Friday, October 18, 2013

Here a spy, there a spy...

You may have noticed we have a rather wide-ranging Daedalus Books Forum going on now called Hidden in Plain Sight: Spies & Conspiracies. A posting I got from Very Short List on three "contemporary unsolved mysteries" seems quite relevant to the topic. The puzzles spotlighted include a dead man found on an Australian beach in 1948 bearing the code below; and a fragment hidden on his person reading "Tamám shud’  (Persian for "It is ended"), taken from a rare New Zealand edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. As a lengthy article in Smithsonian magazine reported
The dead man’s calf muscles were high and very well developed; although in his late 40s, he had the legs of an athlete. His toes, meanwhile, were oddly wedge-shaped. One expert who gave evidence at the inquest noted:
I have not seen the tendency of calf muscle so pronounced as in this case…. His feet were rather striking, suggesting—this is my own assumption—that he had been in the habit of wearing high-heeled and pointed shoes.
Perhaps, another expert witness hazarded, the dead man had been a ballet dancer?
How tantalizing not to know the answers to the "enigma of the Unknown Man," whose identity was so thoroughly scrubbed that he seems to have been a spy (yet why leave the code and the talisman?). I guess that's the downside of real life vs. spy fiction!
The illustrations at right and below by Jessie Hartland comes from her graphic bio Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child. Did you know that Child was a big ole spy? Yep, she and hubby Paul did their bit for democracy in World War II. You can read all about it in A Covert Affair, one of the many fascinating titles featured in the above-mentioned Forum.
Has anyone seen the BBC America series Spies of Warsaw? I'm thinking about giving it a whirl because Alan Furst, who wrote the book it's based on, is one of the authors we're featuring in the Forum, and I liked (and did a piece on) one of his other novels, Mission to Paris
Here an engrossing item worth a few minutes' perusal: a continually morphing map of Allied/Axis–held regions during World War II.


  1. It looks like the clues may be red herrings. If he'd been a spy, why leave anything at all? Crime of passion, then. But whose passion? Find the identity, know the killer.
    The vexation of life is never tying up all the loose ends!

  2. Maybe they should put that code through the Enigma machine! But as you say, it will probably remain an enigma. I vote w/ you on the romance angle.