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Entertainment & Arts

Soldier, Spy Review: The Human Cost of Covert Ops

Image Credit: Penguin/Tom Marcus

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SOLDIER SPY: The True Story of an MI5 Officer Risking His Life to Save Yours

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By Tom Marcus

336 pp. Penguin UK. £20.

Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus is an enthralling, suspenseful, and remarkably intimate first person memoir about the life and career of former MI5 counter-terrorism field operative, Tom Marcus. Soldier Spy includes all of the harrowing detail one might expect a counter-terrorism operative to encounter in their line of work. A narrow escape from a beheading at the hands of the so-called IS. Amazingly thwarting an attack on two school buses returning from a field trip. As well as duping the Provincial IRA.

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The exploits of Solider Spy are stunning. Yet despite these often horrific stories of sheer barbarism, it is the human cost exacted on Marcus himself that freezes one’s soul. Namely the haunting account of his developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) over the course of his career, and the pain one cannot help but share while turning the page.

Tom Marcus is the nom de plume of the MI5 agent author. His given name was omitted for personal security, and in accordance with the UK’s Official Secrets Act. As a member of the British Army’s Special Forces stationed in Northern Ireland, Tom Marcus was recruited for MI5 service following the 7/7/2005 attacks in London.

Tom Marcus: A Bleak Beginning

Born and raised in the north of England, Mr. Marcus grew up in abject poverty. He was the son of an alcoholic father, and a mother who abandoned him early in life. Primary and secondary education served him little, and he was largely an outcast among other children. Marcus lived in near dire conditions throughout his adolescence. Marcus iterates that he grew up eating little more than, “a tin of beans for tea.” By all probability, he was an individual who could have disappeared into cracks of society, and no one would have noticed. No one would have cared.

Making Your Own Opportunities

At the age of 15, Marcus entered a British Army recruiting station. As a young man who held a chip on his shoulder the size of the Horsehead Nebula, he was determined to create a better life for himself. Standing up to a smug and disinterested recruiter who initially paid him little mind due to his unkempt appearance, he successfully forced his case for enlistment.

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Marcus enlisted in the British Army at the age of 16. It was during his time with a unit in Germany that his first great opportunity in life arrived. Marcus was tapped for the Special Reconnaissance Unit – 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company – a plain clothed field operations unit stationed in Northern Ireland. He holds the distinction of being the youngest person to pass their six month selection process. Marcus became a member of the global military elite. It was a course of events ultimately leading him to join MI5, Great Britain’s domestic security counter-intelligence service.

Soldier Spy – An Immersive Read

While reading Mr. Marcus’ memoir one cannot help but feel as if they’re listening to a friend sitting next to them at a bar. His natural and unpretentious manner permeates the text. It brilliantly compliments the  blow-by-blow motif used to animate the most dangerous stories retold.

Marcus’ recounting of events captures his natural gift for observation, adept reasoning, and snap assessment while operating in the field. Instances where his execution of the mission, and his talent for the job inspire genuine admiration. For all intents and purposes, he is a real life Michael Weston.

Yet for all his near superhuman abilities, and his near encyclopedic recall of past field operations, it ultimately serves to reveal a greater and more devastating truth; a narrative that is constantly underpinned with Marcus’ growing psychological struggle.

Soldier Spy includes several portions of deeply heartbreaking inner monologues. Instances where it becomes clear to the reader that Marcus is becoming unable to cope with episodes from everyday life due to his PTSD.

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The Human Cost

The condition manifests itself in a variety of ways, namely perceiving mortal threats in places where none exist. Nightmares, misinterpreting actions of strangers, or mishearing benign noises that lead him to snap into operational mode, with little ability to maintain control. A most memorable encounter tells of a day where Marcus nearly confused a shoplifter for a terrorist while shopping in a department store with his wife and child.

