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Legerdemain: The President's Secret Plan,…

Legerdemain: The President's Secret Plan, The Bomb, and What the French…

by James J. Heaphey

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Legerdemain by James Heaphy is a fascinating true story of the author’s exploits as an American Air Force intelligence officer in Morocco during the early 1950s. Legerdemain provides many insights into the early days of the cold war when the US relied heavily on its bomber force. Heaphy tells the relatively unknown story of American and French espionage during the period when Morocco was still ruled by France. At that time, before the development of ICBMs, the US needed air bases closer to Russia in the event of a nuclear strike. Although a work of non fiction, Heaphey’s book reads more like a spy novel. I was especially interested to learn that the US stored nuclear bombs in Morocco in this early period, contrary to what the media has reported for many years. I highly recommend this book to readers interested in cold war history, espionage stories or just a good read. ( )
  yaakov | Dec 4, 2008 |
An interesting look at the work of the spy business. Heaphey is a young man in 1952, assigned to a post in Morocco where the US was secretly storing nuclear weapons. I didn't find it to be action-packed or all that thrilling, but it is an interesting look at the day-to-day work of a spy. Heaphey is ostensibly a journalist, which gives him a lot of freedom to move around the base and the surrounding areas, talking to people and looking at things. He lies to the people around him without being able to tell them why. He has to do some things he finds repugnant and associate with people who disgust him. All with the knowledge that no one will ever know what he's actually done, unless he gets caught and then he'll probably be dead. ( )
  LisaLynne | Oct 19, 2008 |
"If you do well, nothing you do will be recorded anyplace. ... That's about as good as it gets for people like you." So speaks James Heaphey's tutor in espionage in the opening of Legerdemain. Ostensibly about Heaphey's role in U.S. efforts maintain Air Force basing rights in Morocco following the demise of the French Protectorate, this quasi-biography, quasi-novel focuses much more on his day-to-day routines and relationships: life on the base, flirtations with female coworkers and contacts, experiences of the Moroccan Medina, travels to exotic locations like Egypt, Cyprus, and the Atlas Mountains. Sure it's not non-stop cloak and dagger, but the foreign locales are intriguing enough that Heaphey's very descriptions of them make for page-turning reading.

Although Heaphey's life was never as constantly exciting as a Tom Clancy novel (real espionage rarely is), there are plenty of moments of high tension: French massacres in the medinas, narrow escapes from angry Berbers, the smuggling of political targets out of Egypt, tense meetings with Greek and Cypriot freedom fighters, firefights on the base, and the exposure of moles in the Americans' midst. It's good stuff.

Unfortunately, Heaphey's rollicking story is marred by extremely unprofessional editing, to the tune of about one typographical error per page, plus subject verb disagreements, awkward or incorrect phrasing, and frequent verb tense changes within sentences, to say nothing of between paragraphs or the narrative on the whole. These aren't obscure errors, either--from neglecting to close quotation marks to failing to capitalize the first word of a sentence--Heaphey frequently fails to observe the most basic rules of composition. He also fails to standardize transliterations of foreign names and words, and the names of institutions, machinery and vehicles, and publications. Then there's the truly bizarre, such as when a certain (Western, no less!) individual's name is misspelled two different ways during the dozen or so pages in which he appears, with all three variants frequently occurring within mere words of each other.

This is all simple stuff that should have been caught by the spell- and grammar-check functions of any word processing software from the last decade; that it was allowed to permeate the finished manuscript to such a degree is both unprofessional and disappointing.

It really is a great shame, because Legerdemain is an otherwise fascinating account of some near-forgotten Cold War history that will certainly be a big hit with history buffs and fans of espionage thrillers, and Heaphey's narrative has just the right balance of action, travelogue, and relationship drama to appeal to a much wider audience. Hopefully the poor editing will be dealt with in a later edition/printing so Legerdemain can start getting the attention it deserves. ( )
  Trismegistus | Jul 26, 2008 |
Cold War/Middle East military historical memoir... a recollection of espionage activity and political turmoil in post-WWII Morocco -- wasn't sure I would like this at first, not much of a modern history/warfare fan, but there was enough history (Nazis, Anwar Sadat) and it certainly relates well to the muddle of the Middle East (including Western involvement) today, and it's done in a fast-paced style that kept me involved. Some romance, some moral ambiguity, some violence, a little danger and drama, a good read.

I don't rank it 4 stars compared to the best of all books, but for what it is I felt it was handled very well, very reader-friendly; it is informative and timely without choosing sides or weighing the issues/participants against each other. A mark of a good book in my eyes is leaving me wanting to get more information about the subject and situation, and "Legerdemain" has piqued my curiosity in regards to Morocco, North Africa during WWII, and the more modern history of Egypt. ( )
  TeacherDad | Jun 9, 2008 |
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