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The Irregulars

Roald Dahl's days as a savvy British spy in wartime Washington.

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Jennet Conant sets straight a record some might consider a tad twisted in The Irregulars, her book about the World War II espionage exploits of British author Roald Dahl.

Conant, who also wrote the critically acclaimed “Tuxedo Park” and “109 East Palace,” has a gift for  writing large stories based on  the activities of seemingly minor figures. Here she deserves credit for fresh angles and insights, despite having bitten off a tad more than she can chew.

While Dahl is the focal point of “The Irregulars,” he’s not enough to warrant so large a story, and therein lies a rub: Dahl fades to a lesser character in a narrative that also features such historical giants as Franklin Delano Roosevelt (depicted as both devious and brilliant), hectoring, ambitious Texas newspaper publisher Charles Edward Marsh, and fellow spy and author-to-be Ian Fleming. Considering the wealth of material Conant handles, however, she succeeds nicely in the retelling of this true spy story.

Conant conjures the ambience of Washington, D.C., at a time when the US remained ambivalence about joining Britain in the fight against the Nazis.  To help persuade Americans, the British government enlisted spymaster William Stephenson in an effort to sway US opinion.

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