- - Thursday, April 4, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE MOROCCAN GIRL

By Charles Cumming

St. Martin’s Press, $27.99, 623 pages

In Frederick Forsyth’s memoir, “The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue,” the author of the classic thriller, “The Day of the Jackal,” tells how he came to perform various functions for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6.

He was working as a journalist in Africa when an SIS officer asked him for information about the war in Biafra. While working as a journalist and later a thriller writer, he continued to assist the SIS on numerous occasions, and the SIS returned the favor by providing Mr. Forsyth with information for his thrillers.



In a piece written at St. Martin’s Press, Charles Cumming explains how he was influenced by Frederick Forsyth’s SIS connection when he came to write his latest spy thriller, “The Moroccan Girl.”

“In my new novel, ‘The Moroccan Girl,’ a successful writer of spy thrillers becomes an agent for MI6. Kit Carradine is in his mid-30s. He lives alone in London, forever putting off the moment when he has to sit at his desk and write the required 1000 words per day which will allow him to meet the deadline on his latest book. Restless and easily distracted, Carradine is struggling to come to terms with what he calls the ‘Groundhog Day routine’ of the writer’s life. In short, he’s a bit bored,” Mr. Cumming writes.

Mr. Cumming has Kit Carradine run into a man named Robert Mantis in London who identifies himself as a British intelligence officer. Mantis asks Carradine to become a support agent for the Service and perform a couple of jobs while he is attending a book festival in Marrakech. Carradine, intrigued by the chance of becoming a bona fide spy, agrees.

“Could such a thing happen in real life? Does MI6 use writers in this capacity — or can I be accused of writing a 350-page wish-fulfilment fantasy?” Mr. Cumming writes. “The answer is: of course! MI6 has a well-documented history of recruiting novelists to its cause.”

As Mr. Cumming notes in his piece, Frederick Forsyth was not the first famous writer to work for British intelligence using the cover as a writer. W. Somerset Maugham, a celebrated author, was recruited in WWI to do intelligence work in Switzerland. Maugham later fictionalized his experiences in “Ashenden,” a must-read for students of espionage.

Author Graham Greene joined the SIS during WWII and worked for Kim Philby, later discovered to have been a traitor and penetration agent for the Soviets. John le Carre also worked for SIS. Ernest Hemingway, a world-famous author at the outbreak of WWII, did intelligence work in Cuba.

“And then there is Ian Fleming, whose experiences in naval intelligence during World War II led to the creation of the most famous spy of them all — James Bond,” Mr. Cumming writes. “Fleming was also partly responsible for one of the most ingenious intelligence coups of the war: Operation Mincemeat, in which false Top-Secret papers were planted on a corpse with the intention of misleading Nazi command.”

Mr. Cumming could have also added the late William F. Buckley Jr., who served briefly in the CIA in Mexico and later wrote a series of spy thrillers.

In “The Moroccan Girl,” Mantis explained to Carradine why writers are helpful. “Writers on research trips provide perfect cover for clandestine work. The inquisitive novelist always has a watertight excuse for poking his nose around. Any unusual or suspicious activity can be justified as part of the artistic process.”

Carradine’s mission in Morocco is to deliver cash to an agent and then look for a mysterious, shadowy fugitive named Lara Bartok. Bartok is the former girlfriend of Ivan Simakov, the leader of a violent terrorist movement known as Resurrection, an antifa-like group that attacks prominent right-wing figures

Resurrection’s kidnappings and murders are all over the news and prior to leaving London, Carradine witnesses Resurrection kidnap a journalist on a London street.

In Casablanca and Marrakech, Carradine lives the life of a spy and encounters a number of shady characters. He discovers that Resurrection, the Russians and the Americans are also looking for the girl. He finds Bartok and falls hard for her. Trying to protect her, Carradine engineers her escape from Morocco aboard a yacht owned by a man and woman he met in Marrakech.

Like any good thriller, there are chases, fist and gun fights, murders, romantic entanglements and mysterious people who are not what they seem. The novel also offers the exotic atmosphere of Morocco.

“The Moroccan Girl” is reminiscent of the late Eric Ambler, who wrote about naive amateurs caught up in a world of intrigue and violence.

Despite some cheap shots at Donald Trump and Fox News that I could have done without, I found the novel to be well-written and suspenseful.

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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