Secret identities. Undercover intrigues. Classified information. Double agents. Specially coded messages. Spies.
Perhaps it is their classy acumen. Perhaps it is their affinity for probing out secret knowledge or their cold-blooded determinedness. Whatever it is, spies hold an immense fascination for the general public, as is evidenced by both cinema and press.
The Secret is Out tells the stories of eleven men and women who played a role in the history of spying. Some are well known – Lawrence of Arabia, Mata Hari, etc. – others less so. But their stories are equally intriguing.
In The Gentleman Spy, Major John Andre conspires with Benedict Arnold to deliver West Point into the hands of the British.
In Abraham Lincoln’s Personal Spy, Allan Pinkerton works feverishly to avert an assassination plot planned by Italian murderers.
In The Spy with ‘the Delicate Air’, Belle Boyd uses her harmless manner to trick Union soldiers into revealing vital information which she reports to the Confederate Army.
In The Black Chamber Counterspy, Maximilian Ronge must discover who is leaking important information to the Russians.
In The Eye of the Morning, Mata Hari thinks that spying will be an easy way to make quick money. She quickly learns that it is far from easy and is often deadly.
In The Phantom of the Desert, Captain Thomas Lawrence of Britain helps his Arabian friends capture an important Turkish city.
In The Spy Without a Country, the finicky Trebitsch Lincoln spies alternatively for England, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and China.
In Mincemeat Swallowed Whole, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu deceives the German intelligence officers with one of the most bizarre ruses ever employed in history.
In The Clenched Fist, Fritz Kolbe plays a dangerous double game working for the German government but secretly relaying information to the Allied forces.
In The Third Man, Stewart Menzies, Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, must ascertain which of his trusted officers are the three Russian spies. He captures two of them – but who is the third man?
In The Spy Next Door, Rudolf Ivanovich Abel operates a Russian spy ring under the very noses of the FBI.
Mr. Martini did an excellent job keeping the stories interesting and factual without emphasizing the darker intrigues which surrounded these agents. I myself was impressed by the amount of spying and counter-spying which takes place during war.
The introduction offered what I thought was a very balanced perspective on spies; simply stated, spies are alternatively heroes and villains depending on which cause you support. It is precisely the men that we execrate that our enemies laud. I was surprised that Mr. Martini offered the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah as a case in point. He pointed out that while we loathe Delilah, to the Philistines she must have been a national hero. It was interesting to be reminded how one’s perspective can make a villain out of a hero – or a hero out of a villain.
It is mentioned of Belle Boyd that she is “not ready to devote herself to just one young man” because she’s having too much fun. (Essentially, she’s flirting with several).
The story of Mata Hari is very tactfully told and is appropriate for young readers. However, there is one sketch of her in which her stomach is bare. This can easily be obscured with a black marker, sticky note, or whatever is your favorite method for covering such things. =)
On the last page of the book Mr. Martini writes;
Who knows, though, what the future holds? Alliances change constantly as countries move closer together in their thinking and in their values. We may look forward to the day in some not-so-distant future when nations will no longer arm themselves, their people will find peaceful means of settling differences, and there will be one united world with no need for international spying or spy heroes. [pg. 133]
Apart from the obvious issue of a one-world government, I think this paragraph shows a bit of naiveté on the part of Mr. Martini. Even if a one-world government were achieved, this would not put an end to political power battles between opposing parties. Spies would still be in demand within the nation – just as they are now.
Conclusion. Many of these stories were new to me, but I found them entirely engaging. The Secret is Out is an extremely interesting but safe book for children.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret