So when I first received this book in the mail I thought: ‘great my 96-year-old Grandpa will love this one!’. But when I noticed a few other books arrived on my shelf that dealt with spies and espionage, I thought I’d give this one a whirl to see how it stacked up to the rest of them. Wow, I am so excited I took a chance on this; The Spy and the Traitor by Ben MacIntyre is a suspenseful, well-researched and absorbing read.
There’s a few reasons why I didn’t think this book was for me; first it was super long, a non-fiction book over 300 pages with tiny print (this alone is a reason for me not to pick up a book). Secondly, it was about Russia, the cold war, and politics of that time; again, all things I’m not too knowledgeable about, and not desperate to increase my knowledge on either. But once I got through the first 50 pages, and became accustomed to the enormous amount of facts coming my way (and not worrying too much about it) I became completely enthralled with this story. It’s about the famous spy Oleg Gordievsky who grew up in Russia, then became a member of the KGB (Russia’s intelligence agency). While stationed in the UK and finding himself disillusioned with communism, he was recruited to be a secret agent by Britain’s intelligence agency MI6 as a way to undermine his homeland. This may be obvious to some, but what he was doing was extremely dangerous because if his actions were uncovered, the KGB would have killed him.
There is so much to enjoy about this book. Fans of spy novels will definitely love it-there’s sufficient information about real-life spy technology, espionage tactics and general ‘intelligence’ advice and descriptions that makes it feels like a real-life Bond story. The fact that it’s all true is even more intriguing, and lends an air of suspense that wouldn’t normally be there if it was fiction.
There’s a significant amount of full-colour photos included too so you can easily picture the people playing a starring role in the drama, and MacIntyre does a wonderful job of bringing them to life on the page. He includes details that a historian may normally avoid, but a novelist would use to his full advantage, like the fact that one woman in particular has expensive tastes, shopping at Neiman Marcus even though her husband can’t afford it! The facts are laid out in a fairly easy-to-follow manner, but when creative descriptions are called for, MacIntyre doesn’t disappoint there either. For example:
“His marriage was collapsing in a slow and unspectacular slither” (p. 123).
Not surprisingly, life in the intelligence industry is difficult on personal relationships, no matter what country you’re working for.
Because it’s real life, things don’t always go to plan, and some of the baddies don’t get what’s coming to them, but Oleg does succeed (as much as possible) in the end, passing along thousands of soviet secrets and having an enormous impact on the events of his time. What’s even more impressive is the lasting effect his sacrifice and bravery has had on the way our politics look today, but you’ll have to read the book to understand the full impact of his work….
I love a good spy book but like you, I would have reservations about picking this one up. Considering you gave it a shot and liked it, I have half a mind to do the same! It’s been added to the TBR list, that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing!
I hope you like it! Thanks for reading along with me.
How did I miss this coming out?? I loved his earlier book about Kim Philby, A Spy Among Friends. Real life spies are even more fun than fictional ones!
very true! I was definitely thinking of you for this one FF, you would really like it. And because of your Reading Russian Revolution thing, you’d have way more context than I did!
Well, one reason to read more spy novels – the plethora of GIFs. I used to read a lot of them in my twenties and occasionally I still indulge in one. This sounds fun!
I, too, am reading a book set in Russia! It’s one of those countries that is so big that that history is messy and hard to follow, so I only occasionally dip my toe in. I’m reading a short story collection called There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. The stories focus on the housing situation: these cement block apartments that are tiny.
Are you going to read more Russian or spy books soon?
I read another book-Transcription by Kate Atkinson-review coming shortly!!!
This sounds like a book I would not read…but you make it sound interesting enough that now I’m tempted!
haha that’s exactly what I thought when I read the blurb-not for me! but it is very good…