Heart of Deception: A Novel by M. L. Malcolm
Book summary from Goodreads: "From M. L. Malcolm, the acclaimed author of Heart of Lies, comes a powerful sequel that spans the years from World War II to the turbulent 1960s—the riveting story of a family struggling with choices forced upon them by war . . . and the consequences that will take a generation to unfold.
A man of many contradictions, Leo Hoffman is a Hungarian national with a French passport, a wealthy businessman with no visible means of support, and a devoted father who hasn't seen his daughter in years. He is also a spy. Recruited by the Allies to help lay the groundwork for their invasion of North Africa, Leo intends to engage in as little espionage as possible—just enough to earn his American citizenship so he can get to New York and reunite with his daughter, Maddy. But while Leo dodges death in France and Morocco, Maddy is learning shocking truths about her father's mysterious past—haunting knowledge that will compel her down her own dangerous path of deception and discovery."
Thanks, Ms. Malcolm, for telling us about the research that went into your historical novel, Heart of Deception.
M.L. Malcolm's guest post: Snacking on Historical Tidbits…like Mule Turd Bombs.
“Which takes longer, the research or the writing?” As the author of historical fiction, I’m often asked this question, and the answer is, invariably, the research.
At this moment I have sitting in my office a desk and three portable card tables loaded with books, stacks of photocopies, multipage printouts, several movies, many handwritten notes and even a few few magazines—all of which, added together, represent just a fraction of the materials I perused as I pulled together the setting and the story for my current novel- in-progress.
I am a recovery attorney. I was a litigator. The one thing that job shares with writing historical fiction is that you have to research the daylights out of a topic to make sure that nothing will come back to bite you later, say, while you are cross-examining a witness. For example, I once handled a case involving a tractor-trailer truck that rolled into a Taco Bell (interesting image, isn’t it? Don’t worry—no one was hurt). My client initially thought that the truck driver had simply failed to put the hand brake into action when he went to get his burrito. A little research revealed that the big brakes on those huge trucks don’t work that way; something other than just mere negligence had caused the rig to roll.
And that’s often the way it works: information yields answers that then beget more questions. When Leo Hoffman, one of the main characters in my just-released novel, Heart of Deception, was recruited to work as a spy in 1939 the very beginning of World War II, I had to figure out where he would have been sent. My research soon pointed to North Africa. The early espionage efforts of the Allies were focused there because it was one of two potential jumping-off points for a land invasion.
So who would have been Leo’s playmates in the spy game? As one might imagine, a whole host of intriguing characters presented themselves, but none more interesting than Carleton, a Harvard anthropologist more best-remembered for his efforts to use Darwin's theory of natural selection to explain the differing physical characteristics of the human race. His theories were largely discredited, but Coon’s memoir of his time as a spy, A North Africa Story: The Anthropologist as OSS Agent, came out a few years earlier, in 1957, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Coon had no compunction about making the details of his days as a spy public, thus providing great information for someone wanting to retell the tale more than fifty years later.
But that then becomes the problem: a history geek like me gets thrilled about things like finding a detailed description of a doorknob. But such tidbits do not necessarily make for interesting reading in a novel. Too many such fascinating facts can slow…the…story…down. What to leave in? What to leave out?
An easy decision when it came to Coon-Browne Mule Turd Bombs.
It seems that when Coon and his fellow anthropologist and co-spy, Gordon Browne, were asked by the British Special Operations Executive to send back rock samples that could be used to create realistic plastic explosives for use on roadsides, they wired back that the roads in North Africa contained many more mule stools then rocks, and suggested that the “toymakers” use those instead of rocks. This suggestion met with approval, and samples of donkey dung were duly collected and sent by special messenger to England (evidently the difference in diet between English donkeys and their Mediterranean relatives accounted for certain important differences in the physical characteristics of such items, so the Brits needed local samples to ensure authenticity).
And so they created the Coon-Browne Mule Turd Bomb, hundreds of which was successfully used in the North African campaign, especially in Tunisia, to slow down the movement of enemy troops when their tires were blown up by….you know.
Yes, it does take a long time. But who says research isn’t fun?
Title: Heart of Deception: A Novel. Paperback: 352 pages. Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011).