The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayalby Howard Blum
The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Dark Invasion, channels Erik Larson and Ben Macintyre in this riveting biography of Betty Pack, the dazzling American debutante who became an Allied spy during WWII and was hailed by OSS chief General “Wild Bill" Donovan as “the greatest unsung heroine of the/em>/em>
The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Dark Invasion, channels Erik Larson and Ben Macintyre in this riveting biography of Betty Pack, the dazzling American debutante who became an Allied spy during WWII and was hailed by OSS chief General “Wild Bill" Donovan as “the greatest unsung heroine of the war.”
Betty Pack was charming, beautiful, and intelligent—and she knew it. As an agent for Britain’s MI-6 and then America’s OSS during World War II, these qualities proved crucial to her success. This is the remarkable story of this “Mata Hari from Minnesota” (Time) and the passions that ruled her tempestuous life—a life filled with dangerous liaisons and death-defying missions vital to the Allied victory.
For decades, much of Betty’s career working for MI-6 and the OSS remained classified. Through access to recently unclassified files, Howard Blum discovers the truth about the attractive blond, codenamed “Cynthia,” who seduced diplomats and military attachés across the globe in exchange for ciphers and secrets; cracked embassy safes to steal codes; and obtained the Polish notebooks that proved key to Alan Turing’s success with Operation Ultra.
Beneath Betty’s cool, professional determination, Blum reveals a troubled woman conflicted by the very traits that made her successful: her lack of deep emotional connections and her readiness to risk everything. The Last Goodnight is a mesmerizing, provocative, and moving portrait of an exceptional heroine whose undaunted courage helped to save the world.
Passion fuels the missions of WWII secret agent “Cynthia,” aka Betty Pack (1910–1963), in this scrupulously researched profile of the “blonde Bond” from Vanity Fair contributing editor Blum (Dark Invasion). Taking advantage of access to newly declassified material, Blum leaves little to the imagination. Pack, née Thorpe, grew up in Washington, D.C., and an early marriage to an English civil servant led to an unexpected career as an MI6 agent when the couple was posted overseas. Having seduced her way through Spain during its Civil War and Warsaw on the eve of WWII, an assignment to infiltrate the embassy of Vichy France sent her into the arms of husband number two. The book opens in 1960s France, with Pack—as Mme. Brousse—reconnecting with fellow operative H.M. Hyde after a two-decade hiatus, igniting old sparks. Hyde serves as the willing confidant to whom she recounts her life story, which Blum presents in seven parts, each featuring a different romance. Though barely known today, Pack’s undercover work changed the course of the war in favor of the Allied troops. Details of her early life seem superfluous, but Blum successfully delineates the social forces in play at the time and conveys the irresistible magnetism that turned a young woman into a world-class spy. Photos. (Apr.)
Journalist Blum (Dark Invasion) delivers a provocative biography of glamorous debutante Betty Pack (1910–63), a Minnesota native who became an extraordinary Allied spy during World War II. At 19, Pack (née Thorpe) married a British diplomat many years her senior. Although the match proved unhappy, it afforded the adventurous Pack the opportunity to travel the world. It was during a posting in Madrid that she first became involved in spycraft. In the dangerous days leading up to the Spanish Civil War, Pack used her persuasive charms to ascertain the location of a politically imprisoned paramour and secure his release. Her resourceful behavior did not go unnoticed; Pack was recruited by Britain's MI6 to become a covert operative and was involved in missions that included securing material that helped decipher the German Enigma machine. Blum successfully demonstrates how the intelligence gathered during Pack's clandestine career directly aided Allied victory. Using recently unclassified files, the author provides an exhilarating rendering of this courageous female agent, while Mary Lovell's Cast No Shadow imparts a more conventional review of Pack's life. VERDICT Skillfully researched and entertainingly written, Blum's narrative will appeal to both military buffs and those fascinated with the world of espionage. [See Prepub Alert, 10/19/15.]—Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA
Fascinating portrait of an accidental but very effective female American spy at the fraught early stages of World War II. Vanity Fair contributing editor Blum (Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany's Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America, 2014, etc.) finds an intriguing, beguiling subject in Betty Pack, the Minneapolis-born wife of a British diplomatic functionary who fell into the world of espionage. Born Amy Elizabeth Thorpe to a Marine father and Minnesota bluestocking mother, Pack, "by nature a restless and solitary girl," married the British diplomat Arthur Pack out of desperation in 1930, not only because of her pregnancy, but also to escape the provincial U.S. and see the world. After a diplomatic stint in Chile, when she recognized that she and her husband were fatally incompatible, and then Madrid, she became radicalized by the Spanish Civil War. Though she sympathized with the Fascists, she had to play both sides in order to secure supplies for the rebels as well as spring her lover from prison. At her husband's next posting, in Warsaw, Pack was recruited into British intelligence, specifically William Stephenson's British Security Coordination, which wanted desperately to know about the Polish attempts to crack the German Enigma code. With her excellent diplomatic cover and her reckless highflying flair, which Blum portrays with brio, Pack was enlisted to seduce high-level Polish official Count Michal Lubienski, among others. Posted next to Washington, D.C., Pack was ordered to use her skills at "discreet entertaining" to get possession of the Italian naval cipher, which she dutifully accomplished by bedding the Italian naval attaché Alberto Lais. Subsequently, and rather incredibly, she was able to break into the Vichy French Embassy and secure their naval ciphers. Reading more like a suspense novel than history, Blum's account brings an unsung heroine to vivid life. Occasionally breathless and torrid in description, this is a well-documented work that certainly never bores.
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Meet the Author
Howard Blum is the author of the New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award winner American Lightning, as well as Wanted!, The Gold of Exodus, Gangland, and The Floor of Heaven. Blum is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. While at the New York Times, he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. He is the father of three children, and lives in Connecticut.
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Well written and intriguing. Interesting how the allies capitalized on one woman's wayward moral compass and her struggles throughout.
Exciting and interesting read!