The beginning of The Honor of Spies overlaps with the ending of Death & Honor. Where the last book has Enrico describing the assault that takes place on the fly, the beginning chapter here gives a blow-by-blow account of it. The reader gets a front row seat as Enrico plans the ambush with military precision, moving the Froggers out of the place, and waiting till the SS men are left behind before cornering them and killing them. He then takes pictures of them with their SS identity cards, in addition to those he has already taken of Colonel Peron being present at the site.
As a result of Cletus knowing all this beforehand, Colonel Peron’s plan of reprimanding him backfires. After warning Peron that pictures of his complicity with the Germans will appear in every newspaper in Argentina if he or any of his close ones are ever targeted by the Germans again, Cletus drives home only to find a trio of hired killers waiting for him. With Enrico by his side, he dispatches them before they can hurt him. The shooting brings Colonel Martin’s BIS men on the scene, and Martin himself comes over.
Cletus phones Peron in Martin’s presence and tells him he is giving him the benefit of the doubt that he wouldn’t have had time to inform the Germans to back off yet. He then drives back to his estancia where Dorotea and Wilhelm Frogger Jr. (now Fischer) are waiting for news. Knowing his parents are alive and well protected is a relief to the son, and the group decides to go over to meet them the next morning. Cletus also decides to bring Fischer, Peter and Boltitz together so they can compare notes and work with each other.
In Germany, Himmler informs Manfred von Deitzberg he has been recalled for a new mission. He is to test the escape routes of Operation Phoenix by traveling back to Argentina in a submarine. He will accompany the next “special shipment” and using false identity papers that identify him as an ethnic German (which Cranz and Gradny-Sawz will arrange), live in Buenos Aires and take control of the funds and assets to prepare for the inevitable exodus of the Nazi leaders.
At the same time, Graham and Dulles meet Oberstleutenant (Lt. Colonel) Reinhard Gehlen in Lisbon, one of Admiral Canaris’ deputies in charge of Abwehr Ost (East), the section handling intelligence in the Soviet Union, and their liaison with Canaris. Gehlen proposes an operation similar to Phoenix, where in return for intelligence from the entire team of spies embedded in the Soviet countries, the OSS helps some of the compromised men and their families escape to Argentina where they can assimilate into the German community. As a display of his intentions, he hands them a list of Soviet spies who are keeping an eye on the Manhattan project. The OSS commanders agree to Gehlen’s terms, deciding to the keep the deal secret from Donovan lest it be known to the President and through him the Russians.
When Cletus and Fischer go to meet the Froggers, they realize that Frau Frogger is more dangerous than they think; in her endeavor to escape, she attempted to kill a female caretaker and ran away before the enraged caretaker captured her again and beat her up. They bring the battered female Nazi back to the farmhouse as they try and figure out a way of keeping the Froggers safe and stop them from escaping at the same time. The answer comes from an unexpected quarter – Father Welner.
Welner tells Cletus of a mountaintop villa – Casa Montagna – in the foothills of the Andes that belonged to Colonel Frade and was converted to a fortified hospital after his sister’s breakdown following her only son’s death. She was looked after by a group of nuns from a nearby convent, who ensured she neither escaped nor harmed herself in any way. It was also used by him to store a cache of arms and ammunition in preparation for Operation Blue, making it well defended in case of an attack. Fischer agrees, and Cletus flies them out in his Lodestar. Once there, Father Welner takes Cletus and Dorotea to meet the Mother Superior of the convent while Fischer and his parents move to the villa under guard.
It turns out that the Mother Superior knows Cletus. He was born in Casa Montagna, and she assisted in his birth and subsequent upkeep before he was left in his uncle’s care in America. She blames Colonel Frade for leaving him in America, not knowing the entire story. This leads to an altercation between them as the son defends his father, giving her the full picture of a lonely man kept away by a vengeful grandfather, with newspaper clippings and reports by private detectives his only means of staying close to his only son. The Mother Superior, realizing her error, apologizes and readies herself to accompany them to the villa.
