Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spy Caper in Nazi Germany (A Toast to Tomorrow)

     Manning Coles. A Toast to Tomorrow (1941. Republished by Bantam Books 1947) An odd book: an anti-Nazi spy story written early in the war, and reprinted by Bantam books after the war. The story is a fairly convoluted fantasy plot: A severely injured amnesiac British intelligence agent washes up on the Belgian shore in 1918. The docs at the German Naval Hospital patch him up and let him go. He builds a life for himself as a good German, rises to become Chief of Police. Eventually he recovers his memory of himself as Tommy Hambledon, and sets about saving some people from the increasing brutality of the Nazi regime, and finding the murderer of his comrade. He executes justice on the latter just before he and another agent make their way to Switzerland, and presumably from there to England.
     The story is of course preposterous. The tone of the tale is a mix of gung-ho incorruptible spy-hero with touches of irony, wit, and farce. The cover blurb invokes Wodehouse, not inappropriately. It’s a quick read. Its structure reminds me of a movie: an event narrated in some detail, then a jump to the next event. The whole is stitched together to make for a superficially plausible story in which the reader can imagine himself as the dashing hero. The swiftness of the narration (it covers about 20 years) allows one to ignore the holes in the plot.
     I think the whole was concocted much like the patriotic pro-war movies of the early war years, which both the Allies and the Germans produced in great quantity. Both sides portrayed “our boys” as paragons of virtue and noble restraint with an uncompromising sense of justice, and of course the superior brains and skills that guaranteed the defeat of the most wily opponents. An interesting historical artefact. But well written, which probably explains why Bantam chose to reprint it.
     Bantam Books was founded in 1945. The book includes a list of 122 titles, mostly current genre fiction and popular novels (some of which I recognised as movies, not books), with a smattering of classics. The books were cheap, initially 25 cents. Fairly early on, Bantam began to publish original work as well. It became the most prolific publisher of pocket books, most of them genre fiction. (The Wikipedia article is woefully incomplete). This copy is a first Bantam printing of A Toast to Tomorrow, and in pretty good shape, considering that is was printed on wood-fibre pulp. The cover has a crease in the lower right corner; I think there were several readers before me. Any collectors who come across this review may email me. I’ll keep until January next year, then it will go to a used book dealer or yard sale.
     A pretty good read, considering. **½

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