Secret Honor doesn’t pick up immediately from the events at the end of Blood & Honor, as one would expect after the explosive (literally) ending of the second book. Instead, it starts with the seemingly unrelated incident of a lone German car being strafed by an American P-38 Lightning in the deserts of Tunisia; an event that takes place a week before the coup d’état in Argentina. The car’s passenger, critically wounded but alive, is revealed to be Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, whose injuries see him rehabilitated to Germany.
The narrative then connects to the second book, with Himmler and the other principals of Operation Phoenix being informed of the debacle on the beach that resulted in the deaths of Goltz and Gruner and the failure to unload any of the “special shipment”. They decide to investigate further to uncover if there is a traitor in the German embassy and order the three people with the most knowledge of the incident – First Secretary Anton von Gradny-Sawz, SS officer Werner von Tresmark and Military Attaché Hans-Peter von Wachstein – to fly back to Germany, while others fly to Argentina to investigate on-site.
The officers chosen to go to Argentina are Korvettenkapitän (Major) Karl Boltitz of the Abwehr, and Himmler’s Adjutant Manfred von Deitzberg with his assistant Erich Raschner. Boltitz, a former submarine officer, is Canaris’ liaison with the rest of the Operation Phoenix principals. Von Deitzberg has been serving as Himmler’s adjutant since the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. More importantly, unknown to Himmler, he and Heydrich had been personally handling the ransoming of the Jews from the concentration camps with the involvement of Goltz, Werner and Raschner. After the assassination of Heydrich, von Deitzberg has taken over the operation, continuing to keep his boss in the dark.
On the other side of the world, Colonel Graham is being pressured by Donovan to reveal the identity of Galahad, the code name given to Peter. Donovan insists that if he informs the President of the twin operations the Nazis are carrying out in Argentina, he would want to know the source. Graham declines, saying revealing Galahad’s identity would be tantamount to exposing him, and stands by Cletus Frade’s decision to not do so. Donovan backs down for the moment but warns him that if the President ordered Graham directly, he wouldn’t be able to protect him.
In Argentina, Peter awaits word from Germany. Alicia, the younger daughter of Claudia Carzino-Carmano, with whom he is romantically involved (it was Alicia who helped him travel to Cletus’ estancia with the information on the “special shipment”), is in favour of him flying to Brazil and surrendering to the Americans if he is recalled to Germany, as she is sure they will uncover him as the traitor and execute him. Peter, more pragmatic, knows he cannot do that as long as his father is in the OKW, as he would in turn pay for his son’s transgression. He is also aware of his father’s involvement in Operation Valkyrie and wants to do nothing that would jeopardize it.
Von Deitzberg and Raschner depart for Argentina, while Boltitz heads for Portugal accompanied by SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Cranz (whose description of a charming, friendly person despite being SS brings to mind Colonel Hans Landa from Tarantino’s The Inglorious Basterds). They interrogate the captain of the replenishment ship, who narrates how he himself had accompanied the boat to the shore and saw Goltz and Gruner get shot. He tells them of Peter’s valour in the face of fire, when he brought the bodies back to the boat and loaded the one unloaded crate back into the boat, oblivious to several bullets fired at him (for appearance’s sake, by Enrico; they were intended to miss him narrowly). He also vouches that Peter was given the location of the landing spot by Goltz in his presence, and it would have been impossible for him to inform anyone about it. As far as the captain is concerned, Peter is beyond reproach. Boltitz and Cranz decide to wait for the Condor returning from Argentina to speak with the people under suspicion themselves.
While this is happening, Cletus is swamped with the preparations of his upcoming wedding with Dorotea. His pleas for a small, private ceremony go unheeded. The planning is hijacked by Claudia and his aunt, who tell him that as a Frade he is in no position to have a “small, private ceremony”. He is also overruled when he crosses Peron off the list of guests, as Peron is his godfather and an influential person in Argentina who he simply cannot afford to antagonize. His derision for Peron stems from the fact that the latter is parroting the official Nazi line of Colonel Frade being killed by bandits, and that he apparently is a paedophile (an allegation that was levelled against Peron when forced to resign as President in 1955, but never actually proved).
