Monday, July 14, 2008

Legerdemain by James J. Heaphey

Legerdemain by James J. Heaphey
Copyright 2008, History Publishing LLC
297 pages
Author's blog

I had heard a little about Qutb, who was considered to be the father of modern Islamist Fundamentalism and the most famous personality of the contemporary Muslim world. His ideology had spread throughout the Muslim world, particularly to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. When I studied Russian at Syracuse University, as a new recruit in the U.S.A.F. Security Service, one of my instructors, going at that time by the name of Grishko Baguta, told us that the West would prevail over the Soviet Union, but would not see what was coming next, a conflict with Islamists that would defy our mindset and confuse our military stragegies and tactics. I didn't remember his warning because it made sense to me at the time. I remembered it because of the way he phrased it. "You will be an Alice in Wonderland. You will try to understand in the way you have learned to understand. And that will not work." [p. 184]

What led you to pick up this book? I requested a copy from publicist Lisa Roe because it sounded like a really fascinating bit of spy history. Wow, good decision.

Before I go any further, I must mention that Legerdemain is one of those rare, enthalling books that I feel completely unqualified to describe well enough to do it justice. Do you like history? It's worth rushing right out to buy, in my humble opinion.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Legerdemain is the true story of the author's experience as a U.S. Air Force undercover operative stationed in French Morocco in the 1950's, during the Cold War. At the time, the United States stored atom bombs in Morocco and it was to the U.S.'s advantage to secretly side with Moroccan nationalists in order to ensure that bases within range of the Soviet Union remained in place after the French colonial empire crumbled.

From the cover:

Reading like a novel of high adventure, Legerdemain unveils the working of undercover operatives of Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, America's CIA, France's Security Services, the Soviet Union's KGB, as well as the French Foreign Legion. Heaphey describes his mission, which took him from the coffee houses and bathhouses of Casablanca to the fairs of Marrakech and the mountainside villages of Cyprus, and from Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains to foreign Legion outposts on the apron of the Sahara. Through it all, Heaphey examines the Islamic thinking of the period and unravels geopolitical operations that would continue to set the tone for the Cold War for decades to come.

What did you think of the characters? Truly an amazing, fascinating cast of real-life characters (some were given pseudonyms for the purposes of telling the story, but not all). The author had a startling depth of understanding of the economic and political situation in the region(especially given his age -- he was 22, when the story began), was generally calm, even in situations of extreme danger, and moved easily from country to country in his role as a spy posing as a journalist.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I really enjoyed the tense scenes, when Heaphey and his cohorts were in dangerous situations -- driving through the Atlas Mountains (Berber territory), rushing to attempt to save the life of a Moroccan nationalist who posed as pro-French, hiding in a Moroccan bath while a gruesome mass murder went on just outside the building. James Heaphey and his contacts were truly courageous people.

I also liked Heaphey's subtle sense of humor. When he interviewed Anwar Sadat with a view to gaining information, he closed the chapter about the experience with this comment:

I learned a number of things at that interview, one of which was: Always request a glass of water to go along with Egyptian coffee. It is almost too thick to swallow.

4.5/5 - Enthusiastically recommended: I found Legerdemain more gripping than most spy novels I've read. Last year, I read a memoir by a gal who whined her way through the entire narrative about her training and experiences in the CIA. What Heaphey experienced as an undercover operative is, I think, the kind of work she desired as a spy. However, Heaphey wisely skipped over his training (Air Force, not CIA) and early experience, then referred back to it only when necessary to give perspective and depth to his narrative. He really jumped right into the spy game and told the best stories.

In general: I refer to myself as "history stupid". Politics? Oh, dear. Even worse. So, I read the book slowly and let the author's explanations of the political climate sink in, discussed with my husband (who has a much better understanding of history, military policy and the complexities involved when people of different backgrounds, histories, traditions and cultural climates interact), and kept the world globe handy. In spite of my total ignorance, I found the book was clearly written and believe I came out of the reading of Legerdemain with an understanding of quite a few things that have always baffled me. It wasn't just an exciting read; it was a learning experience.

My only complaint: Editing trouble, again -- or maybe the problem had to do with the formatting, which I hear can be very tricky, although there were some misspellings. I noticed quite a few misplaced, extra or missing quotation marks, in particular. Occasionally, one person's quote ran into another's and I had to stop and sort out who was speaking.

Read other reviews, here:
Cheryl's Book Nook
Blogger News Network

Eva of A Striped Armchair took her copy of Legerdemain along on vacation, so she should have a review posted soon, also.

