By Chris Jacobs
“The Last Goodnight” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author Howard Blum is an intriguing, memoirlike biography of one of World War II’s premier female espionage agents, Amy Elizabeth “Betty” Thorpe Pack Brousse.
Using a staggering number of primary sources to construct a seamless perspective, Blum narrates the absorbing tale of Pack’s entry into the murky world of British and American espionage leading up to and throughout World War II. He also provides Pack’s retrospective view, upon her diagnosis of terminal cancer, of the reasons that compelled her to embrace a career in espionage above all personal connections and loyalties.
Blum takes the reader on a journey that begins by articulating how and why Pack rejected her mother’s social ambitions, a marriage, multiple lovers and two children to pursue a cause greater than herself.
He painstakingly describes her adventures as she pursues objectives for the British Secret Intelligence Service and the American Office of Strategic Services, one mission and one love affair at a time, and he illuminates the demons and passions driving her from one mission to the next, despite the personal costs.
Pack, known as secret agent Cynthia and declaimed by Vanity Fair as “the blond James Bond,” was responsible for several key intelligence victories for the Allies, including insight into the Germans’ vaunted Enigma encryption machine. She captured cryptographical keys that turned the tide for multiple Allied operations, including blocking the Italian navy and perhaps singlehandedly gaining the crucial edge in North Africa.
Blum’s careful personalization of these events using Pack’s memoir notes, journals and recently declassified documents opens a fascinating window into what motivated a daughter of the American upper crust to abandon all sense of propriety in service to the war effort.
Given the raw material masterfully delivered in “The Last Goodnight,” it is no surprise that the book has been optioned by Hollywood, with Jennifer Lawrence rumored to be under consideration to play this unsung heroine of our last world war.
The Last Goodnight
By Howard Blum
Harper, 528 pages, $28.99