They arrive at the Casa to find the Froggers placed in the fortified section, and Enrico’s gaucho troops patrolling the perimeter. The Mother Superior and the nuns accompanying her take charge of Frau Frogger, while Cletus speaks with the manager of the villa. He was a trusted associate of the Colonel who assisted him with his plans of Operation Blue and assures the son of similar help and loyalty. Enrico resumes charge of security and a radio is set up to stay in communication with Graham.
The book here takes a bit of a detour, with Canaris being summoned by Hitler to Wolfschanze. Mussolini has been deposed and is under arrest, and he wants the Admiral to work with General Kurt Student, who commands the Fallschirmjäger (German paratroopers), to devise a rescue operation. In his usual fashion of playing off his top men against each other, Hitler declares that though the execution of the operation will be by Student’s paratroopers, the operation will be headed by Otto Skorzeny, one of Himmler’s Colonels from the Waffen-SS. He also designates General von Wachstein (Peter’s father) to oversee the planning and report back to him.
The arrangement works for Canaris and von Wachstein, as it gives them a chance to get together and discuss the status of Operation Valkyrie without making it seem obvious. They are joined by Gehlen, who reports the willingness of the OSS to assist the movement of the Abwehr Ost operatives. During the planning for what ultimately becomes Operation Eiche, it is revealed that von Deitzberg has planned the operation along with Skorzeny. General Student, after making some tactical changes to the plan to ensure greater chances of success, approves of it. The planners then part ways, Student and von Wachstein to Wolfschanze to report to Hitler, and von Deitzberg to prepare for the submarine excursion.
On making the long and arduous submarine journey to Argentina, von Deitzberg is spirited into Buenos Aires by Cranz and Gradny-Sawz who have obtained false papers for him in the name of Jorge Schenk. The journey makes him ill, and as he recovers he decides to shut down the secret ransoming operation; far too many of the top players being either dead, unable or unwilling to run the German end of it. He also decides to avoid going back to Germany at any cost, having seen and experienced the destruction caused by the Allies and knowing it is only a matter of time before the Germans lose the war.
Von Deitzberg’s insertion by submarine does not go unnoticed. Gradny-Sawz’s procurement of false identity papers comes to the attention of Inspector General Nervo of the Gendarmeria Nacional, Argentina’s quasi military police force. He gets Colonel Martin, some of the officers who participated in Operation Blue and President Rawson’s aide together to exchange notes and pool their intelligence on the events. All of them are aware of Peron’s involvement with the Germans and know that Colonel Schmidt who commands the Mountain Troops is an ardent Nazi sympathizer; elements that could lead to another civil war which they vow to stop at all cost. They decide to keep an eye on von Deitzberg masquerading as Schenk and to enlist Cletus’ help in the endeavor.
Cletus meanwhile gets a message from Howard Hughes telling him he is ready to sell SAA Lockheed Constellations, which would allow him to offer transatlantic services. Knowing there is more to the offer than meets the eye, he agrees. Before he leaves for America he gets Fischer, Peter and Boltitz together under the guise of a bird hunt. After their initial suspicion of and questioning each other thoroughly, the three acknowledge each other to be who they say they are – co-conspirators with knowledge of Valkyrie – and agree to work together.
At the same hunt, Father Welner comes to Cletus with a request. As a board member of SAA, he is aware of the purchase of the Constellations, and has a proposal from the Vatican. They want to purchase a few seats in every transatlantic flight that SAA flies, which they will use to fly war orphans under its care to Argentina where they can be rehabilitated. Cletus again is sure there is more to the request than Welner lets on, but agrees nonetheless. The request becomes clearer when Graham messages him informing him of the deal with Gehlen and the plan to smuggle some of his men into Argentina.
