Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Churchill's secret

I just finished this absolutely wonderful novel, The Paladin by Brian Garfield. I could hardly put it down! I read the whole book over the course of two days, just wrenching myself away to work, see friends as I promised, eat and sleep. It was originally published in 1979, but its focus on a boy's adventures during WWII make it a timeless tale and one I think would appeal to everyone who likes adventure, intrigue, death-defying stunts and initiation into a secret of heads of state. The best part is that it is based on a true story, fictionalized to protect the identity of these secret agents. Young boys between the ages of 10 and 18 would identify with Christopher, which makes it a wonderful book to give to reluctant readers. It is written in an engaging, suspenseful style that makes it a real page-turner.

Themes: Coming of age, good vs. evil, the questions of 'do the ends justify the means?' and 'What is good?'

The story focuses Christopher, a young tenant on Churchill's estate. He meets Churchill and impresses him when he is ten-years-old. He is soon inducted into Churchill's small private spy agency, separate from the national force, and is sent on a dizzying number of dangerous spy missions as Hitler schemes and conquers Europe. He becomes Churchill's Paladin, his personal knight errant, who serves at the request and direction of Churchill himself. He grows up, learning more and more about the world of secret agents and participating in hugely important events of WWII, including the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He hardens and struggles with murder, torture and the emotions of growing up and becoming a man. There is also a bit of romance. It ends with him at age seventeen.

As Christopher is drawn deeper and deeper into the world of international intrigue and political spying he struggles with the fact that these men he faces are simply doing what they believe is best for their country -- essentially born to their worldview just as he has been born to his. He struggles to determine the fairness of his missions -- ought he to 'off' these unsuspecting people just because he was ordered to do so? As he sees his friends die because of his missions, he begins to question the rightness of his orders and ultimately Churchill himself.

I don't want to give it all away, but it is a wonderful story. I wish there was a sequel so I could find out what happened to Christopher the man. Does he continue with this life as a secret agent? Does he continue to be practically Churchill's son?

I highly recommend this novel.


  1. Jen,
    I was excited by your endorsement of Churchill's Secret. Churchill himself is an intriguing and complex character and this sounds like an enjoyable book to become lost in. I think you did an excellent job describing the book.

  2. That was Amy as in Amy S. for saru.