It was late on the night of 25th July 1942. News of ‘Operation Torch’ had just been announced. Roosevelt and Churchill had confirmed that major forces were being based in Algeria.
It was imperative that the Germans knew nothing of it. Four month’s prior to the announcement Gregory Sallust had received a letter containing his ‘Call up papers’. His mirth was understandable considering that he had been in conflict with the Nazi’s for the last two and a half years. As a secret agent he had been parachuted into Germany in1939. Since then he had pitted his wits against Herr Gruppenfuhrer Grauber, the dreaded chief of the Gestapo’s Foreign Department in Finland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France and Russia.
The Countess von Osterberg or Erika von Epp as she was known before her marriage was having breakfast at Sir Pellinore Gwaine Custs’ great rambling mansion at ‘Gwaine Meads’ which was situated on the welsh border. It had been in his family’s possession since the ‘Wars of the Roses’. Gregory was now over forty years of age and the idea of being given a mundane role in the forces as a gravedigger or an orderly in the sanitary corps did not appeal to him. He decided to go to London in order to seek Sir Pellinore’s advice.
Sir Pellinore and Gregory discuss the possibility of a foray into Budapest in an effort to push Hungary into a more active role in the war, thus taking the weight away from Russia and as a result German troops away from other European fronts. Gregory’s brief is to spy out the land and find out if the anti-German feeling in Hungary is strong enough to make use of.
Gregory is given the identity of a Free French officer who was an interpreter within the Commando’s. He died in a raid. His name was Commandant Etienne Tavernier. Gregory is also given the name of a useful contact for when he arrives in Hungary (Leon Levianski).
Gregory is flown to Budapest on August 13th and promptly meets up with his contact who agrees to help as much as he can. GS then presents himself to the Police to ‘regularise’ his stay in this country and then heads straight for one of Sir Pellinores old friends Count Mihaly Zapolya who lives approx. 30 miles away in Nagykata. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagyk%C3%A1ta.
GS persuades Zapolya to enter into a secret peace with the allies as soon as it is ratified by the major authorities of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.
GS returns to his hotel where he is met by several men already waiting for him in his hotel room. (They were from the Hungarian Security Forces). They suspect him of being an imposter. However, with the aid of a note signed by Reinhard Heydrich, that he had stolen from a German officer, before throwing him into Lake Geneva on a dark night on the previous December, he manages to persuade them that he is not to be interfered with. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhard_Heydrich
That night Gregory dined at the Piccadilly club with one of the members of the Hungarian Nobles committee (Count Laszlo) that had been deliberating on the Hungarian political position. All was going well until Hitler’s Foreign minister Von Ribbentrop walks in accompanied with one of Gregory’s previous lovers….Sabine. GS & Sabine plan to meet the next day at the St. Gellert Baths at the southern end of Buda http://www.gellertbath.com/
They decide to go to the ‘Arizona’ a high quality restaurant and Cabaret. Unfortunately on a visit to the Gents toilet he is met by Gruppenfuehrer Grauber and friends. A fight ensues and Grauber and Gregory are taken to the Police station. After much arguing and explanation as to why the fight started, Gregory is placed in Jail until morning. Sabine manages to get him out. The next thirteen pages are discussions on what should happen next. (Somewhat boring)
Sabine takes Gregory back to The Tuzolto Palace. (The residence of Sabine and Ribbentrop). GS manages to get a phone call through to the Hungarian magnates – they agree to break with Germany subject to certain conditions. Sabine and Gregory had just got into bed…… when Ribbentrop returns. Grauber is also with him!! Gregory hides himself under the cover of a statue . He can see & hear Sabine, Ribbentrop & Grauber talking in the hallway. Sabine tell’s them that he had escaped, Grauber is sure she is lying and Ribbentrop is taking the middle line and trying to protect Sabine. When Grauber reluctantly leaves the house, Sabine tells Ribbentrop what had really happened. Ribbentrop tells her to get out of the country. Gregory still needs to get out as well!!! Ribbentrop leaves the house and in the morning Sabine & Gregory are forced back by Arrow-Cross men. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/arrowcross.html.
