“Spycatcher” – A Novel

I stumbled upon Oreste Pinto’s work “Spycatcher” in an old used book shop in a quiet park in one of the former Soviet republics. The edition I purchased was printed in Moscow in 1970 and at the end contained fifty pages of an annotated vocabulary in Russian, used to explain different words and phrases for the enthusiastic soviet reader.

“Spycatcher” is a short novel taken from Pinto’s time serving MI5 as an interrogator of refugees arriving in London from a Europe at war with the Nazis. The stories are a half dozen different cases in which Pinto found his ‘man’. Pinto is credited with uncovering 8 attempted infiltrations in his over 30,000 interviews. Eight – might not seem like that great a result for so much work; but each spy can do incalculable damage; and Pinto investigated each case with verve and vigor, the energy of a bloodhound on the hunt. I am not sure if these stories were real, were fiction, or were fictionalized reality. Whatever they case, they certainly showed the great insight of the interrogator at sniffing out a “rat”.

Wars are not fought by generals or Ministers of Defense. They are fought by soldiers in the trenches; they are fought by privates; they are fought by individual cryptographers and ambulance drivers and MASH nurses. There’s a famous saying “Amateurs talk strategy; experts talk logistics”. Wars are won by logisticians.

The UK resisting the Nazis was an extraordinary story of a whole nation dedicated to the singular purpose of defeating the enemy; farmers and housewives converted into RAF aircraft assembly line workers, couriers, privates – and counter-intelligence officers. The logistics which build the world’s greatest empire all dedicated to the singular task of survival.

Now the odd part – what is it the soviets were doing with “Spycatcher”? What was it about this little novel which brought them to select it out of all the myriad of books published in the west. Why did the censors in their centrally planned bureaucracy in Moscow think that this would be a good book to help their citizens learn the English language? This I don’t have an answer to; but it is intriguing to wonder at the process by which a communist in an airtight bureaucracy makes decisions, and the singular professionalism they took to annotating and explaining the arcane turns of phrase of Her Majesty’s English.

Humanity is a weird assortment – a strange ensemble of actors all vying for something. Pinto was trying to defeat the Nazis. That juice, at least, was certainly “worth the squeeze” (I wonder what that turn of phrase sounds like in Russian?).

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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