Undoubtedly Soldier Spy is neither an easy read emotionally, nor a forgettable one. Marcus blends the realities of his career in covert operations with the vulnerability of his relatable humanity. The memoir does not just serve to present a realistic account of the intelligence profession, it provides the reader with the true burden levied on some of those who bear that responsibility. Marcus conveys an incredibly human view of the realities of PTSD in a manner that most readers likely have never encountered.

The Verdict

Soldier Spy qualifies as a must read for anyone interested in national security, covert operations, and history. Though it has even greater value for those looking to obtain a greater understanding of PTSD. At present we live in an age where PTSD is now becoming better understood and properly recognized.

Soldier Spy serves as a cautionary, informative, and extremely important account for those who may experience PTSD, or those who care for someone who does. In a way few have ever managed to do, Tom Marcus articulates the almost ineffable qualities of PTSD at a time in history when it is needed most.

Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus is available for purchase on Amazon, and Penguin Books.

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Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and highly regarded interviewer. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy. He has served as the Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Top 5 Theories About Sherlock Season 4 | TGNR | The Good News Review

  2. Pingback: The Complete Guide to WWII in 10 Books | TGNR | The Good News Review

  3. John

    April 29, 2017 at 6:33 PM

    sorry it as ex forces with a couple of NI tours under my belt, this is just another wow how great i am book.
    Totally predictable at every turn of the page. Poor northern upbringing, poor me, found my inner strength etc etc. Spare me please!!

  4. Pingback: That moment when… – End-to-end tandemonium

  5. Pingback: Agent GARBO: The British Spy that Saved D-day and the Western Front in WW2

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CadreCinematique

Mourning Filmstruck

The death of Filmstruck is the latest symptom of our rapidly devolving film culture: This is a look at what we’ve lost, and what lies ahead.

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Filmstruck logo
Image Credit: Filmstruck

The demise of Filmstruck is a major loss to the world of cinema. If you were to log on to film Twittertm – that specialist ghetto of cinephiles (“or what you’d call film buffs” as Matthew remarks early in the late Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers) you would realize that many of us are in mourning for a rapidly depleting film culture.




Across the country, most Americans do not have access to an art house theater, and it’s even less likely that they would have access to a repertory theater. Those in New York City can pick their poison between the Metrograph and Film Forum and Village Quad Cinema. Heck they’ve even got the NiteHawk in Williamsburg. Those in LA have the New Beverly. Most of us, however, are just plain out of luck.

Two years ago Filmstruck seemed like the solution. A collaboration between Warner Brothers and the Criterion Collection, Filmstruck was a hand-curated outfit that seemed like film school on a Roku. From Rohmer to Ozu, Sembene to Akerman – world cinema was at your fingertips. You want to spend 83 minutes with Alma from Persona? Sure can. You could check in with Guido Anselmi or Sam Spade or Mabel Longhetti or any of several versions of Orpheus by just pressing a button…and now it’s gone.

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A Half Remembered Dream Factory

Claudia Cardinale in Frederico Fellini's 8 1/2Francinex/Cineriz

Claudia Cardinale in Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2

Every day we seem to forget more of our history. Hollywood is no exception. Often they seem to be leading the way. Hollywood has always been America’s dream factory, and there are some real talented and nice people out there – people who care desperately about movies.

Yet, because of the vagaries of corporate America, and the rush to the all-mighty dollar that capitalism surely compels, Hollywood has become a system that is ruled by puffed-up Harvard MBA’s in slick two-button suits looking for ten percent profit on the next remake.

Now, I don’t really have anything against these people, it’s just that many of them don’t really know or give a lick about the classic days of the industry, the history of world cinema, or even current world cinema beyond their own distribution pacts. They only worry whether their new one hundred million dollar piece of content is going to be allowed to play in China, and whether it will allay some its substantial budget with international pre-sales.



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In turn, we have the creation of these monster conglomerates through very big mergers such as Disney buying Fox, or in our case AT&T buying Time Warner, which has led directly to AT&T shutting down Filmstruck.

See, they want to invest only in core businesses that will generate substantial return. This makes complete sense from a business perspective. Except, in the olden days of Hollywood the guys that ran the place, like Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg, saw the picture business as more than just a profit machine. They understood they were creating a product that was intangible – a motion picture, not a widget.


