In January 1942, infamous Gen. Erwin Rommel is making a seemingly unstoppable march on Cairo, the "city of gold." Former Glasgow police detective Bert Cutler, now an Army captain, has been charged to uncover the spy who is feeding the Desert Fox information enabling him to thwart all British strategies.
En route to his new post, Cutler escorts fellow Scotsman Jimmy Ross, accused of murder, to the military prison in Cairo. When Cutler dies of a heart attack in their private train compartment, Ross assumes his identity.
Readers might expect that Ross's efforts to carry off the impersonation and capture Rommel's agent will be the focus of this 24th offering from an acknowledged master of espionage fiction, yet Ross is only one member of an intriguing ensemble cast, which includes a society girl turned undercover agent, a British deserter heading up a band of renegades, an exiled Russian prince and King Farouk himself.
Story lines concern not just the war, but also black-market activities and the efforts of Jewish operatives to arm themselves for the anticipated battle for a homeland. Directing his varied characters and juggling his many subplots, Deighton demonstrates enviable legerdemain. Literary Guild main selection. -- Publisher's Weekly Review
From the Ipcress File author
Abandoning present-day intrigues (MAMista, Spy Sinker, etc.), Deighton journeys back to WW II (SS-GB and XPD)--and a terrific return it is: a rich drama of heroes and villains awaiting German General Erwin Rommel's attack on Cairo--the ``city of gold.'' The plots here are many, but central among them is the attempt by Special Investigation Branch Major Bert Cutler to unmask the spy who's been leaking British secrets to Rommel. The kicker is that Cutler isn't Cutler; he's really Jimmy Ross, a British corporal who was on his way to Cairo to be court-martialed for killing an officer when his escort, Cutler, keeled over from a heart attack. Quick-thinking Ross switched IDs with Cutler and now finds himself in Cairo with an office, full staff, and carte blanche to turn the city upside down in pursuit of the spy--that is, if he doesn't betray himself first to any of the marvelously realized characters who crowd the pages here, from his leathery assistant to a manipulative Jewish nationalist, a White Russian prince, two young and beautiful Englishwomen, an upper-class British deserter turned grand thief, a too-caricatured American reporter (all tough pose and cocky action), and King Farouk himself--fat, decadent, imperious. It's the deserter who--by committing a murder that Ross must investigate--turns out to be Ross's main foil; and it's he who pulls the narrative--the first half of which springs forward mostly on perfectly pitched dialogue--into the desert and shattering action as Rommel attacks an armored caravan carrying Ross and several others, precipitating a crisis that movingly strips these men, good and evil, down to their bare selves. At one point, Ross is likened to Bogart--appropriate in a novel so reminiscent in spirit to Casablanca. And if this is the same old story, a song of love and glory, at least it's told here with consummate skill. Play it again, Len.