Fictional version of Allied invasion falls from grace

Fall From Grace, by Larry Collins. New York: Simon & Schuster. 475 pp. $17.95. The success of the Allied invasion at Normandy, most historians agree, depended in large part upon the success of a carefully orchestrated, top-secret plan to trick the Germans into believing that the real attack would occur later, at the Pas de Calais.

According to Larry Collins -- who, with Dominique Lapierre, has written such fast-paced and fascinating nonfiction as ``Is Paris Burning?'' and ``Freedom at Midnight'' -- much information about this secret plan, code-named Fortitude, is still classified. Some has been destroyed. Collins claims, however, that he has uncovered some new material about this complicated plan. Unfortunately, he has decided to use these discoveries to produce a preposterous novel.

More often than not, the mixture of real and imaginary characters and actual and fictional events is bad journalism and bad history. True, it is possible to blend fact and fiction successfully, as Herman Wouk did in ``The Winds of War'' and ``War and Remembrance.''

But in ``Fall From Grace,'' the fictionalization actually detracts from the story, undermining its credibility. In place of the imaginative insight that enables a writer to see into his characters' minds, this book offers the recycled fantasies found in any pulp novel. Heroes with eyes as blue as Donegal Bay. A heroine so trite she would strain credulity if she turned up in a Gothic romance. This glamorous bilingual blonde, fresh from the world of haute couture, volunteers to act as a spy.

She falls in love with a mysterious Frenchman -- a triple agent. The sex scenes read as if they had been produced by a preprogrammed word processor. Collins may have dug deep to unearth his material, but his treatment is totally superficial.

Apropos ``Fortitude,'' Collins is quoted as saying, ``I have evidence that we the Allies employed tactics as despicable, as morally reprehensible as any employed by our foes.'' Not content with writing a sensationalistic novel, he lays claim to relevance. He seems, however, to have forgotten that what was ``morally reprehensible'' about the Nazis was not merely their tactics in war, but the avowed aims of their ``Thousand-Year Reich.''

Merle Rubin reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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