14 NOVEMBER 1958, Page 22

Their Man in Habarovsk


Habarovsk. 3111158.

As instructed by your MVD/ANGLIT/475/T of 1/10/58 I have carried out an analysis of the latest novel by the British writer G. Greene with particular reference to the points raised by you in the above-quoted document. I have the honour to submit my conclusions herewith. Your Depart- ment's dossier on Greene swill be returned to Moscow by safe hand in accordance with stand- ing orders.

At first sight Our Man in Havana appears to be a mere fantasy. Although the author (as might be expected from his record as an adventurist) clearly has some acquaintance with the routine workings of clandestine intelligence, the picture he draws of the British Seci-et Service in the Caribbean area is an obvious caricature—an extravaganza from which, despite its trappings of authenticity, there is nothing of importance to be learnt. I have to confess that this was the initial and somewhat naive reaction of myself and my subordinates during our preliminary study of the work.

Gradually, however, we began to ask ourselves whether the significance of what Greene himself calls a 'fairy-story' might lie not in the small clues for which we had hitherto searched but in the general impression which the book aims to pro- duce. Regarded in this light, Our Man in Havana is revealed as a bold and typically British attempt at camouflage or deception. Its ostensible pur- pose is to amuse; its real aim, in our opinion, is to present a seemingly authoritative picture of the British Secret Service as a set of incompetent bunglers.

Greene has been at great paini to slander his country's Secret Service (the fact that he is, as tar as I am aware, the first notable British writer since Lord Compton-Mackenzie to be allowed to do so in a work of fiction is not without its sig- nificance). But every now and then the buffoon's mask slips, and we are inadvertently allowed a glimpse of the typical British agent at work—re- sourceful, highly trained, a dedicated automaton.

Take, for instance, Mrs. Beatrice Severn, who is sent from London to Havana to act as secre- tary 'to the central character, James Wormold. She is portrayed as indiscreet, feckless and gullible; she cannot speak Spanish. She arrives in Havana by air with a radio-operator who is indisposed by air-sickness. After obtaining accom- modation in an hotel she goes to a night-club with the Dutch pilots of her air-liner. 'The crew were making a night of it, so I joined up with them. I don't know anybody here,' she tells Wormold, whom she meets for the first time at the night- club.

Yet next morning, after buying a safe 'which required a lorry and six men to transport it,' she delivers at Wormold's office 'the largest suitcase he had ever seen.' It contains a powerful radio- transmitter and photographic equipment. Mrs. Severn explains that it has been brought to Havana by another British agent, a Creole drug- smuggler from Jamaica. The Cuban customs were bribed; 'we had to pay rather heavily.' To describe as terrifying the efficiency with which this woman, within a few hours of landing on Cuban soil, carries out unaided this delicate and essential transaction may be going too far. What is, in truth, alarming is that Greene takes her resource so much for granted that he sees no reason to conceal or lampoon it.

Another instance of the same sort of thing occurs when Wormold visits the town of Santiago.

Wormold is represented as an almost accidental and wholly inexperienced recruit to the British Secret Service. To show his simple and unworldly character, Greene makes him, immediately on arrival, send to a friend in Havana a picture- postcard of his hotel with a cross marking the window of his bedroom. But when he reached Santiago a curfew was in force and 'the night was hot and humid.' How did he know, and why did 1w find it necessary to establish, which of the windows shown on the picture-postcard was the window of his room? Routine procedure of this meticulous kind can only be the product of in' tensive training and severe discipline. Once again the writer's negligence has defeated his purpose by allowing us to see, behind the coolie moustaches, the foppish monocles and the G08°1- esque greasepaint, the strong bone-structure of a familiar and detested face.

The various minor inconsistencies to which Yon drew my attention seem to me of little more than academic interest. On p. 29 Wormold thinks that Dr. Hasselbacher was born in Berlin and alleges that he has been in Havana for thirty years; the fact that he was mistaken on both points--for we later learn that Hasselbacher was born near Leipzig and did not leave Germany until 193; —does not seem to me conclusive evidence of the author's intention to trick or confuse the reader. I agree that it is improbable that a man of forty-five would be (p. 196) the oldest Etol: pean trader in Havana; but we are after all dealing with a work of fiction in which some element of improbability is almost endemic: ef, the reference (p. 173) to June manoeuvres by.the Imperial German Army in 1913. The matter of the dog, however, presents problems which I find perplexing. This animal' you will recall, is the pet of the head-waiter at one of the principal hotels in Havana. It appears among the guests at a public luncheon begging for scraps and in such a state of inanition that' when Wormold spills his poisoned whisky, the dog laps it up 'for want of any better provender and in consequence dies. It is, as you suggest, scarcely credible. that the pet of a senior employee in the kitchens of ° capitalist hotel should be undernourished. Never' theless, some dogs are greedier than others, and I have accordingly caused tests to be carried 0,1 at the Blagoveschensk Veterinary Institute Will a view to ascertaining whether dogs can be in duced voluntarily to consume alcohol. The resells in every case were negative, the animals evincirl either indifference to or repugnance for the spirits with which they were tempted.

Even more baffling, however, is the passage describing a game of draughts between Warn and Captain Segura, the Chief of Police, in whic the latter says : 'Look ! I make a king.' Wormold's reply ('And I huff you three tittle?: is made, and taken, seriously; but by the rule,s of draughts as played in Russia and other Par of Europe his words appear to have no metal My own feeling is that the game may be Plaie,d differently in Cuba, and that in order to eic' up this mystery (which, although it aPPears minor, may well have a capital importance) an be investigation of the local customs should to carried out on the spot. Loth though I 8111, abandon my post—especially during the Winter months when, as you have often reminded us' optimum conditions for study and research Pre, vail—I shall be glad, if you accept my rec()Innt; mendation, to volunteer for a confidential mission to Havana.

With comradely greetings, 0. Strikski.

Professor of Para-Military Exeg