Category Archives: Russia

Review of In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies by Howard Blum

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As good as any fictional spy thriller

Howard Blum tells the fascinating story the race to capture the Soviet spy ring that passed the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. The main characters are codebreaker Meredith Gardner and FBI agent Bob Lamphere, and Blum details how Gardner cracked fragments of the key Soviet codes, with Lamphere piecing them together to capture the Soviet spies.

The book reads like a novel and at places I did question how much this was based on fact or the authors suppositions, but at the end of the book Blum does assure the reader that all conversations or thoughts in the characters heads are backed up by documentary evidence.

It’s a pacey read, and to use a cliché quite a page turner. Although I was aware of many of the characters such as Klaus Fuchs, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Blum does provide rich character background that give more depth and insight than a dry analytical account of the process involved.

The book ends with the execution of the Rosenbergs which Lamphere and Gardner were unable to prevent without disclosing that the codes had been broken.

A fascinating account of the early days of espionage in the Cold War.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not required to provide a positive review.

 

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Review of A Divided Spy (Thomas Kell #3) by Charles Cumming

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Intelligent and well paced thriller

Kell is a former MI6 officer retired from the service and damaged by personal tragedy. In this book he’s tracking down a Russian agent he believes to be behind the murder of his girlfriend.

Now this might sound like the start of whizz bang all action thriller, but Charles Cumming’s style is much more thoughtful with rich depth to his characters and a slow burn. The story has loads of tradecraft detail for the espionage fan and Kell is a likeable and believable character.

I won’t giveaway the plot, but suffice to say there’s some twists and turns that keep your interest just when you think you ‘ve got the plotline sussed.

All in all an entertaining read that makes you want to read more of the Cummings canon.

I was given a copy of this book to review by the publisher, but wasn’t obliged to provide a positive review.

Review of “Hitler’s Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich” by Ben H. Shepherd

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Fascinating revisionist history of the Wehrmacht

Ben Shephard pulls aside the curtain of respectability that many accounts of the German Army are cloaked in, demolishing the image of an honourable and decent fighting force compared to the SS.

In a detailed account he highlights countless occasions where the Wehrmacht are complicit in war crimes showing that many took part and a few notable exceptions complained. What some may find surprising is the early war conduct of some of July 21st conspirators.

However, the book is not purely about war crimes, but also about the combat performance of the Wehrmacht. Shephard shows how the early war effectiveness was eroded away once the gargantuan task of taking on the Soviets was clear and shows how the army still continued to retain its cohesion even when the outcome of the war was clear.

I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to read a more rounded view of the 3rd Reich and some insight into how ordinary men descend into barbarians.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of ” Operation Whisper: The Capture of Soviet Spies Morris and Lona Cohen” by Barnes Carr

A fascinating and well written true story of Cold War espionage.

Morris and Lona Cohen, an ordinary-seeming couple living in New York City in the 1950s, however they are a key part of a Soviet plan to steal the secrets of the atomic bomb. Betrayed by a defector they disappear from view only to re-appear as Peter and Helen Kroger antiquarian booksellers in London.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Cohens and have long awaited a book that details their story, especially their activities in England in what became known as the Portland Spy Case. Operation Whisper is the first to study in detail their “two lives” as Morris and Lona Cohen in America and Peter and Helen Kroger in England.

Barnes Carr doesn’t disappoint telling an exciting story of espionage sweeping from the East Coast of the US to the leafy confines of London’s suburbia. With details of the actual spycraft used (and misused) this is a must read for any cold war espionage fans.

Literary fans will be fascinated by the connection between the Cohens/Krogers and Frank Doel of 84 Charing Cross Road & The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff fame.

Whilst the writer is obviously not familiar with some of the UK place names he writes in a style that is easy to read and pacey making the book read more like a novel than fact.

Recommended.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie

Intriguing, chilling, and colourful insight into the most famous Cold War espionage case.

Guy Burgess has often been thought as the least damaging of the Cambridge spies, however Andrew Lownie’s book argues strongly against this view.

Burgess himself is a complex person, charming and repulsive in equal measure, he was the consummate networker. Despite being drunk and openly gay at work when such activity was illegal the fact he wasn’t fired or found out earlier is astounding.

Lownie details Burgess’s formative years which goes some way to explain his decision to spy for the Soviets. The book is accessible, enjoyable and informative, however I did find some aspects difficult to follow, particularly keeping track of the seemingly endless list of Burgess’s lovers.

I recommend watching this excerpt of a rare TV interview with him when he was in Moscow which is mentioned in the book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e36KM…

I find the Cambridge 5 case fascinating in that the “old boy network” of MI6 just couldn’t comprehend that that one of their own (i.e of their class & upbringing) would spy for another country, which led them being able to continue for so long.

A fascinating read for anyone interested in espionage, the cold war and political motivation.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of The First Nazi: The Life and Times of General Erich Ludendorff of Germany by William Brownell, Alex Rovt (With), Denise Drace-Brownell (With)

A powerful argument that Erich Ludendorff should be seen as one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century.

Brownell argues convincingly that Ludendorff’s World War 1 actions possibly added 2 years to that conflict and he was also directly responsible for the rise of Soviet Communism and Hitler.

Ludendorff believed that by sending Lenin is a sealed train to St Petersburg he would undermine Russia’s provisional post-tsar government and force a peace treaty. He was correct in that theory, but inadvertently fostered Stalin and the resulting 70 odd years of the Soviet Union.

Following the end of World War 1 Ludendorff propagated the “stab in the back” legend that became accepted as fact, in addition to a noxious cocktail of blame being placed on the Jews. Brownlee states that these two fictions directly created a climate that allowed the Nazis use these “stories” to seize power.

Where Brownell does struggle is with the paucity of information on Ludendorff’s family and home life. One wife ended up in an asylum and the other divulged very little in her lifetime. Much of his section on World War 1 appears to list the key moments of the war without any major insight into Ludendorff himself who remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the book.

Overall interesting and believable arguments as to why Ludendorff should be up there with Hitler and Stalin and questions what Europe might have been like without his influence.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

he Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James's, 1932-1943" by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

Review of ” The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, 1932-1943″ by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

A remarkable and rare insight into 1930s and 40s Anglo-Soviet relations.

Editor Gabriel Gorodetsky has compiled a fascinating account of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom using the never before published in English diaries of Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky.

Gorodetsky provides excellent background detail to the events that Maiskey describes making it easy to understand some of the diplomatic language as well as highlighting areas in the diaries where Maisky is somewhat “economical with the truth”. In order to “correct” Maisky’s account Gorodetsky has checked the diaries against various collections including private papers and reports of the Foreign Office.

Particularly interesting are the periods from before the Soviet non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the intense anti-Soviet hostility as a result of this and the Winter War with Finland through to the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941

Maisky comes across as a humorous, affable fellow who succeeded in walking a tightrope between maintaining his integrity as a professional diplomat and surviving the vagaries of Stalin’s regime. Whilst adhering to the Soviet cause he independently tried to influence events in his own way by reporting back to Moscow his ideas as though they’d been presented by British politicians.

There’s some great candid pen portraits of Churchill, Chamberlain, Eden, and Halifax, Beaverbrook as well as Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw.

Recommended for anyone interested in politics , diplomacy and the characters that made the key British decisions of World War 2.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.