Robert Hutton comes to the blog today with a story of an MI-5 secret agent during World War II, a story that had been hidden for the intervening years and now comes to light in
I don’t know if I would instantly have grabbed this title to read had it not been based on a man, and a story, that helped to inspire Kate Atkinson’s book, Transcription. While I read that and found the story gripping, I had issues with the main character’s choices and repeated ‘missteps’, and while I know that much of the information was based in fact, I had only a passing interest in the “story behind the inspiration” until I was told of this book.
Essentially what Hutton has done is pull information and followed trails, taking documents that are researched and footnoted extensively, and presented a story of Britain during the War that isn’t the “widespread” one – tales of the growth of Fascism through the oft-mentioned yet never fully explored British Union of Fascists (shortened to British Union), and the unease with which a segment of the British population found the second war, and the privations and hardships encountered and to come were too reminiscent of the feeling that returning soldiers from the first World War weren’t particularly well-cared for, as promised. And, if we are honest, the worldwide depression in the 30’s and the appearance of Germany’s economic recovery, far earlier than most countries, under this new regime provided a sort of ‘guidepost’ to the people that were so tired of privations and shortages.
Enter Eric Roberts, a bank clerk with no discernible skills or outstanding talents (especially not seen by his bosses of fifteen years) and his mission to infiltrate the ‘suspicious at home’, making connections, sharing information of plots to undermine the British determination to withstand Hitler’s forward progress, and then see that plots and plans are foiled, either through his own direct actions or by passing on said information. He posed as a Gestapo spy, drawing in those encouraged or outright supportive of the plans Hitler made, providing a gripping read and asking the question – just how far would (or could) this man, codename Agent Jack, go with plans to sabotage – and would (or could) he participate. Several “German Friendly” citizens were named and discovered – from the already “known” Duke of Windsor (Prince Edward, later Edward VIII before the abdication) to others who were never brought forward with charges as the work Agent Jack was doing was far too important and his cover and story would have been exposed.
What emerges is the sort of expected in a situation of war – some are for, some are against, most are simply just trying to survive in whatever means possible. Although we do meet several “Pro British” agents and see the work they did in and out of country – the best example is Victor Rothschild who, as a Jew was invested in many bomb disposal operations and clearly determined to stop Hitler, and the horrible way in which he was treated by the establishment, despite his work and the dangers he faced. The story is equally disheartening and hopeful because of the truths uncovered, and Hutton’s style allows the reader to absorb these details as they build on one another, leaving just as much impact as one might expect the ‘players’ had as events unfolded. While this was very clearly not a read in one sitting sort of book for me, the information revealed from papers buried deep showed the war effort by MI-5 as far more intricate or involved than any ever thought, and leave a series of names and people who, for their own reasons, made choices that were, at best, selfish and short-sighted, or at worst treasonous. An intriguing read for those interested in the ‘undercover’ work of agencies and agents during the World War II era, and the research and footnotes lead readers in many directions for further information, even though the groundwork here in this book is thorough and easily accessible.
Title: Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5's Secret Nazi Hunter
Author: Robert Hutton
Genre: Biographic / autobiographic, Historical Non-Fiction, Political commentary, Setting: Britain, World War II
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Published on: 12 November, 2019
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 13 minutes
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The never-before-told story of Eric Roberts, who infiltrated a network of Nazi sympathizers in Great Britain in order to protect the country from the grips of fascism
June 1940: Europe has fallen to Adolf Hitler’s army, and Britain is his next target. Winston Churchill exhorts the country to resist the Nazis, and the nation seems to rally behind him. But in secret, some British citizens are plotting to hasten an invasion. Agent Jack tells the incredible true story of Eric Roberts, a seemingly inconsequential bank clerk who, in the guise of “Jack King”, helped uncover and neutralize the invisible threat of fascism on British shores. Gifted with an extraordinary ability to make people trust him, Eric Roberts penetrated the Communist Party and the British Union of Fascists before playing his greatest role for MI5: Hitler's man in London. Pretending to be an agent of the Gestapo, Roberts single-handedly built a network of hundreds of British Nazi sympathizers—factory workers, office clerks, shopkeepers —who shared their secrets with him. It was work so secret and so sensitive that it was kept out of the reports MI5 sent to Winston Churchill.
In a gripping real-world thriller, Robert Hutton tells the fascinating story of an operation whose existence has only recently come to light with the opening of MI5’s WWII files. Drawing on these newly declassified documents and private family archives, Agent Jack shatters the comforting notion that Britain could never have succumbed to fascism and, consequently, that the world could never have fallen to Hitler. Agent Jack is the story of one man who loved his country so much that he risked everything to stand against a rising tide of hate.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: