TEXAS READS: 'Dragonfly'

Dragonfly by Leila Meacham (Grand Central Publishing, $28 hardcover)

San Antonio author Leila Meacham’s novels are quite lengthy, and by the time you finish reading them, you wish they were even longer.

Meacham’s first best-seller was Roses, which she wrote when she was 70. It was about 600 pages. Now 80, her fifth epic novel, Dragonfly, has hit the book market at a mere 559 pages.

Unlike her other novels set in her native Texas, Dragonfly (Grand Central Publishing, $28 hardcover) takes place mostly in German-occupied Paris, France, during World War II. There are two characters with Texas roots.

The story revolves around five bright young Americans from disparate backgrounds who are recruited in 1942 by the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the CIA) to be planted in Paris as spies for the Allied cause.

Victoria is a fencing champion, Bucky an engineer, Brad a fly fisherman, Chris a teacher and coach, and Bridgette a fashion designer. All are fluent in German and/or French and have been personally vetted by Alistair Renault, who will be their trainer and remote contact during their mission.

Together, they settle on Dragonfly as their group’s designation. Individually, they are known to each other only by their code names — Liverwort, Lodestar, Limpet, Lapwing, and Labrador. Renault believes the less they know about each other’s previous lives, the less they would be able to reveal if captured.

In Paris, the five spies have limited contact with each other as they are placed in jobs with access to sensitive German information. They devise clever ways of transmitting that data to Major Renault, and of course they are constantly in danger of being caught by the German army or the Gestapo, which would mean torture and probably death.

Meacham hooks the reader in the first paragraph and keeps the pages turning as the characters live on the brink of one potential clandestine calamity after another. Several times Renault, a chain smoker who rarely sleeps, vows to pull the plug on the mission out of deep concern for his recruits’ safety.

The author does readers a favor by listing, as a handy reference at the front of the book, the principal American, German and French characters in the story, as well as an explanation of the different German military intelligence branches that figure in the plot.

Meacham’s other historical novels are Tumbleweeds, Somerset and Titans. Each is an engaging and powerful tale, but Dragonfly may well be the most thrilling of them all.

Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at g.dromgoole@suddenlink.net.

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