The palace is firebombed and things are looking desperate as the residence is totally surrounded. One of the staff remembers that there was a vast maze of very old tunnels underneath the building. This forces Gregory & Sabine to locate the door and wander out into the cold and dark caves. (This is without doubt the best part of the book. The atmospheric feel of their plight is extremely well done. It took them four hours to make their way to a large solid door that they had to blow up with the aid of three strategically placed bullet’s. They manage to drag themselves into the back of a horse drawn wagon and walk the rest of the way to the accommodation of Leon Leovanski. After some food, drink, sleep and medical attention they start to feel almost human again. A few days later they pay to get a lift on a barge which takes them through Belgrade and onto Constanta, Rumania and finally Istanbul, Turkey. The final leg of the trip is a flight back to Hurn in Hampshire thanks to assistance from the Air Ministry. They head straight to London and to Sir Pellinore’s house. They tell him of all their activities and times spent together just as Erika von Epp walks in the door. She turns around and walks straight out again. Sir Pellinore had invited her there as a surprise for Gregory. (He certainly got one!).
Sabine finds herself a job in the ‘Moldavian Embassy’. DW adds a footnote at this point – ‘I would not normally invent fictitious ‘States’ in my books but the reason for doing so would become clear as the story unfolds.
GS goes to Gwaine Meads in order to placate Erika. It almost worked, but when Gregory is called back to London to help Sabine who has been arrested as a spy, Erika is as upset as before. Gregory hears that Sabine has been interred in the Tower of London (rather than Brixton Prison - It is probable that the government had some idea of making an example of her for propaganda purposes). Gregory is given clearance to see her at regular intervals with a view to extracting information from her before she is sentenced for her spying. Gregory persuades her to give some real secrets over a period of time as this will give her and Gregory time to organise an escape. He in turn works out how he can get her out of the Tower as she could end up being hung. Gregory tells Sir Pellinore of his plan; he is very much against the plan (even though Sabine helped GS get out of Hungary.
GS arranges to meet up with Colonel Kazda – the Moldovian military attaché. GS arranges to give him many favours including details of the great operation that is now being mounted in the Northern ports. (Operation Torch) Kazda agrees to get Sabine out of the country by boat. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/operation_torch.htm
Firstly GS has the task of getting Sabine and himself out of the Tower to rendezvous with Colonel Kasdar’s boat. ‘Traitors Gate’ is the meeting point.
Even though GS is badly injured whilst escaping from the Tower he is eventually happy in the knowledge that Sabine has now left the country as well as given the wrong date to the Moldovian attaché.
I had never read this book before and as I’d loved all the previous World War II spy books I was particularly looking forward to reviewing this book. I have to say I was a little disappointed. There was a great deal of talking but not very much action. As I stated earlier the trek through the underground cave network was extremely good but generally this was not one of DW’s best. Even the name of the book, ‘Traitor’s Gate’, sounded impressive, but failed to live up to the title. It almost seemed to me that in an effort to build the book up it was given a powerful title to boost the storyline which wasn’t very good on its own.
It wasn’t bad – it was just not up to the previously high standard.
Snippets - Arrow Paperback
Page 18 - A mention from Sir Pellinore Gwaine Cust for the book ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton.
Page 49 - Whilst Gregory was in London he took a trip into Oxford Street. The place seemed to be full of pretty girls. Most of them were in the uniform of the F.A.N.Y….. Just in case you wondered what that meant - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Aid_Nursing_Yeomanry
Page 59 - At a café by the Danube, GS orders himself a “Baratsch’, a golden liqueur distilled from apricots – the Hungarian national drink. He also tried some Hungarian Red wine known as ‘Bulls Blood’ of Bodascony. (Are you taking note ‘Ken & Mary Gallagher).
Page 133 - Most of this page is taken up on discussions and reminiscences relating to ‘spanking’ one of DW’s many pleasures. It’s been a while since DW has referred to this form of recreation.
Page 220 - A mention for the book ‘Three Englishmen’ by Gilbert Frankau.
Page 298 – Sir Pellinore is still having trouble remembering foreign names. He refers to the Baroness Tuzolto (Sabine) as that Toboso girl and Trombolo girl!!
Page 335 – GS was having dinner with Sir Pellinore at Carlton Terrace. GS was forwarding Sabine’s abject apologies for her shocking abuse of Sir P’s hospitality as her patriotic motives had got the better of her. Gregory responded with the comment, “Soft answer that turneth away wrath”. A saying from, Proverbs 15 - “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Ii’s unusual for DW to use biblical text!