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Ingmar Bergmans 'Persona' | Cadre Cinematique


Sure, they were interested in making money, they damn well weren’t commies, but at the same time they were making something near Art and they were passionate about it.

Cinema Homogenized

Lillian Gish in D.W. Griffith's Broken BlossomsD. W. Griffith

Lillian Gish in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms

There was a time when it felt like cinema could change the world. In his review of The Dreamers (to circle back), Roger Ebert reminisces that back in ’68, Chicagoans were lined up on the sidewalk in the rain to see Godard’s Weekend. Imagine that now? Wouldn’t happen.

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AT&T closed Filmstruck because they believed it was niche. Great cinema like Casablanca and King Kong, The Seven Samurai and Weekend, which all those people lined up for all those years ago, is now just niche content.


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What’s the use of going to a movie theater if movies are just content no different from a YouTube video? Hollywood has forgotten its heroes. Cinema seems to have forgotten what cinema is all about – stories that move us or elucidate the world around us – or even sometimes elucidate feelings or emotions so deep-seated they would never stir without that silver-screen mirror.

Agnes Varda's HappinessAgnès Varda

Agnes Varda’s Happiness

The last three movies I watched on Filmstruck were the creepy Japanese ghost story Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (1959), the vibrantly alive magical realist bossa nova-driven romance Black Orpheus (1959), and Mikio Naruse’s masterful Floating Clouds (1955). Maybe my feeling towards Filmstruck and cinema itself is like Naruse’s lovers’ warmer brighter past in French Indochina – a deeply romantic paradise to which we can never return.

I certainly hope that’s not the case. I hope the future of cinema and the future of repertory streaming services spreads out before us like a mighty bounty.

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To ensure this, we all have do our part. Watch movies. Buy movies.  All movies.  Become cine-literate in everything. Especially the classics.

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Preservation in the Post-Filmstruck Era

Lourdes de Oliveira in Marcel Camus' Black OrpheusDispat Films/Gemma/Tupan Filmes

Lourdes de Oliveira in Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus

What’s next? The terrific physical media company The Criterion Collection is starting their own streaming channel. Will it succeed? Only if enough of us are interested in preserving our globe’s sometimes shared, sometimes divergent cultural heritage.

Mikio Naruse's Autumn Has Already StartedMikio Naruse

Mikio Naruse’s Autumn Has Already Started

Films are doorways into past and future worlds. These stories have shaped us, and allowed a plethora of fascinating cultures to share their preoccupations, hopes, and fears with other, sometimes very different people, in every far-flung nook and cranny of this astonishing world.  These dreams, stories, and feelings are too important to be allowed to just fade away.

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Please preserve them.

Write to David B. Sporn at dbsporn@tgnreview.com

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Entertainment & Arts

The Man in the High Castle Universe: How the Axis Won WW2

Exactly what the hell went so wrong to create the High Castle dystopia? Second World War historian Paul K. DiCostanzo examines the possibilities.

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With the interminable wait for season three of Amazon Prime’s portrayal of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle concluding on October 5th, we pose the singular question underlying the series thus far: How could the Axis powers have defeated the United States and its Allies in The Man in the High Castle Universe? The following interpretation is one possible “universe” of Man in the High Castle. One in which we explore the biggest question for most viewers: How the Axis won WW2, or more specifically, “How did the US lose World War II?”

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As the show straddles the genres of Alternate History and Science Fiction, the world of High Castle is based on counter-factual history. That being said, the scenario below is projected from historical events that could explain the tragic collapse of the Allies and ultimate rise of the Axis powers.

The Man in the High Castle Universe: What went wrong?

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(A stark contrast in the two above maps that mark the conclusion of the historical and fictional WW2)

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For an American living in the 21st Century, the victory in the Second World War is even more fundamental to their worldview than even the American Revolution of 1776. It is, after all, the founding story of the modern United States and the rest of the world as we know it.


