Lots of wind, snow and ice makes for excellent book reading time.
I read my first Kate Shackleton British Mystery, Murder in the Afternoon [Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 2011]by Frances Brody. Quite good, easy read but not too predictable so I intend to check out more in the series. Sigh. After all this time, I confess I still go by the Tony Hillerman collection and shake my head in sorrow. How I miss him.
I’m not much of a Biography genre reader unless it’s a WWII figure and I especially deign the light celebrity biographies. Be in a tv series for a year and write your biography? What about Barack Obama writing 2 biographies at a time when his highest achievement was getting elected to the Illinois state senate? I picked up the Bob Hope biography Hope [Simon & Schuster, 2014] by Richard Zoglin because a few glimpsed pages convinced me it was well written and well researched. Also, I remember Hope very well and what a giant figure he was in America. It’s an interesting and easy read. My only complaint is that is was seemingly written as a number of chapters loosely tied together into a book. Quite a bit of repetition and a few discrepancies in approach, e.g. in one chapter he refers to Hope losing his draw power at the box office and laments a certain film. In the next chapter, Zoglin discusses Hope’s eldest [adopted] daughter and her late role as a working partner with her dad in production and happily touts the same film as an impressive achievement.
Zoglin goes on to discuss the actor’s role in conservative politics and it’s quite even-handed but when he draws attention to the radicalized 1975 Oscars and the acceptance speech for the antiwar movie Hearts and Minds, I think the author paints Hope and Sinatra as out of touch old conservatives in contrast with the younger cooler likes of Shirley MacLaine and brother Warren Beatty. Not so sure about that. That acceptance speech by Bert Schneider sending regards from the VietCong and thanking the antiwar protestors was regarded by most Americans as disgusting, improper and radical, and recall that this time in history was the election and reelection of Richard Nixon. Most people thought Beatty was a pretty playboy and MacLaine was a nut. Pretty interesting for me to relive the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with Bob Hope in this book.
The most interesting book was Escape Room [Doubleday, 1970] by Airey Neave. When I think of Neave, it’s mostly in connection as a trusted advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but every book on WWII escapes from Nazi prisons and concentration camps treats Neave as a real hero for his successful [third try] escape from the unescapable Colditz prison. What I didn’t know was Neave’s work back in Britain as an intelligence officer distinct but similar to the SOE. The SOE sent spies to Axis countries to glean information or assist various underground resistance groups in sabotage. Neave’s much smaller group – the London address was Room 900, War Room, thus the book title – was a much smaller but vital mission of helping grounded pilots, prison escapees or other valuable persons get out of Western Europe through lines established between Room 900 and various people in those occupied countries. Very dangerous work and under constant threat from traitors and Nazi tracking. I’d already read some of the books put out by different people engaged in different vantage points in different countries – the Belgian Dedee, e.g., and her Comet Line became very famous – but it was still interesting to hear from someone on the British end who was in charge of certain phases. The courage and sacrifice of these people taking Allies through the lines to Spain or Switzerland, usually was incredible. So many of them were tortured and killed but these people hated the Nazis; the number of Allies funneled through their lines was staggering.
One aspect of the D-Day landings I’d never heard of was the sheltering of hundreds of Allies – mostly downed airmen – hidden in forests with the organization of Room 900, who couldn’t get them out of the country with all the D-Day activities and struggled to keep them safe from the Nazi’s and ensure the Allied invasion force – who were unaware of the hidden airmen – didn’t inadvertently bomb them. Some of the forests, such as Foret de Freteval, were in France and housed hundreds but others were in Belgium. Operation Sherwood, as it was called, was the brainchild of Neave and he sneaked into France to aid the safe clearing of the forests. It made for an exciting read.