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The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis takes another look at Aline Griffith, a small town girl looking for big adventure and to serve her country. Loftis uses source material from the National Archives, Griffith’s own fictionalized accounts of her time as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and many are source materials to suss out the truth of her time as a spy. Aline was a model who trained to be a spy at The Farm and her own accounts of her exploits are likely to have been embellished because as publishers will do, they want to sell books and car chases, murders, and more sell books. While Aline may have wanted to recount her life honestly, other marketing experts were at play and Loftis strives to piece out what was true from those accounts with secondary sources. I also think some people have a glamorous view of spies and what they do (e.g., James Bond), and the reality is much more mundane and nuanced — it’s about building trust and relationships that can be leveraged for information.

Was Loftis successful in finding the truth? For the most part, he did his best based on what was classified and what isn’t any longer. What I loved about Loftis’ narrative is that it read like historical fiction, and I think with any book based on research there’s a tendency to be too dry in the narrative. Because he chose to narrate it more like a novel, it was easier to eat up the pages and get engrossed in Aline’s story. Her time at The Farm was fascinating, and some may wonder why her family wasn’t in the book and asking about her whereabouts, etc., but I think it’s clear that when you become a spy and have a cover story, the family must accept it as truth and you make sure that they do. Adding those conversations would have bogged down this narrative.

Being part of the OSS coding room in Spain (considered neutral in the war) to send information to the U.S. State Department during WWII is not a glamorous job but no less important than being a spy. She spent much of her career in that room, but she also attended parties, social events, and had a semi-romance with a bullfighter. When she finally became a field agent, it is clear that all those parties and social events she was invited to opened the door for her career because she was in places where she could probe without drawing attention and could overhear conversations that might be of importance with regard to Nazi movements.

Loftis also creates a wider link between espionage and the Spanish bullfights. Like the matador, Aline lures her targets closer to her with the hope that she can evade capture, jail, and death. She’s weaving her spell on the crowd around her and she’s masterfully moving her cape to lure the bulls and create an illusion of a career woman learning about her current home — Spain. It probably helped that she was genuinely captivated by the Spanish culture.

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis is engaging, thrilling, and insightful, and he provides a great deal of information about the spy business (but I’m not an expert). I do think there are holes and gaps that could be filled, and I would love to know more about her time doing “odd jobs” for the CIA after her marriage and her life in Spain was in full swing, but alas that information is still classified (my guess is it had a lot to do with preventing communism’s spread). Aline Griffith served her country with honesty and dignity, and she enjoyed doing it, even if she was in danger. She clearly was a people person and the relationships she maintained throughout her life are a testament to her personality and care for others. Loftis has humanized a spy who believed her efforts helped the country during WWII, but I’m still curious about some of the characters in her life like Pierre and Ryan (two figures who are much more mysterious — perhaps there’s a fictionalized account of them in Loftis’ future).

RATING: Quatrain