Top Secret: A Clandestine Operations Novel
TOP SECRET signals the start of a brand new series for W.E.B. Griffin and his son, William E. Butterworth IV. Appropriate for today’s national concern over tensions with Russia, the first Clandestine Operations novel is set at the end of World War II when both sides occupy Germany.
The story, though fiction, broadens our understanding of the tensions existing there. Argentina, a sympathizer to both sides, has become the focus for relocating former German officers, higher-ups in Hitler’s command. Monies have already been transferred there by the Nazis themselves. For the Americans, it becomes imperative to keep military secrets from the reach of Soviet spies and the KGB. Unlike J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, newly sworn-in President Harry Truman believes that Russia’s aspirations involve advancement into Europe. A new unit, the OSS, is formed to deal with delicate secret matters in an attempt to circumvent Hoover’s agency.
"Griffin and Butterworth blend their talents in a seamless military adventure that could well have happened at the beginning of the Cold War with Russia. TOP SECRET is a big book but an easy read, and pages cry out to be turned for the next thrilling chapter."
Emerging is a new hero, Second Lt. James D. Cronley, Jr., who proves to live on the edges of military propriety just as his Texas relative, U.S. Marine Major Cletus Frade, did from previous Griffin novels. At war’s end, Cronley’s bravado in keeping secret cargo confiscated from a U-boat heading for Argentina earns him an audience with the President. His romance with Marjorie Howell, the granddaughter of Texas oil and aviation tycoon Cletus Marcus Howell, leads to an elopement before the now-Major Cronley heads to Germany. While he flies overseas, his wife is killed in a head-on crash outside of Washington.
Under the command of Col. Robert Mattingly, Cronley will oversee operations at Kloster Grunau, a former Vatican-owned monastery in the American Zone of Occupation in Bavaria. His newly formed unit is placed under the direction of a new Cabinet agency, led by General Souers, to be known in the future as the CIA. Cronley’s job will be to work with former high-ranking German military officers who are now civilians. His unit is to care for them, guard military secrets they have shared, and ultimately arrange new identities and lives for them and their families in Argentina. Meanwhile, these secrets are to be kept from the Soviet KGB and the FBI.
General Reinhard Gehlen and Oberst Ludwig Mannberg confer with Cronley about his celebrated action on the U-boat. The discussion leads to the discovery that an occupant in the compound had been caught in an escape attempt. He carries a nearly complete roster of all German prisoners/detainees who had made it out of the Russian Zone, which includes most of Gehlen’s people. Gehlen had run German intelligence during the war, and believes the culprit to be an NKGB agent who may have turned on some of his own people to spy for the Soviets.
In ensuing chapters, Cronley’s youth and inexperience meet test after test against older, higher-ranking military minds. Where the Germans’ method is to “disorientate” the Russians, Cronley prefers a subtle, more humane approach.
Barely having time to grieve over Marjorie, Cronley meets with Mattingly and officers close to General Eisenhower to refine strategies they will implement for the mission. He sees Mattingly as one who will delegate unpleasant duties to keep his hands clean. The spy situation fits the pattern, with Cronley the designated fall guy. Cronley meets Col. Shumman and his wife, Rachel, with ASA and CIC officers, and finds his youth and good looks severely tested. Rachel unapologetically flirts, cajoles and seduces him. Guilt sweep across him, but primal urges win out. Often, the two are thrown together in formal military events, and he cannot shake himself loose from her seduction. Each tryst makes him more uneasy.
Griffin brings in the familiar Major Cletus Frade, from his earlier series about Argentinian involvement during WWII, as both a mentor and relative to Cronley. Together, they fly many miles in German Storch aircraft, U.S.-made constellations and miscellaneous other planes to carry out the orders given them by President Truman. Like the young Frade before him, Cronley pulls blunder after blunder, rising for scant breaths of reality. His impetuous nature often creates success, but leaves unanswered questions asked by his superiors, primarily Mattingly. When Cronley realizes that the Russian spy may have higher motives for lack of cooperation, the youthful officer offers sanctuary to the man far beyond the scope of his authority. Hiding an internal clandestine operation from his superior officer with hopes of gaining valuable information takes both him and Frade on a wild aerial sortie.
Griffin and Butterworth blend their talents in a seamless military adventure that could well have happened at the beginning of the Cold War with Russia. TOP SECRET is a big book but an easy read, and pages cry out to be turned for the next thrilling chapter.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on August 22, 2014