Amid this, he is radioed by Graham to think of how to get Captain Ashton, the leader of the radar team, into Uruguay as a precursor to him re-entering Argentina in a diplomatic capacity. Bored by the inaction and seizing the opportunity to get away, Cletus flies Ashton to Uruguay in his Lodestar using the cover of a business trip. This contradicts the orders given to him by Graham, who has told him to use his influence with President Rawson to tilt the new government towards the Allies but stay out of harm’s way, as anything happening to him would result in Galahad’s identity being exposed. Thus, when he hears of it, Graham himself flies down to Buenos Aires and in the presence of Ashton and Milton Liebermann reprimands Cletus for his decision.
Von Deitzberg and Raschner arrive in Argentina in the garb of Wehrmacht, the regular German army. Their real identities however, are already known to Cletus via Peter, who also shares the information with Colonel Martin. Von Deitzberg, on arrival, gives Peter a letter from his father which has news of von Stauffenberg’s injury and subsequent return to Germany for recovery; their families have known each other for a long time.
Through Peter, von Deitzberg also meets informally with Colonel Peron, during which he gives Peron a message, ostensibly from the Wehrmacht, expressing their sorrow for the murder of Colonel Frade. He further tells him that the plot was hatched by Goltz acting on his own, for which he paid with his life. He implores the Colonel to carry this apology to the rest of the Army, which would help heal the rift and allow them to move on. Peron believes the message and agrees to share it with the rest of the Officer Corps.
The next day, Peter and Gradny-Sawz are instructed to return to Germany for the investigation. As he must fly to Uruguay to bring Werner to Buenos Aires, Peter uses the opportunity to inform Cletus and Alicia both of his recall and von Deitzberg’s conversation with Peron. Alicia again pleads with him to escape to Brazil, which he turns down. This sentiment is echoed by Inge, Werner’s wife, when he reaches Uruguay and informs them of their impending departure, but she too is realistic enough to understand it is wishful thinking – the SS would track them down anywhere in the world if they ran away; Peter and Werner fly back to Buenos Aires. The night before he is to leave, he contacts Cletus for a clandestine meet.
Cletus agrees, thinking Peter has more information. However, when they meet (arranged by the ever-resourceful Enrico and involving hotel suites and escorts) Peter tells him if he doesn’t return Alicia should receive all his hidden money. Realising the depth of their love, Cletus arranges for Alicia to come to the hotel suite and spend the night with Peter. The next day, after Peter’s Condor has departed and a distraught Alicia returns home, an enraged Claudia confronts Cletus in the presence of Father Welner. Cletus defends his actions, saying he considers Alicia as a sister and would have done the same for his sisters too, which calms Claudia somewhat.
As the three of them then reminisce about Colonel Frade, they are joined by Peron who gives them von Deitzberg’s message and supposed apology which none of them believe is true but don’t say anything. During this, Enrico informs him that he is responsible for the killing of Goltz, which the angry Peron orders him to tell no one else.
When the Condor carrying Peter and the others reaches Lisbon, they find Boltitz and Cranz waiting for them and are informed that they will be allowed to proceed to Berlin after a couple of days. Having decided beforehand, Boltitz questions Peter while Cranz speaks with Werner and Gradny-Sawz. They both are, however, unable to establish anything beyond what they already know and the three along with Boltitz continue to Berlin while Cranz stays back to arrange for the remains of Goltz and Gruner to be taken back to Germany for burial.
In Berlin, Boltitz informs Canaris of his arrival; the latter decides to meet Peter himself, during which he informs Peter that his father is being given leave for them to meet. Back at his hotel, Peter bumps into an old friend Wilhelm “Willi” Gruner, who he has flown with for years, and who is the son of the slain Gruner. From his demeanour, he realises Willi has not been informed of his father’s death and reluctantly proceeds to do so. Willi demands to know the details of his death, which causes Peter to defy Boltitz and share what he can without revealing the operation. Upon asking Willi where he can be reached, he replies he is involved in a top-secret project in Ausberg, a province of Berlin.
