Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How to Be a Spy: Training Manual

Recently I posted a stiff and scholarly article on writing thoughtful book reviews. Today I'll break the rules. This book delights my inner geek.

(#soexcited #thisisawesome)

If you ever need to attack an armored enemy vehicle, overpower someone who's holding you at gunpoint, or drop by parachute into a country where no one should know how you got there, this book is for you.

Hey, wait. Don't leave yet.

I have read various sections aloud, much to the perturbation and amusement of my family members. As my mom said, "Sometimes she'll pull out something that will surprise you." Yup. Reading of choice this last week has been the SOE spy training manual for Allied spies, and lots of times it beat out my current fiction as more enjoyable, less traumatic, and tons of fun.

Even if you're not trying to write spy novels, like I am, you'll still love this book. I think it's the most unique book I've ever reviewed on the blog, and it gets 5 stars for sheer awesomeness.

The Book (From Amazon)
During World War II, training in the black arts of covert operation was vital preparation for the “ungentlemanly warfare” waged by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) against Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan. In the early years of the war, the SOE set up top secret training schools to instruct prospective agents in the art of being a spy. Soon there was an international network of schools in operation in secluded locations ranging from the Scottish Highlands to Singapore and Canada.

Reproduced here is one of the most comprehensive training syllabi used at SOE’s Special Training Schools (STSs) instructing agents on how to wreak maximum havoc in occupied Europe and beyond. A staggering array of unconventional skills are covered—from burglary, close combat, and silent killing, to utilizing propaganda, surveillance, and disguise—giving an unprecedented insight into the workings of one of WWII’s most intriguing organizations.

These files, released from the British National Archive, put covert history in readers’ hands. Uncover an exciting, little-known part of WWII history and delve into the inner workings of a real spy network.

My Thoughts 
One of my goals in writing a homefront spy novel is to showcase some unsung heroes of the war effort. Soldiers get a lot of glory (as well they should), foreign spies get a lot of novels--but those who spied on the homefront did just as much work for the safety of family and friends, and they deserve to be thought about.

If you write books with any kind of espionage, whether in the Middle Ages, or a fantasy world, or WW2, then this manual would be an excellent research book to read. While some weapons are strictly WW2, most of the book contains universal spy lore that can apply in any situation you would like it to. It's an easy read, and will give you a wealth of plot inspiration and finely honed techniques for your characters to use.

Even if you're not a writer, and just a history buff, this book gives a cool sneak-peek into the lives of homefront and foreign spies. Training was detailed, and I don't know how they remembered everything they needed to know. The mindset that spies had to have both to deceive and in many sobering instances, to kill, always leaves me wrestling.

This book will teach you all kinds of clandestine knowledge. How to break into a house. How to successfully enter a house full of enemies who want to kill you. How to apply first aid to burns, gunshots, and knife wounds (and yeah, I'm pretty pleased with the way I handled sucking chest wounds in one story). Probably the most sobering sections were on how to kill guards with knives, guns, or hands. Such knowledge is never to be lightly sought out, but in endeavoring to write realistic fiction, this book is useful without including gratuitous violence. It will give you what you need to know in frank, straightforward words that cut right to the core of the issue.

Some of the knowledge you could use even if you weren't a spy. If you like target practice, there's a section on common stance errors that will cause your aim to be off center. There are cool sections detailing various ciphers, and they were so confusing I figured that if anyone wanted to get a message past me, they probably could. ;) Here and there the instructor writing the syllabus inserts wry dashes of British wit that cracked me up. But overarching it all was a sense of seriousness and urgency. They cared about equipping their agents to do their work well, and to survive while they did it. Here and there, side notes to instructors reminded them to be patient with slow learners, to avoid unnecessary information, and to remind them not to take foolish risks.

This book rekindled my excitement for my espionage work-in-progress, and gave me an even better knowledge foundation for my characters' secret lives. An entertaining and informative read.

18 comments:

  1. I've been following your blog for more than a year now, and now Tuesdays and Fridays are the best days of the week.
    I was excited when I saw this. What an intriguing find! It may come in handy in the future. :) Thanks for all the good reviews!

    Lydia

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    1. Lydia, your comment was so sweet. It made my day. Thank-you for stopping by and saying hello!

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  2. This is so much fun! I definitely want to read it. I don't currently have a spy novel going, but who knows--I might in the future! And it just looks so interesting.

    -Grace (meyougod.blogspot.com)

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    1. It *is* interesting, and even if you never write a spy novel, it's just an all-around fascinating read. Hope you enjoy it, Grace!

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  3. "....cut right to the core of the issue...." Pun intended? :)

    I've enjoyed this book vicariously this week as well. I have lots of extra time--maybe becoming a spy would be a good side business to get into. #Youtalkedmeintoit

    I love finding books like this that are just totally off the usual track of one's choices in reading, but end up being truly enjoyable. Your mind learns and retains it in a different way. And it can even happen in the midst of a busy, compressed time in life. Cool. :)

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    1. Not intended this time. :P In fact, I think I removed another one before I posted.

      You know, I'm thinking this spy business might have something in it. We could start a spy academy after CG graduates, and sent out agents.

      PS. Love your hashtags, mother mine. ;)

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  4. This looks like a fun and intriguing read, even for us who aren't writing novels!

    I'll have to put this on my reading list along with "Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting for the Totally Unqualified"

    Cheers!

    Dani from A Vapor in the Wind

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    1. It is a fun read. You won't want to miss it, Dani! :)

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    2. I've got to get that book! How funny.

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  5. Several years ago, I researched women spies in WWII but didn't come across this book. My first completely finished novel (as opposed to opening pages and messy drafts) is about an American actress who becomes a courier for the Double Cross committee in England during WWII. I'm sharing snippets of the story on my blog each week.

    The entire espionage history of that time period is fascinating. For one thing, almost if not all the German agents were caught when they came to England. To avoid being killed, they became double agents who sent false info back to Germany.

    All that to say, I'm ordering this book today. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. I remembered you wrote WWII fiction. I'd like to read your book! It takes a lot of work to write historical spy novels, and this manual certainly helped make it easier for me. It is definitely worth purchasing!

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    2. I ordered it yesterday. :) This particular novel is now titled When Memory Whispers. I post snippets of it on Fridays.

      Always enjoy your posts.

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  6. Ah, now your review made me even more eager to read this book. I need to scour our local Half-Price bookstore for it. Although I can imagine the face of the employee when I ask "Where do you carry your books on spying?" xD

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    1. I have had funny looks from a librarian before. XD The price of knowledge....

      Actually, I think our current librarian thinks it's rather cool, but that's just my private guess.

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  7. Sister gonna be a spy. O.o B-) Just joking. :) Glad you could find this and that it helped you with plotting. =)

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    1. You betcha. :P This was a huge help for my writing. I can't wait to own it someday.

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  8. OOOOHHHHHH!!! I've always loved (obsessed over) anything spy related. But combine that with WWII..... I'm getting my hands on this book ASAP!

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