complex one, the situation desperate but, working with British intelligence, Juan Pujol (Garbo) was able to create a network of fictitious agents and as a consequence have a profound effect on the outcome of the D-Day landings. Garbo was a master of storytelling. Jason too has a unique style and I couldn't put the book down once I had begun. His characters jump from the pages and you become totally involved with the events of the time. For anyone wanting to learn more about this important period in 20th century history, look no further.