Taking place during the latter years of World War II, THE SPYMASTERS --- W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV’s latest Men at War novel --- follows the sometimes unorthodox OSS officer Dick Canidy in a mission to rescue two of his missing operatives. Readers have followed him behind enemy lines to Sicily, where he was successful in destroying canisters of a lethal toxic chemical that Germany tried to produce for use in its weaponry. In retaliation, the SS had strung up two Sicilian fishermen, chosen at random in a message to locals that helping the Americans will have deadly consequences. A radio operator and assistant remain behind, to intercept communications between the Germans and Italian allies. When intelligence from Canidy’s men seems odd, the OSS fears the mission has been compromised and the men captured.
"Griffin and Butterworth fill their series with numerous characters, use block wording for passing intelligence messages, and draw heavily on the 'rogue' attitude of their protagonist."
Against orders from General Eisenhower, Canidy pushes his immediate boss, Captain Fine, to allow him and one man to enter Sicily, to determine what has happened to his radio oprerator, and either rescue him or shut down the Mercury Station. Ike’s emphasis is on the forthcoming Allied landing in France. He will not fund intelligence activity whose complications may compromise the greater mission, the Normandy invasion.
However, Canidy’s group, through information from Allen Dulles, brings to light an even greater threat. Dulles keeps in close contact with a former college friend, German industrialist Wolfgang Kappler, and they meet in Switzerland, safe territory for both. Kappler’s steel factories have been nationalized by the Hitler regime and re-tooled for weapons manufacture. He owns seven plants, five of which have been taken. Intelligence relays that massive dams in the Ruhr Valley have been bombed, the river flooding the entire countryside, meaning that Kappler’s investment will be destroyed. It is believed that his factories will produce warheads that will carry a new form of nerve gas, more potent than those canisters that Canidy destroyed. The new warhead will be capable of reaching the British coast, information that Dulles convinces Kappler to verify.
OSS will extract Kappler’s family to safety in South America, though Kappler’s son, a German army officer, may be unwilling to turn traitor to his country. A complicated series of covert activities get underway to locate Oscar and determine his loyalty.
Canidy forces himself to team up with the Sicilian Mafia , in the person of Jimmy Palasota (or Skinny Jimmy in Mafia ranks). Palosota’s ties link around the globe to New York City and include American mobsters, jailed and otherwise. His present locale is the Hotel Michangelo in Sicily, where he operates a lucrative prostitution business. Now, with the town swarming with arrogant German SS officers, his girls keep the coffers full. But Jimmy and friends hold no love for the German occupiers; he will take his profit from them without a second thought.
Canidy’s mission soon becomes two-fold: to locate and extract his own men, and to either kill or rescue Oscar.
Griffin and Butterworth fill their series with numerous characters, use block wording for passing intelligence messages, and draw heavily on the “rogue” attitude of their protagonist. The Men at War series exposes a side of U.S. intelligence used in World War II, actions that are probable but not heretofore glorified. A glimpse of the generals associated with the bigger picture of combat is informative. Although the conclusion seems a bit rushed, THE SPYMASTERS satisfies.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on November 2, 2012