During the first week of September 1944, Peter Cotton, a 25 year old intelligence officer and fluent Spanish speaker, arrives in Madrid from London. Upon arrival at the British Embassy, he begins to undertake what, prima facie, appears to be a straightforward and clear-cut mission: travel to Cadiz and replace the British agent there (R.A. May), who, through the consulate, had spent over a year gathering information on shipments of raw materials vital to the German war effort. (As a matter of historical record, Spain, though officially neutral, had lent some material support to Germany.) But Cotton soon learns that things are not all that they’re cracked up to be. May also engaged in some questionable activities in terms of his personal life, which compromised his role in Cadiz. He spent lots of money allotted to him without authorization. For that reason, his handlers asked him to explain his actions. Their requests went unanswered. And so, the decision was made to have May recalled to London. Cotton had arrived in Madrid and expected to meet May in Cadiz and relieve him on the spot. But he soon learns that May had apparently drowned and his body was fished out of the Bay of Cadiz.
The author provides a fascinating view of Cotton’s long and at times arduous train trek southward to Cadiz. There Cotton shows that he has mettle and grit. Through the help of a local agent (a man of culture and refinement, whose resourcefulness reaps dividends for Cotton) and in spite of the tacit hostility of the British consul to his mission, he uncovers much more than he bargained for.
For the lover of espionage fiction and of the carefully crafted and engaging story, you won’t go wrong here.