They're back for a return engagement! The heroes of Convoy: Watts, Jemmy, the Croupier, the love interest Clare and the incomparable Ned Yorke. After discovering how German submarines got inside allied convoys in 1942, they are back to capture the German's new 4-rotor Enigma machine. The result, in my opinion, is better than the original. Pope has balanced the characters from the original to give the reader more of the chemistry that worked in the original. Clare is relegated in the back burner. Jemmy and the Croupier are moved up front and centre. Surprisingly, Jemmy's girl friend, Joan, receives more print than the original. The adjustment is an improvement on Convoy and set the stage for subsequent Yorke novels which, regrettably, Pope was not able to write.
Decoy's premise is based on an actual historical crisis. The Allies had the German 3-rotor Enigma and had been able to decipher German codes. Allied convoys could be routed past the German U-boat "wolfpacks" and supplies desperately needed in Britain and elsewhere could get through. The Germans did introduce a 4-rotor Enigma in 1942 that resulted in the wolfpacks operating with a free hand for a month or so. In Decoy, it is Yorke and the rest of the ASIU group who must acquire an Enigma without the Germans knowing about it. Their plan is assemble a team of crack commandos, be dropped off in the middle of the Atlantic in winter, and hope that a U-boat will pull alongside for them to capture. The plan is executed brilliantly only to find that the Enigma machine is broken and won't transmit. How do they get back to Britain without being sunk by Allied aircraft or ships? One possibility that Pope didn't discuss was sending the bodies of a couple of dead Germans out the torpedo tubes with notes on them. However, they don't talk about that and I won't spoil the ending except to say that readers will be happy with it unless they are fans of dictators with Charlie Chaplin moustaches.
Decoy works fairly well as an action novel but I found the passage that discussed the emotions felt by survivors in a lifeboat quite moving and illustrative. Pope was writing from experience. Apparently Pope was torpedo himself and suffered from back pain that led to memory loss. This memory loss forced him to stop writing in 1989, 8 years before his death. His residual resentment towards the Germans is understandable although I am surprised that Pope portrays the massacre of lifeboat survivors by U-boat commanders as common place. There only seems to be one documented case of this type of atrocity in the thousands of sinkings that occurred during the Battle of the Atlantic. Back in the early 80s, did Pope still believe such atrocities occurred or was it included for artistic license?
Pope displays even greater contempt for the government and bureaucracies of Britain. Deficiencies in British lifejackets and weapons are detailed. The over reliance on Asdic is pilloried. He even mentions that the Royal Canadian Navy's coat was thicker than the RN's. As a veteran, Pope rightly expresses the anger of men who were sent to fight with less than the best the government had or should have had to offer. Surprisingly, he writes favourably of the sten gun which has received less favourable reviews elsewhere.
One concept that Pope appears to support is the British class system and inherited wealth. He seems to have been in tune with Thatcheresque Britain. He defends inherited wealth by explaining the concept of security for one's children. The question of how much security is enough is never raised. Nor is the point that one's earnings, possessions and property should be one's to do with as one so chooses.
Decoy isn't perfect. While I found the banter between Yorke, Jemmy and the Croupier funny at times, sometimes it got in the way of the narrative. Also, some of it seemed to be "insider" jokes. However, this is a minor quibble in an otherwise entertaining novel. The plot resolution made more sense to me than the resolution in Convoy and Decoy is a better tribute to the men. I wonder how many more Yorke novels Pope would have written had he been able to continue writing. It is a shame that there weren't more wrapping up both his series with Yorke and a Ramage descendent but we should be thankful for what we do have.