Sixty years after the Second World War ended, the global cataclysm is still throwing up extraordinary stories of human courage, tragedy, and – as in this book – sheer weirdness.
Edward Marriott has reconstructed, insofar as the incomplete sources allow, a remarkable tale from the shady borderlands of espionage and secret warfare, where bluster, exaggeration and downright lies meet. What emerges is a colourful fresco with large areas missing. Sometimes Marriott admits the lacunae in his narrative. Then he attempts to paper over the gaps with the broad brushstrokes of the imaginative novelist – in fairness, probably the only way that this odyssey could have been smoothed into the coherent and gripping voyage through an amazing life that he presents.
The book centres around the outlandish figure of Claude Péri, one of those alarming people who only explode into life in times of war and social upheaval. Claude was a colonial official from a family long resident in French-ruled Vietnam. Like the elite who ran Britain's Indian Raj, Claude and