By Laurence Cotterell A Spy in Rome, by Peter Tompkins (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 21s.).
THE flow of books about
World War 11 has mercifully dwindled to a trickle, and it becomes increasingly difficult for any new book on the subject to tell us anything we have not read before.
"A Spy in Rome" follows a familiar enough pattern in this genre the secret agent with a mission in enemy-occupied territory, exaggerating perhaps the importance of his own role and the "incompetence" of his superiors at base, hut nonetheless taking risks that would terrify most hardened front-line infantrymen.
Major Peter Tompkins of the U.S. Army was twenty-three when, in 1944, he was slipped through the German lines to live precariously in Rome (he had received part of his education in Italy), collecting. sifting and forwarding information on military and general dispositions of the enemy.
He increased his danger and breached every possible security rule by keeping a diary and a notebook, he took necessary (and sometimes superfluous) risks, but he seems to have delivered the intelligence goods.
His contentions that the material was misused or unused by the higher-ups make lively and interesting reading, but it is hard for the reader to understand how Tompkins could have known how his information was employed once he had passed it.
In fact the book is permeated with a suggestion that everyone was out of step except the author: the Germans were open enemies, the American Special Operations people were in effect saboteurs. and the Italians were split into annoyingly warring factions.
But Mr. Tompkins' descriptions of day-to-day life in Occupied Rome, of spasms of improbably "normal" social relaxation underground, and of the individual Italians men and womenwith whom he associated are more likely to interest the reader than the politico-military issues.
This nicely produced book of some 350 pages contains two very sensible endpaper maps, with keys and explanatory notes better than ell the dubious and indeterminate illustrations that usually clutter this kind of book. And one gets used to American spelling after a chapter or two.