This book has a long sub-title, “My Extraordinary Life while Hiding in Plain Sight”, which instantly drew me. I find the concept of working as a spy or a secret agent, while at the same time remaining totally inconspicuous, part of the fascinating myth that has grown up about the profession. So I was hoping Code Name: Papa would teach me a little about how this might be possible.
Sadly, I can’t claim to be any wiser and I have to admit to being disappointed. The book claims to sit in the genres “Biography – Autobiography – Memoir” but I found much of what I read to be both implausible and hard to believe. It was not such much that it was a sensational tale, but more that some of the facts simply don’t tie up.
Code Name: Papa is the story of a man who after fighting in the Vietnam War is recruited by an unnamed, seemingly unaligned, organisation who work for any government around the world. This includes those of America, Russia, Germany, France and the UK, and allows a small band of men to indulge in a series of violent encounters that leave a heavy toll of dead people everywhere. From the book we should conclude that many of these governments thought it simpler to just blow certain people to pieces rather than bring them to justice. The band of assassins toured the world leaving no trace, beyond the trail of death that never appeared to be questioned or investigated.
When, late in the book, a stranger in town asking questions about Papa is found dead and riddled with bullets, the Police never think to question Papa about the killing. Or question his odd appearances and disappearances over the years. He keeps an old cabin in the woods as a retreat that he hardly ever gets time to use. When eventually he does go to stay, we find he has dogs there that know him. Who was feeding them for all those years he was never there? As I said, lots of details don’t stack up enough for this to be a true story. My personal judgment is that the book would have been better to call itself fiction. We are being asked to believe too much that is implausible.
The chapters flip back and forth between dangerous missions and attempts to sustain a normal home life with wives and children. To maintain anonymity families are lied to and never learn the truth. Husbands will be called away at all times of the day or night and never really have to account for their actions. The lifestyle may have led to John Murray having four marriages, but all these women must have lived in a state of constant unknowing. Who is my husband, where is my husband and what is he doing?
The point about hiding in plain sight is that you have to leave no trace behind you, to be utterly inconspicuous. Aircraft, helicopters, boats, weapons, bomb blasts and dead bodies all tend to leave a trace or need to be explained. Nothing in the book gives me an explanation of how all the “missions” were achieved in plain sight.