This fascinating memoir by James Heaphey is set mainly around an American Air Base for nuclear bombers in Morocco, North Africa; it combines treachery with extreme violence and danger, and is narrated with the stamp of authority that can only come from one who has been there, seen it and done it.

Characters include Arabs, Berbers, and Coptic Christians; from Cairo, Casablanca, Cyprus and Marrakech, the plot revolves around a secret US nuclear bomb arsenal at a time when the Soviet Union and the USA confront each other in a world-wide Cold War… and the Mediterranean was a prime battleground…

Until now, my own interest in Africa has never extended north of the Equator.  But Heaphey’s writing provides an absorbing window into Arab life in Morocco, and of the workings inside an Islamic terrorist organisation.  His description of a journey from his base in Casablanca to Marrakech and across the Atlas Mountains to the French Foreign Legion post at Ouarzazate on the edge of the Sahara desert changed my perception of Morocco completely.  And Heaphey’s account of atrocities by the French authorities in Morocco, especially during what he calls the “December 1952 Slaughter” was horrific, causing me to revise my opinion of French Colonialism.

Heaphey’s portrayal and understanding of how Islamic nationalist organisations developed and worked – and of their complexities might have been extremely useful to the USA if applied to today’s “war on terror”.  In this turgid underworld very little is as it seems, except this; “…The Muslim Brotherhood’s credo is that God is their objective, the Koran is their Constitution, the Prophet is their leader, struggle is their way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of their aspirations.  Their goal is to keep Islamic countries from becoming Western-style states…”  Even in those early days, child suicide and assassins were celebrated by these radical Islamists.

And there was an intriguing side play going on in Cyprus – a critically important strategic Mediterranean island – with staggering displays of betrayal and brutal torture.  Espionage and sedition are unpleasant businesses, and Heaphey is not afraid to recount his experiences.

Throughout this book, stupendous events are recounted in studied language and style, giving powerful authenticity to the story that unfolds.

Legerdemain (ISBN 9781933909363) is available from the History Publishing Company

Reviewed by Peter Davies, author of the novel, Scatterlings of Africa

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