I was a freshman in high school when Lancer Books published TRAITOR! by W. Howard Baker, a novel that had been published two years earlier in England by Zenith Books under the title DESTINATION DIEPPE. As a World War II espionage novel, the first in a series starring British intelligence agent Richard Quintain, it would have been right in my wheelhouse at the time, and I’m sure I’d have grabbed a copy if I’d ever seen it. As it was, more than fifty years went by before I was even aware of this book’s existence, although I vaguely remember seeing some of the later books in the Quintain series. I didn’t realize they were set during World War II, though.
It’s the summer of 1942 as this book opens. The war has been going on for three
years, and Quintain has already undertaken several hazardous missions operating
behind enemy lines. He’s just been presented with a medal from the king for one
of them when he’s summoned by his boss, Felix Fenner, and given a new
assignment. The British army is planning an invasion of the Nazi-occupied
French coastal town of Dieppe, and Quintain’s job is to parachute in first,
make contact with a local group of resistance fighters, and blow up a bunch of
German E-boats that would otherwise be used to help repel the invasion.
Quintain has a partner in this effort, a beautiful female agent who’s already been
behind the lines in France and knows the members of the resistance cell they’re
supposed to link up with.
There’s a twist, however, as Fenner reveals to Quintain in private. He believes that one of the group is a traitor and is working with the Germans . . . and it could easily be Quintain’s beautiful partner.
This novel reminded me a great deal of mid-Sixties TV shows such as GARRISON’S GORILLAS and BLUE LIGHT, wartime espionage dramas that are mostly forgotten these days (but I’ll bet quite a few of you reading this remember them). It’s a little talky and sparse on the action in the first half but then picks up a lot of steam in the second half before bogging down in the history of the raid on Dieppe. Other than Quintain’s involvement and the traitor storyline, the history is portrayed with considerable accuracy, if not much flair.
That said, overall the prose is slick enough that I raced through the book pretty quickly and with quite a bit of enjoyment. We don’t learn much about Richard Quintain in this one, but he seems to be a likable enough protagonist and is both smart and tough when he needs to be. The scene where he’s interrogated by a beautiful blond Gestapo she-wolf (an actual historical character, according to a footnote) is very suspenseful and well done. The book could have used a little more of such things.
W. Howard Baker was as much an editor and publisher as he was a writer, and it’s known that many of the books with his name on them were either ghosted or had uncredited collaborators. For what it’s worth, the style in this one is very similar to the Sexton Blake novel credited to Baker that I read not long ago. Whoever actually wrote TRAITOR!, I liked it enough despite its occasional shortcomings to want to read more of the Richard Quintain series. I’m glad I have several more of them on hand.