Francine Mathews’ thriller Too Bad to Die features none other than Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, as the hero who must save the lives of the “Big Three” from an assassination attempt during World War II.
President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin are meeting in Cairo and Tehran with their various entourages, to plan an invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. As they debate the various aspects of the proposed invasion, Roosevelt struggles with ill health. Churchill, in the meantime, is growing in distrust of Stalin while fighting bronchitis. Stalin, of course, is looking beyond the war to expanding the Soviet empire. After M16 agent Fleming is informed by code breaker Alan Turing that a double agent known only as “the Fencer” is in their midst, plotting to kill the three leaders, he finds that he is also a target.
Thus begins an adventure as harrowing as anything that might happen to Fleming’s protagonist James Bond. Writing with elegance and grit, Mathews keeps the reader in a state of suspense, venturing into the world of high diplomacy as well as into the sewers of the underworld. Both worlds are places where deals are made, sometimes at the price of a soul or two. Mathews explores the psyches of her characters during the tense days and cocktail-drenched nights in Tehran. Fleming’s brains and intrepidity, his inner conflicts as well as his suave recklessness, make him a character as intriguing as one in his own books.
(*The book was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)