While researching The Last Goodnight, I sat down to talk with a CIA official. I had come with the hope of picking the scholar’s brain about Betty Pack, the British and American secret agent who had done so much to help the Allies win World War II.
I told him I planned to write a non-fiction book about Ms. Pack. He laughed dismissively, and then launched into a lecture on the epistemology of espionage.
Too many lies?
Even non-fiction spy stories, to his way of thinking, were a search for ultimately elusive truths. The best that can be hoped for is a reliable hypothesis. No spy tale is ever the whole story; there are always too many unknowns, too many lies being passed off as facts, too many deliberate miscues by one participant or another.
And now having finished writing the non-fiction book that had prompted my visit to the CIA, I want to reiterate to its readers that The Last Goodnight is a true story.
Finding the truth about Betty Pack.
I have been able to draw on a treasure trove of information to tell Betty Pack’s story: her memoirs, tape-recorded reminiscences, childhood diaries, and a lifetime of letters; the Office of Strategic Service Papers at the National Archives; Federal Bureau of Investigation files; State Department records; the British Security Coordination Official history; Foreign Office archives at the Public Record Office; and interviews with members of both the British and American intelligence services.
And yet I am also forced to acknowledge that there is a cautionary kernel of truth in the CIA scholar’s warning. There are, among the official sources, contradictory versions of events. And another caveat – governments, even more than a half-century later, hold on to their secrets. Betty’s 65-page FBI file is heavily redacted; tantalizing files at the National Archives are marked “Security Classified information, withdrawn at the request of a foreign government;” and the files assembled by H. Montgomery Hyde, Betty’s wartime colleague in the British secret service and her first biographer, that were bequeathed to Churchill College, Cambridge, have been edited.
Parts of this collection are “closed indefinitely;” individual documents have been removed by intelligence service “weeders;” and some papers have been officially “closed until the year 2041.”
Uncovering a spy tale and a psychological detective story.
Nevertheless, I reiterate: this is a true story. The narrative, a spy tale and a psychological detective story as well, is shaped by the facts I discovered. When there were two (or more) versions of an incident, I stuck with the one that made the most sense. When dialogue is in quotation marks, it has been directly quoted from a first-hand source. Anyone who enjoys espionage-themed or political biographies will find themselves enthralled by Betty Pack’s real, documented adventure.
The Last Goodnight is a mesmerizing, provocative, and moving portrait of an exceptional heroine whose undaunted courage helped to save the world.