Excerpt from The Irregulars by Jennet Conant, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Irregulars

Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

by Jennet Conant

The Irregulars
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 416 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


It had been expected that he would go on to university, to Oxford or Cambridge, but he had set his heart on adventure abroad. Mother and son were very close -- she had moved the whole family from Wales to England to be nearer his school -- and when he broke the news that he had signed a contract with the Shell Oil Company for a three-year tour in Africa, she had been careful not to betray any hint of emotion. He was more boy than man when he left, and he had been bursting with excitement and too full of thoughts of "palm-trees and coconuts and coral reefs" to feel any guilt as he waved a last farewell to his mother and sisters at the London docks. He had not known then that the war would intervene and that the three years would seem much, much longer -- more like a lifetime.

Dahl was not a demonstrative man, but after barely getting out of Egypt in one piece, he had been desperate to be reunited with his family. The harrowing journey home on the bomb-threatened troopship, which was chased by German submarines in the Atlantic, and by Focke-Wulf aircraft on the last leg of the voyage from Lagos to Liverpool, only heightened his sense of urgency. He had not had an easy time of it. After working so hard to overcome his injuries and return to his squadron, it had been a bitter pill to be grounded after barely a month. On top of his disappointment at being discharged was the disconcerting knowledge that the complications from his concussion were not completely behind him and would most likely bar him from any other frontline service in the war. It was hard to believe that his days of fighting Germans had come to such a quick end, harder still to take leave of his gallant comrades, who would continue with the squadron without him. When he said good-bye to his closest friend, David Coke, the Earl of Leicester's youngest son, who had been kind enough to show a green recruit the ropes, it was impossible not to wonder if they would ever see each other again.*

To keep his mother from worrying, Dahl had sent her a brief cable from Egypt telling her he was coming home, adding with false bravado that he was "very fit" and the Syrian campaign had been "fun." He still had not received any word from her when his ship sailed from Freetown for Liverpool, but mail service to Haifa was hardly reliable, and he had had no news from England for some time. As a consequence, he had a bad scare when he arrived at Liverpool and attempted to phone his mother's house in Kent, only to be told by the operator that the number was disconnected months ago. The operator had said, "She'll probably have been bombed out like all the rest of them," and speculated that she had moved elsewhere. An awful lot hung on that "probably." The confusion caused by the blitz, where family members were killed or injured in blasts, buried in rubble, or lost as they scrambled from one temporary shelter to another, made for a nightmarish twenty-four hours until he finally succeeded in tracking them down. It turned out that his mother and two of his sisters had been hiding in the cellar when their house was hit and had promptly packed the dogs and what was left of their belongings into the car and driven around the countryside until they had found a suitable cottage in Grendon Underwood. When the bus ferrying him to the tiny village finally pulled to a halt, Dahl spotted a familiar figure standing patiently by the road and, as he later wrote, "flew down the steps of the bus straight into the arms of the waiting mother."

He had been home only a few short months when he learned that the undersecretary for air planned to send him away again. Dahl had met Harold Balfour quite by chance that fall, when a colleague had invited him to dine at Pratt's, one of the better-known men's clubs in London. During the course of the evening, Dahl had done his best to impress the senior official with his battle stories and his skill at bridge. Balfour must have taken it upon himself to arrange a cushy assignment for the disabled flier, because the next day he summoned Dahl to his office and informed him that he would be joining the British Embassy in Washington D.C. as an assistant air attaché. When he heard the news, Dahl protested, "Oh no, sir, please, sir -- anything but that, sir!" Balfour would not be moved: "He said it was an order, and the job was jolly important."

Copyright © 2008 by Jennet Conant

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...
  • Book Jacket: When Breath Becomes Air
    When Breath Becomes Air
    by Paul Kalanithi
    When Breath Becomes Air is the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi, written in the time period between ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

Education is the period during which you are being instructed by somebody you do not know, about something you do ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.