City of Gold - 1991

Other novels

Plot summary

In the final months of 1941, General Erwin Rommel – commander of the Axis armies in North Africa – begins to receive secret messages about the British Armies that face him. The source of this secret intelligence was not identified to Rommel. In fact, the contents of the messages sent to him were carefully rewritten to prevent anyone guessing the source of these secrets and how they were obtained.

But the messages were startling in their completeness; the dates of arrival of supply ships and their cargoes, the disposition of the allied armies and air forces, the state of their morale and their equipment.

This is the starting scenario for Deighton’s last WWII novel. In the bustling streets of Cairo, British military policeman Albert Cutler face a race against time to find Rommel's agent, before a possible military defeat. But Cutler is not all that he seems.

Why it's enjoyable

It has all the key Deighton elements which you want: military intelligence, hard-bitten soldiers, detailed historical descriptions and a plot with lots of twists and turns. Deighton's knowledge of the Africa campaign in World War Two is renowned; he had elsewhere contributed a number of articles to books covering this part of the war.

What Deighton does bring out well is the obsessions, the betrayals and the worries of his wartime characters, as the pressure of war threatens break down fragile alliances and bonds of friendship and love. Deighton does capture the spirit of wartime Cairo well and its portrayal is evidence of his usual exhaustive research.

Sample dialogue

'Ross put down his phone and held both hands upon it as if preventing the Brigadier from ringing back. Then he emitted a long deep sigh. "Ponsonby!"

"Yes, Major."

"I'm ready for a large cup of that filthy tea you brew out there."

"I thought you might be, sir. I have one here, nicely drawn and all ready to pour out."

Ponsonby was right. There were times when a large cup of scalding-hot tea, tasting of condensed milk, was the only alternative to jumping off the balcony.'

Related fact

The endpapers have drawn illustrations of central Cairo and the north Egyptian coast. The cover design of the pyramids is by David O'Connor.

CityofGold

City of Gold, UK first edition, 1991

Going straight to the source

In preparing for this book Deighton spoke to many veterans of the North Africa campaign. Most surprising perhaps of these was General Nehring, who had commanded the Afrika Korps