Dagmar Mohne Hansen Lahlum

Were I a novelist, were I really going to write an espionage bestseller—as my mother-in-law announced to relatives at dinner the other night (mostly to cover up a lull in the conversation), I would write a novel based on the life of Dagmar Lahlum.

Lahlum was Agent Zigzag’s lover during his 11-month stay in occupied Norway. He picked her up at the Ritz and, neither knowing the other was a spy for the allies, they became lovers: Dagmar, fond of Chapman but also working for the Norwegian resistance; Chapman, well, being Chapman, a sentimental womanizer, finding his port in the storm.

Still, they bought a skiff and together sailed up the coast to the estate that Quisling had taken over. When Chapman returned to England in 1944 he was able to provide MI5 with a precise map of the Quisling compound, should the Allies want to bomb the Nazi government in Norway.

That’s a great scene to imagine from her point of view, isn’t it? Sailing with your lover, who has just confessed that he’s spying for England, and then picnicking on Quisling’s grounds together…

She never had children and lived a long life, always beautiful, in leopardskin and red lipstick to the end. At her death, her niece burned a drawerful on unsent letters to Chapman.

Oh, you can hear, it’s practically a movie already, isn’t it?

Reading Jenny’s account of traveling to Copenhagen to get the flavor of the place for the Explosionist, I had my own momentary fantasy of a Norwegian visit for background material for my novel.

Unwritten novels are always the best..

Codes: More on Zigzag

Chapman’s success as a double agent was not only due to his own criminal genius. German intelligence was not nearly as strong as English. Specifically, England cracked Germany’s supposedly uncrackable code long before Germany recognized it.

Macintyre reprints the explanation of Chapman’s code in full from the MI5 archive.

Puzzling over it, I’m reminded of my girlhood fascination with codes, secret ink, and hidden messages. But my problem, of course, always was that, not being a spy but, rather, a 10-year-old girl in Seattle in peace time, I had no message to impart other than “Hi. Can you read this message?”

Leaving the war to the side for a moment, there is something thrilling in having a message so important, so particular that you would want to take the word CONSTANTINOPLE, assign each letter in the word a number according to its place in the alphabet, then, the word (A=1, there being no B in Constantinople, C=2, the first O=9, the second O=10), multiply the resulting number by the date of the transmission, then do four or five other really complicated things so that

And then, too, it’s exciting and useful to know that even spies had to send dull messages at times. I will be sure to impart this information to my children when they send each other messages in code. You can pretend, I’ll tell them, that you’ve just completed a very, very dangerous mission and your control agent needs to know that you’re ok.

Agent Zigzag

I finished Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag with relish! What a great story—a nonfiction work that truly earns its subtitle: Lover Traitor Hero Spy.

Eddie Chapman was a young career criminal (26 or so), imprisoned in Jersey, UK, when the Nazis occupied the island. Bored and hungry, he offered himself to the Germans as a spy, got crack training, and then, upon landing (by parachute) in England with a mission, thought better of it and offered himself to the English as a double agent.

The English ran him for about 2 years (1942-1944) and he played an important role in the war, spreading, for example, misinformation about the location and damage of the doodlebugs, Germany’s unmanned bombs that did such damage to London during the blitz.

It’s a gripping, fun story, somewhere between Hogan’s Heroes and James Bond—but true. Macintyre is a strong writer who never loses his narrative thread. There are many, many moments when he might have been waylaid by an interesting or distressing side story, but he keeps the plot moving and keeps us focused on Chapman. The prose is fine—good enough that, late in the book when he permits himself the execrable (but inevitable) Ian Fleming pun (Fleming, Ian Fleming), I didn’t just forgive, I laughed.

Woolf & Spies

Via the vwoolf listserv, from a week or so back.

Seems I'm not the only one obsessed with Woolf and James Bond....

If I could bring an author back to life...

In the week that Sebastian Faulks revived the work of Ian Fleming, we asked five writers to do the same for their favourite novelists

Katy Guest chooses Virginia Woolf

A plausible charmer once told me that my email style reminded him of Virginia Woolf's obscurer essays. He later said that I looked like her, which spoiled the compliment, but of course I wish I could write like that. Who else could be so thrilling in a story in which hardly anything happens? Sebastian Faulks says that Bond was difficult to write because he has "almost no internal life". Then Woolf's novels are the anti-Bond: her characters have interior life – to the exclusion of much else. In fact, Bond would be about the same age as the six year-old James in To the Lighthouse. Which could explain a lot...

To the Spy Who Loved Me

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs Bond. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.

To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled that the target practice were bound to take place, and the karate lesson to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a quick fumble on the beach with the lighthouse keeper's crippled daughter, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan of English public schoolboys who cannot express any emotion at all, and must let future prospects, of mutilating mackerel and throwing them back into the sea, foreshadow what is actually at hand, since to such people any expression of suffocating motherly compassion or paternal disapproval has the power to crystallise and fix the moment somewhere only the best-paid Harley Street shrink could ever find it, James Bond, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of Italian-made Beretta 418s, endowed that picture of cold steel with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy. The Aston Martin DB5, the Rolex submariner, the sound of heavy breathing, a naked girl softly singing on a beach – all these were so coloured and distinguished in the mind of this image of handsome British manhood unformed, though there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors with deadly skill around the pictures, imagined that it might take only the slightest disappointment to this childish sensibility, the smallest snub from a figure of authority, to turn this sweet, rumple-haired child into a ruthless killer.

"But," said his father, stopping in front of the drawing room window, "it won't be fine."

Editor! Editor!

My father remains my best line-editor. Others--my husband, my writing group, my colleagues around the world--are wonderful for helping me with the big ideas, the implications of theory, the allusions and notions that I've missed or wrongly emphasized, but for elegant styling, my father remains the best.

So, when I sent him a copy of my paper on Kim Philby's memoir, I was not surprised to receive, in response, a brief nod of praise followed by five or six instances where he noted an inconsistency, a moment of confusion. This one, in particular, however, continues to amaze me. My paper has a long meditation on the ironies of Kim Philby taking his name from the Kipling novel, Kim. My father thought it might be worth a footnote to add:
Of course, the fictional Kim spies for crown and Empire, while Philby successfully did the reverse.
When I went to add that lovely small observation in my paper, I grew self-conscious about lifting his language entire, so I momentarily put:
Of course, the fictional Kim spies for crown and Empire, while Philby worked against it.
Not nearly as good, is it? My flat-footed pairing of for vs. against lacks the elegance of "did the reverse."

I can't quite figure out why his is so much better. Can you?

Needless to say, his phrasing now stands.