Flying back to Argentina with the first of the Constellations, Cletus is met by Martin and Nervo. They have him meet with the rest of the group and share all the intelligence they have with them while asking for his help. Agreeing, Cletus also admits he is hiding the Froggers and that he is still an active OSS agent who will be using the airline to bring in the men and families of Abwehr Ost to the country. While Nervo agrees to provide extra protection for Casa Montagna, the army officers are worried that Colonel Schmidt could use the arms cache as an excuse to forcibly enter the villa and kill the Froggers in the process. They decide to watch before taking any steps.
Cletus, accompanied by Gonzalo on his maiden transatlantic flight, arrives in Lisbon under armed escort provided by the US Air Force, as the European mainland is still a war zone, and finds Graham, Hughes and Dulles waiting for him. Graham explains more about the request Welner made; the OSS has made a deal with them and the escaping Germans and their families will be disguised as priests, nuns and orphans. They will be accompanied by real members of the clergy as well, to avoid questions, and their documents will be provided by the Vatican. The Vatican definitely has its own reason for assisting the OSS as well as wanting to have its priests and nuns fly to Argentina, but Cletus is ordered to look the other way and ask no questions. The first of the men and their families will be in the group flying back to Argentina and will identify themselves only after reaching safely.
While Cletus is in Europe, von Deitzberg travels to Uruguay. Having decided to close the ransoming operation he needs to tie up the loose ends, starting with Werner von Tresmark. He coerces Inge to join forces with him and gives Werner the option of disappearing forever after transferring most of the money and title deeds to his Jorge Schenk identity. He then travels back to Buenos Aires where he engineers the disappearance of Inge while procuring false papers for her as the wife of Jorge Schenk. Realizing that a commoner suddenly coming into so much wealth would be extremely suspicious, they decide to let Colonel Peron “buy” some of the assets in return for his complicity and protection.
Cletus lands in Argentina amid huge fanfare with President Rawson and the press in attendance. Arranged by Claudia and Father Welner, it is both for propaganda purposes as the first Argentine transatlantic flight as well as a means of hiding Gehlen’s men in plain sight. Also present are Martin and Nervo, who after the welcome fill Cletus in on von Deitzberg’s movements. They also assure him that Casa Montagna is still safe, Colonel Schmidt having made no moves in his absence. Cletus in turn informs them of the OSS’ deal with the Vatican for moving the Germans in question.
Father Welner brings the Germans to Cletus’ estancia the next day. They introduce themselves as Oberstrumbahnführer (Lieutenant Colonel equivalent) Alois Strubel and Hauptscharführer (Sergeant Major equivalent) Otto Niedermeyer, but something about them doesn’t seem right to Cletus, a sentiment echoed by his men as well as Nervo. He decides to move them to Casa Montagna where it will be easier to keep an eye on them and have Fischer interrogate them if needed. The second step turns out to be unnecessary as within minutes of seeing each other, Fischer and Otto not only recognize but readily vouch for each other as major players in Valkyrie.
Between them, the real story unfolds. Otto is in fact an officer and Gehlen’s deputy, while Alois is a Major. Their ranks have been reversed to hide Otto’s importance and allow him to keep Alois, who is a Hitler loyalist, in check. Under the agreement with the OSS, Gehlen plans to move officers with knowledge of Valkyrie as well as those who would hinder it. Once in Argentina, it would be an easy matter for the former group to keep the latter in control. Cletus informs Graham and Dulles of this, who advise him to use his discretion and do what he thinks is the best under the circumstances. He decides to allow Otto freedom of movement while keeping Alois under watch.
Von Deitzberg travels with Inge to San Carlos de Bariloche, a town in the foothills of the Andes where there is property he plans to offer Peron. While there, he meets Colonel Schmidt as well, and feeds him lies about Cletus having killed his own father so he could take control of the vast Frade fortune and turn it into an OSS asset; lies which the Colonel readily swallows as they give him his excuse to march upon Casa Montagna, exactly what von Deitzberg wants. He also plans to have Peron away at Bariloche as the Casa is attacked so he cannot call it off out of fear of Cletus exposing him.
