April 23, 2015

Book Review: Too Bad to Die by Francine Mathews

I was a bit skeptical of this historical thriller at first. When the characters in a mystery include Stalin, FDR, Churchill, and Ian Fleming, it just seems like over-reaching. But I was pleasantly surprised by how well Mathews pulled it off.

Ian Fleming, tired of being a deskbound intelligence officer, spends his spare time writing stories featuring a British agent known as 007. But in November 1943, Fleming's real life becomes much more exciting than his imaginary one. He accompanies Winston Churchill's retinue to Egypt, where they convene with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, before heading on to Iran to meet with Joseph Stalin.

Fleming intercepts a message implying that a high-ranking Nazi spy known as the Fencer, who has been outwitting the Allies for years, plans to infiltrate the Tehran summit and kill the three world leaders. In his race to stop the assassinations, Fleming will have to overcome the doubts of his superiors, the daggers of his enemies and the determination of the Fencer.

Both an intense thriller and the gripping life story of a complicated man, Too Bad to Die will keep its readers on the edge of their seats. Mathews has done an excellent job of reimagining history, as she did in her earlier novel Jack 1939, and creating suspenseful yet plausible events. Those familiar with the real Ian Fleming's novels will appreciate the sly nods to the James Bond oeuvre, as when Fleming encounters a Soviet spy who orders his martini "shaken, not stirred." Likewise, Mathews portrays the major historical figures--FDR and Churchill among them--with apt believability. Too Bad to Die is a thrilling and enjoyable read, a mystery not to be missed.

Do you like reading fictionalized lives of real people?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. And the cover image is an affiliate link.