Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Frightened Pigeon

 The Frightened Pigeon (1942) by Richard Burke

Diary, diary...who's got the diary? Vichy, France during World War II. General von Stamm, a German who is Army but not Party has been keeping a very indiscreet diary in which he has criticized many of the orders he has nonetheless carried out "faithfully." The diary has disappeared and he commissions his son (a true Nazi) to find it before the Gestapo do. Although Colonel Kurt von Stamm is contemptuous of a father who could A. not be a devotee of the Fuhrer and B. keep such a diary, he agrees to find it when he realizes that the sins of the father could tarnish the son. Corporal Otto Fleber, a man with his eye to the main chance and an ear for eavesdropping, overhears this conversation and is quite pleased when the general assigns him to assist the colonel. Fleber has an entirely different plan for the fate of the diary.

Meanwhile, Charles John Dillon (known by the nickname "Ching" because of a period during the Spanish revolution when he shaved his head and his slightly upturned eyebrows made him look as if he were trying to appear Chinese), a war correspondant, has managed to get his hands on the diary and plans to smuggle it out of France and back to America where it can be published. He passes the diary off to his girlfriend Valerie Bright. Val is a dancer and he has decided that they can use her profession as a cover--a fake telegram will offer her a dancing gig in a town near the Spanish border. He'll make his unobtrusive way there and they'll slip into Spain where friends he made during the revolution will help them get away to America. 

Except...rival reporters Lotus Nedry and Jurg Sampson also know about the diary have plans of their own. For a good portion of the book, the diary switches hands faster than a game of hot potato. Now Val has it. No--Lotus and Jurg do. No, wait--the colonel and the corporal got it. Or maybe it was the Gestapo. All this makes for an interesting, action-packed adventure ending in a crypt on the Spanish border and a face-off between the good guys and the bad guys. There are double- and triple-crosses and what is meant to be a surprising reveal at the end. I'm afraid I wasn't surprised--I had my suspicions from the beginning...

And all Val wants is to go home with the man she loves. For a good chunk of the story, Val is an immoral wench--sure the Nazis are doing bad things, but they aren't doing them to her and as long as they leave her alone why should she do anything to put herself in danger? It was fairly unexpected, in a wartime thriller of this nature, to find the character growth that takes place in Val. She changes pretty significantly as she becomes entangled in the operation (at first pretty much against her will) and then more and more committed to the objectives. 

This is an engaging and satisfying war-time thriller. ★★ and 1/2

First line: Corporal Otto Fleber, attached to the Kommandant's headquarters staff in Paris, tilted his swivel chair back against the thin wall which separated his cubicle-like space from General von Stamm's office.

Hitler didn't excite her at all. He bore to her a marked resemblance to a Mr. Glank who'd attended the plumbing deficiencies of her home in Terre Haute from time to time. (p. 9)

Last line: The Spanish boy looked at him vaguely. "Good. Shall we be going?"


Deaths = 5 (one shot; three; stabbed; one strangled)

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