At Casa Montagna, Dorotea goes into labour and delivers a boy. As he celebrates the birth of his son, Cletus is joined by Martin and Nervo who inform him of von Deitzberg’s actions, and that Colonel Schmidt is readying his troops to move out soon. Nervo promises to help slow them down by blocking the direct routes between them and the villa, and Cletus has Enrico ready his gauchos to defend the place. Otto however has left the Casa a day earlier, travelling to Bariloche as well, to inspect a hotel that is up for sale and can be repurposed to house the Gehlen operatives after their arrival.
Martin and Nervo fly back to Buenos Aires the next day to meet with the rest of the group, where they are informed that Schmidt has ordered his troops out for an “exercise” that is going to lead them to Casa Montagna. Nervo’s closing of the major roads will slow them down by a couple of days, but they need to act to prevent another civil war from erupting. They elect to inform President Rawson, who after his initial disbelief decides to fly to Casa Montagna himself, and orders two Piper Cubs to be made ready to intercept Schmidt’s troops.
As Rawson is en route to the Casa, von Deitzberg and Peron arrive at Bariloche along with Inge and Evita Duarte, Peron’s future wife. Upon returning from a tour of the property, von Deitzberg catches a glimpse of Otto in the bar. Surprised at seeing someone he thought was at the Eastern Front, he follows him into the men’s room. Otto, thinking on his feet, pretends to be on a mission and when von Deitzberg’s back is turned shoots him in the head with a pistol he is carrying, killing him on the spot. He then goes back to the bar, informs the police officer accompanying him of what happened and waits for the law to take its course. Inge gets questioned by the police in the aftermath of the shooting, during which she gives them her false identity. Knowing they have an advantage, Evita forces Inge to transfer half of “Schenk’s” property to her and Peron, in return for letting Inge disappear with the remainder.
President Rawson arrives at Casa Montagna, and Cletus flies him in one of the Piper Cubs to locate Schmidt. When they find him, Rawson orders him to turn his troops back or face court martial, but Schmidt turns on the President and orders him at gunpoint to step down. In the resulting standoff, Cletus shoots Schmidt, which causes the rest of his officers to surrender. The troops get turned around and returned to base, averting the much-feared civil war.
The Honor of Spies is relatively toned down from the extreme universe building of the earlier Death & Honor. This book too is co-authored by Griffin’s son, and as a result there are a few places where the plot digresses to flesh out the volume or to give the primary characters an excuse to talk about and justify their actions; the planning of Operation Oak being one of them. At the same time, perhaps having realized they went too far too fast in the last book, the authors focus more on the main players established from the initial trilogy.
Even so, the Vatican is brought in as a new albeit very dangerous player into the game. Their premise is built up on the verified existence of “ratlines”, a series of escape routes operated by former members of the SS after Germany’s defeat, some of whom were allegedly run with the support of both the Vatican in terms of false papers and the Allied intelligence agencies who wanted to harvest some of the top German scientists and researchers for the now evident Cold War. What is surprising though is it never leads anywhere, as there is no further mention of it in the next book.
They also introduce a strong plot point in the form of Reinhard Gehlen. The Gehlen Organization is one of the most disputed and notorious aspects of post WW2 Germany, as not only was the officer employed post-war by the CIA, but the organization employed many former Nazis and eventually became the nucleus of the West German intelligence agency BND. The book builds up on Gehlen’s part in Operation Valkyrie, showcasing him and his men as non-Nazis thereby trying to ipso facto justify their use first by the OSS and then the CIA. Gehlen, unlike the Vatican plotline, does play a role in the next books.
Just as with Death & Honor, The Honor of Spies title is largely honorific (pun intended). It seeks to create a discourse on the conflicting sense of duty and loyalty of the Germans who find themselves on opposing sides through the initial interaction between Fischer, Peter and Boltitz along with the final confrontation between Otto and von Deitzberg, but falls short of providing any real depth to the event by playing up the dramatic instead. Even the part where Cletus decides to reveal his OSS identity merely stretches the reader’s incredulity instead of throwing up any aspect of honor in it. it only serves as a vehicle to prime the reader for the next book.