Francine Mathews – “Too Bad To Die”

Too Bad to DieToo Bad To Die is so brisk and light on its feet, that you’ll be sucked right in to this whirling plot involving British Naval Intelligence Officer Ian Fleming and the Tehran Conference of 1943.

Told with fast-shifting points of view and a library’s worth of savory historical detail, this spy-thriller-suspense novel mashes the form in spirited fashion and expects you to keep up, precious little spoon feeding allowed.

I’m no World War II buff, but Francine Mathews lays out the basics with ease. The setting is Cairo and Tehran as Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and later Josef Stalin meet to finalize the D-Day invasion. Our hero Fleming, with a significant legacy to live up to and just beginning to understand his true talents, is assigned to ferret out a plot to assassinate the Allied leaders. Fleming is warned that the mastermind of the plot, known by his handle “The Fencer,” may have wormed his way into either the delegation of the Brits or the Americans.

Too Bad To Die is a busy book (in a good way). Be prepared for a large cast. Mathews fearlessly switches point of view between chapters. Historical figures abound, from Alan Turing to Averell Harriman to Elliott Roosevelt. Mathews’ two years of research shows, but she deals out the tidbits in smooth fashion. The chapters about Fleming, who invents the James Bond alter ego for his undercover work, set the anchor. He’s got something to prove and some determination to get the job done. Along the way there are hidden transmitters, vodka-guzzling pilots, decoy dignitaries, fake Russian waiters, you get the picture.

As Mathews notes in her acknowledgements, “Fleming was up to his eyeballs in secret plots” as the assistant director to British Naval Intelligence in wartime London. “His shadow falls across many of the most daring and ingenious deception operations of the war, particularly disinformation campaigns against the Axis. A great number of myths have grown up around him as well—from the outset, he was a character meant for fiction.”

Too Bad To Die proves leaves little doubt of that fact. Case closed.

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