Next up: Drawing for that copy of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus and a review of Will Storr vs. the Supernatural.


  1. Oh wow! This does sound good, Nancy. I will definitely be looking for it. Great review.

  2. I refer to myself as "history stupid". Politics? Oh, dear. Even worse. Me, too! I just finished Three Cups of Tea and I kept telling my husband that I'm so embarrassed that I know so little about the troubles in Pakistan & Afghanistan. The tribes, the religious sects, the names, and the geography are enough to make me feel like a dunce! My review will really take some work.

    This book sounds intriguing. I'll bet my hubby would enjoy it, too.

  3. I swear I've been over to Lisa Roe's at least half a dozen times to request this book. It just sounds so darn good! But then I stop myself from requesting it, because I don't want the pressure of having to review it by a certain time. I think I just need to go buy the darn book, because I really, really, really do want to read it! I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it so much and that a non-history expert (which would definitely include me!) can enjoy and understand it. Thanks for the fabulous review! Yep, you've made my mind up...I'm just going to have to buy it.

  4. I'm not sure I would have been inclined to pick up this one, but your review has certainly caught my interest! The historical perspective sounds intriguing.

  5. Wendy,

    Thanks! If you read it anytime soon, please let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts. :)


    Yep, I have that problem with the entire region we know as "The Middle East". And, if you don't have a decent knowledge base to begin with, a lot of what you see on the news is just gibberish. I don't think I own Three Cups of Tea, but I'll be over to read your reviews, later on.

    Your hubby would probably really enjoy Legerdemain. My Daniel says he'd like to read it, so I think our copy will get passed around a bit!

  6. I'm rather "history stupid" too, especially about the Middle East, but this sounds fascinating! I love reading books that are accessible and make me learn something.

  7. Debi,

    Lisa's really flexible. She asked me only for an approximate date and I changed it at least once. But, I do understand that feeling. I've got two more advanced review copies before I'm "caught up" on ARCs. Sometimes, you just want to read what you want to read when you want to read it and not worry about having a reason to choose that next book to curl up with. I can't wait to hear what you think of it!


    I don't know that I would have noticed the book if I hadn't gone to Lisa's website. Obviously, I'm thrilled that I found Legerdemain. It is such a good book; I imagine the story will stick with me and keep rolling around in my head for quite a while.

  8. Nat,

    That's exactly how I feel. I enjoy learning and filling in the educational gaps. Legerdemain is definitely accessible to those of us who feel like our knowledge base is . . . well, mine is kind of pitiful. LOL It was nice to be able to turn to my husband (who always seems to be well-informed about the Middle East) and have an intelligent discussion with him.

  9. I keep seeing good reviews of this one. Sounds like one that both The Hubster and I would like. This could be one of those "books for his Christmas stocking so I can read it" books.

  10. Jim Heaphey is quite the story teller. I was incredibly impressed with Legerdemain, it certainly means that a small part of history books needs to be re-written.

    I snagged a galley of the book, and consequently have got to know Jim, he is a great guy, and very interesting to talk to.

    I just reviewed his latest book, while not about the Spy world, it is just as entertaining.

    Simon Barrett - Blogger News Network

  11. Frighteningly prescient quote there!

  12. Suzi,

    I think you'd enjoy it, especially given the fact that you read such a wide variety of non-fiction. It's well-written and the author explains things beautifully. I'm going to be sharing my copy with The Guys. :)


    Thanks for visiting! I really enjoyed your review of Legerdemain. Oh, yes, definitely shows that some information in the old history books needs updating. I've known for quite some time that we are very misled by our news coverage (I think it's actually getting worse -- look at FoxNews, geez, what a crock) but, wow. Now I really know!

    Heaphey has another book coming out? Oh, boy! I'll dash over to read your review, in a bit. Thanks for mentioning it!


    My sentiments exactly.

  13. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Oooh, this sounds right up my alley.

  14. Yes, Carrie, I think you're right. There are even a couple of sultans and palaces to fit your craving for reads about royalty. :)

  15. Sounds really great--and one that my non-reader husband would be interested in as well. I find that when I read books about politics and war in general I have to discuss a lot with hubby also. Thanks for the heads up on this one--I'll keep my eye out!

  16. Hi Trish,

    I hope you and your husband both enjoy it! Legerdemain is definitely a good title to share with the males. I'm going to pass my copy on to my son. :)

  17. Anonymous7:29 AM

    This is great info to know.


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