This World War II veteran (he was a fighter pilot), who has been spending good parts of every year in Tangier for upwards of a decade, appeared last night at the Librairie des Colonnes for a signing of his novel, The Tangier Option.
Though I haven't yet read it, it will be a nice addition to our Legation bookshop, especially when we open up a new exhibit that features Operation Torch, the November 1942 landings that brought the United States into the European Theatre of WW II.
Hal has exercised the historical novelist's license to embroider a bit ("action-packed thriller… nest of Axis spies… a romance develops" … blurbs from the jacket). But this story telling is based on research in our own archives here at the Legation.
The facts actually need little embroidery. The American Legation in Tangier was ideally situated to play a crucial role in preparing the Allied (mostly American) landings in North Africa. Surrounded by Spanish Morocco, Tangier's International Zone maintained links with French Morocco, one of the targets of Operation Torch, and was a short ferry ride over to Gibraltar, a key British base for commando operations.
The Tangier American Legation was home to some of the first agents of the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS, precursor to the CIA, was staffed with people who knew the region that they operated in. People like Carlton Coon, an anthropologist who had studied the peoples of the mountainous Rif in northern Morocco. His contacts among Riffian nationalists would be crucial, should Spain's General Franco enter the war on the Axis side.
Carlton Coon's own account of his wartime experience, A North Africa Story, certainly would have been among Hal Malt's references. There's enough factual material in there – designing authentic-looking donkey turd roadside mines against German vehicles, nighttime rendezvous with Moroccan agents with code names like "Tassels," the Spanish fascists chasing down Spanish Republican Communists sympathetic to the Allies – to provide material for an imaginative novelist.
Just when it seems like World War II, even its most obscure incidents, has spawned every imaginable history book, documentary film, or novel, here comes along someone like Hal Malt to give the story another twist. Not bad for that eager young P-39 Airacobra pilot, a few decades later!
(right: 1943 photo of Hal Malt from the jacket of The Tangier Option)