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The concept of the Allies losing to the satanic enemy of Nazi Germany and its Axis collaborators hits home in primordial fashion. It is a concept so deeply disturbing that the dystopia such a defeat would create is generally unthinkable. Yet in the High Castle universe, that is exactly what happened. So, what exactly went wrong in the High Castle timeline?

How the Axis won WW2: The Man in the High Castle Universe Historical Contradiction

In the High Castle universe, many well known events of the Second World War have outcomes clearly contrary to the viewer’s universe. In both the series and the classic novel, details are scarce as to exactly how the Axis managed victory over the Allies.


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Putting aside the little information divulged by the show so far – including Nazi Germany’s clear development of the first strategic nuclear weapon – what happened to the Allied nations that allowed this disaster to occur? While there are several distinct possibilities, one must start with the life of one Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.

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10 Things Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Must Do to Avoid Epic Failure

Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery is the swing season for the series. These are several directives to ensure this newest season gets it just right.

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Star Trek: Discovery season 2 Captain Pike
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Over the past two months new information about the greater Star Trek franchise have hit fans at warp speed. Between the announcement of a new series featuring Patrick Stewart and the contractual standstill leading perhaps to the fourth film in the Kelvin timeline’s demise – there has been no lack of blockbluster headlines. However, the project which will shortly eclipse all the rest is the upcoming sophomore season of Star Trek: Discovery with viewers paying particular attention to where the showrunners wish to take the series. Not to be left out, the following are ten guidelines – directives as it were – to ensure Star Trek: Discovery season 2 will not fall on its face. We begin with the introduction of a new-familiar face: Mr. Spock.

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1. A Tale of Two Spock’s: The Delicate Introduction of Ethan Peck in Discovery Season 2

Star Trek: Discovery season 2 Ethan Peck and Zachary QuintoWikicommons

The two Spock’s: Ethan Peck & Zachary Quinto

I fully concede the pragmatic reality of the entertainment industry, and that Zachery Quinto was very unlikely to assume the role of the prime universe Spock in Star Trek: Discovery season 2 – but I cannot help stopping and thinking, “What the crap?”

With the announcement that Ethan Peck will play Spock in Star Trek: Discovery season 2, there are now two actors, in the prime of their career, portraying effectively the same character at the same time: Quinto on the big screen and Peck on my iPhone. Lets all be honest with ourselves, that’s really friggin’ weird.

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Though Alex Kurtzman and the current Star Trek braintrust were nothing less than effusive in praise for the talented Peck, there are greater factors at play by having more than one Spock.


“We searched for months for an actor who would, like them, bring his own interpretation to the role. An actor who would, like them, effortlessly embody Spock’s greatest qualities, beyond obvious logic: empathy, intuition, compassion, confusion and yearning. Ethan Peck walked into the room inhabiting all of these qualities, aware of his daunting responsibility to Leonard, Zack and the fans, and ready to confront the challenge in the service of protecting and expanding on Spock’s legacy. In that spirit, we’re thrilled to welcome him to the family.” – Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek: Discovery Executive Producer


The Reality of Dueling Spock’s

To be fair there has been a Spock duo before, however those were very different circumstances. It was clear for those who have eyes to see that it was a passing of the torch. The beloved Leonard Nimoy, in the best of Star Trek tradition, played the role of a venerated character sanctifying the newest Trek foray with his saintly presence. What Trek fans are dealing with now, whether they yet realize it or not, is a competition that is at best irksome.

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Depending on their performance, as well as their dictated place in the narratives they inherit, one of them will ultimately be accepted as THE Spock while the other will be relegated to “Other Spock,” a second class citizen in Trek canon. Not only will this be unfair to the actors who portray him, it is a profound disservice to the character himself to assume this baggage.

The best one can hope for under these circumstances is that Peck will knock this role in Star Trek: Discovery season 2 out of the park. In the end that is always what will matter most and that each “Spock” can be appreciated in there respective spheres.

Speaking of troublesome duplicates…

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