The next day, Peter and General von Wachstein meet and decide to leave for their ancestral Schloss (castle) for the duration of the latter’s leave. As they travel, Boltitz reports his findings to Canaris that the investigation in Portugal has been inconclusive and will have to be compared with von Deitzberg’s findings in Argentina, although there is nothing yet to suggest either of the three is a traitor. He also finds himself evaluating his feelings towards Peter and believes if it weren’t for him being a suspected traitor, they would have been very good friends, coming from similar backgrounds and having similar notions of duty and honor; he chooses not to share that with Canaris.
Von Deitzberg’s investigation in Buenos Aires shows him a similar picture, as nothing outwardly indicates the presence of a traitor in the embassy. He also goes to Uruguay to interrogate Inge, where out of self-preservation she omits her accidentally telling Peter of the twin operations; von Deitzberg is thus unaware that Peter knew of the operations even before Goltz told him about it. The impression he gets is the unloading operation involving ethnic Germans came to the attention of Colonel Martin, who since he couldn’t take any official action, let Cletus know about it and then looked the other way when Goltz and Gruner got killed, getting photographs of the entire thing in the bargain.
During their journey to the Schloss, General von Wachstein only speaks freely to his son once he is sure they will not be overheard. They exchange news of Peter’s handling of the family money to his friendship with Cletus to his feelings towards Alicia. In return, his father tells him more of Operation Valkyrie and the recovery of von Stauffenberg. They decide to meet him the next day and spend the rest of the day visiting wounded soldiers; their Schloss has been requisitioned and converted to a temporary hospital.
Driving out to the convalescent home the next day they continue their talks, and Peter elaborates on the twin operations as well as his role in the shooting. While concerned for his son’s safety, the General nevertheless agrees he did the honorable thing, both by saving Cletus’ life and by informing him of the operations. When they meet von Stauffenberg, the General has Peter tell him everything too, after identifying him as one of the leaders of Valkyrie. The information further strengthens von Stauffenberg’s resolve to bring the war to an end and the Nazis to justice.
Their meeting is cut short when both Peter and the General are recalled to duty, their leaves having been cancelled. The General heads back to Wolfschanze while Peter is directed to Ausberg where his curiosity about Willi’s top-secret project is answered. Ausberg is a highly fortified installation where General Adolf Galland is overseeing the testing and production of the Messerschmitt Me-262, Germany’s (and the world’s) first experimental jet engine fighter plane. Both Willi and Peter have served under Galland, and within minutes of meeting him Galland has Peter “checked out” by taking him on a test flight on one the 262s.
After explaining that Boltitz and Cranz would be arriving the next day to brief them on the funeral arrangements, they repair to the General’s quarters where all the test pilots gather, and an impromptu party takes place. Peter is gotten extremely drunk and into bed by one of the female staff at the installation who is also an undercover SS operative; she later reports to Cranz that even while drunk Peter never showed any guilt or otherwise traitorous emotions.
In Argentina, Cletus’ wedding becomes a social affair that everyone from President Rawson to Colonel Martin to Graham attends, and Colonel Peron arranges for a sword arch by a Cavalry contingent for Cletus and Dorotea to walk through as a mark of respect. Soon after returning from their honeymoon, Cletus is informed by Alicia that she is pregnant, and that Peter is the father. There has been no news of him since he departed for Germany, and Cletus has no idea how to get in touch with him. Father Welner suggests taking advantage of Peron’s closeness to the Germans and finding out Peter’s whereabouts through him. Cletus, at a reception given by him, speaks with Peron, playing the role of a man hating his enemy but wanting to do right by someone he considers a sister. Peron agrees to speak with von Deitzberg to see what can be done.
