Treacherous Passage: Germany’s Secret Plot Against the United States in Mexico During World War I, by Bill Mills, Potomac Books, Lincoln, Neb., 2017, $29.95

Given the forthcoming centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, this book is nothing if not timely. Barbara Tuchman and others have pored over the U.S. discovery of the notorious Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany offered to help Mexico regain territory lost to the United States. But by no means was that the only hostile activity Germany plotted in Mexico during the period.

Mills relates a story so strange, and with characters so bizarre, it might well be a Graham Greene novel—and yet the events he describes actually did take place.

Mexico in 1917 was a nation riddled with spies, conspirators, corrupt officials and soldiers of fortune. The Germans sought to organize a secret Mexican army to invade the United States, and also purchased the wreck of a Mexican gunboat sunk during a recent civil war, ostensibly for scrap but actually with the intention of repairing it for use as a commerce raider along the U.S. Pacific Coast. In addition, the Germans chartered an American-owned cargo schooner operating along the Mexican coast to serve as another commerce raider in the Pacific.

Although the United States ultimately managed to confound Germany’s mix of Mexican machinations, the story remains compelling.

—Robert Guttman