True grit

"Guaranteed as good as Sebastian Faulks or your money back", so trumpets the label on the front of my volume of Robert Ryan's Early one morning. So, is it as good as Sebastian Faulks? Well, the writing is nowhere near as good as Faulks, he is undoubtedly a more skilled writer than Ryan; but where Ryan comes up trumps is in the quality of his story. It's an extraordinary tale, made all the more extraordinary as it's virtually all true.

Robert Benoist and Grover Williams both drove for Bugatti between the wars. Benoist was a skilled motor racing driver, intelligent, handsome and a bit of a ladies man; Williams had been a getaway driver for the IRA, before travelling to France where he worked as a chauffeur for the smart set before marrying the beautiful Eve and joining the Bugatti team. When war broke out Williams returned to Britain and joined the fledgling SOE. Parachuted into France he recruited Benoist, they formed an extraordinary team engaged principally in sabotage they also did some spying linking a French factory to the production of Zyklon-B.

They were unlucky though, their circuit, Chestnut, was one of the circuits that was badly hit by Henri Dericourt's(?) treachery and the nearness of the ill-fated Prosper circuit. Betrayed, the two men were captured, following torture in the notorious Avenue Foch, Benoist was murdered in Buchenwald, and Williams was believed killed at Sachsenhausen until some research by Ryan and a fellow researcher suggested that something rather different had happened.

It's an astonishingly moving tale; and a real tribute to the courage of those who worked towards the liberation of Europe. It's hard to tell where fact ends and fiction starts or vice versa in this riveting read, either way it's well worth reading.


Popular Posts