Also present at the reception is the new attaché for Air and a certified Pilot Instructor, Colonel Almond, who has accompanied Ashton. Cletus, picking up on the Instructor part, guesses Ashton’s reasons for bringing Almond and requests a formal “checking out” in the Lodestar that would certify him to fly the plane which Almond agrees to.
Knowing the importance of Peron and his ambitions, it has long been decided by the Germans to cultivate him as an ally, a task made easier by his admiration of Nazi “efficiency”. When he approaches von Deitzberg with the Peter problem, the latter messages the Phoenix principals suggesting that insofar as there is no proof that Peter is the traitor, he be allowed to fly back to Argentina and marry Alicia. He mentions that this would be favourable from the view of operation Phoenix and marriage to a prominent Argentine family would have propaganda value. His suggestion is accepted, and Peter is ordered to fly back.
Cletus turns his attention to getting certified as a Lodestar pilot and quickly realises that Colonel Almond is not what he seems. He finds out that Almond is an Army Intelligence officer and has approached both Milton and Martin with an offer of twenty thousand dollars to identify Galahad, an offer turned down by both. In response, Cletus has Pelosi, Enrico and Ashton accompany him on the final test flight with Almond; landing at a remote airstrip, once Almond certifies him in front of everyone, he strands him there without any identification and warns him of dire consequences if he persists in uncovering Galahad’s identity.
Peter has settled in as a pilot on the Me-262 project and has resigned himself to the fact that he may never be going back to Argentina when his orders arrive. General Galland, though displeased at the thought of losing a pilot as experienced as Peter, does not put up a fight as the order has come from the top. His arrival in Argentina and wedding to Alicia takes place in the next few days; Cletus, despite wanting to attend his friend’s wedding cannot do so due to the charade they both are playing. Peter however, knows of his role in getting him back and has one more deed to add to the debt of honor they owe each other.
Boltitz also travels to Argentina with Peter, where he will be the new Abwehr representative at the embassy. Proving himself to be a far better investigator than von Deitzberg, he speaks with the ethnic German who revealed the landing site to Peter and realises that he is, in fact, the traitor they have been searching for. He confronts Peter and suggests he has an “accident” while flying the Storch, an honorable way out that won’t implicate his father or his wife. Peter agrees, but then goes to the Ambassador and tells him everything.
In response, the Ambassador meets Boltitz privately and gives him two letters, one from Canaris and one from his father. The essence of the letters is that his father and Canaris are both part of Operation Valkyrie, as is the Ambassador, and that he should consider any orders coming from the Ambassador as given by Canaris himself. The Ambassador tells him he is aware of the conversation he has had with Peter, who will be returning safely, and that the two of them should get to know each other better.
The book ends with Donovan and Graham talking about Cletus’ reaction towards Almond. It comes out that after Donovan informed President Roosevelt about the operations and refused to identify Galahad, FDR “casually” mentioned it to the heads of the FBI, the ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) and G-2 (Army Intelligence) that he was interested in knowing who Galahad was. Donovan remarks to Graham that Cletus may have dodged one bullet, but there would be others. Graham responds that Cletus is more than capable of handling future threats too.
As you progress through the books, you can see the elaborate nature as well as the intricacy with which Griffin slowly but surely expands his narrative. What starts in the first book as a simple wartime mission evolves over the second and third book into a tale with a far wider scope and a with much further reaching consequences. Griffin employs the butterfly effect with the skill of a maestro, showing how a random event like von Stauffenberg’s car being strafed in Tunisia influences the entire war, or how overlooking the involvement of an ethnic German in the operation leads to von Deitzberg’s failure. It is a visual delight to see the pieces assemble themselves in front of your eyes, with a beautiful collage where earlier there was just a fuzzy outline.
Of the many facets of honor, Griffin gives us here the honor in keeping your word even in the face of insurmountable odds, simply because it is the morally correct thing to do. The refusal of Cletus, Graham, Milton and Martin to identify Galahad, the adherence of Peter, his father and von Stauffenberg to what for them has been a code of honor they have lived their entire lives by, knowing the very sure possibility of death that awaits at the end of the road, both are the shades of Secret Honor.