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Cold War Counterfeit Spies: Tales of Espionage - Genuine or Bogus? by Nigel West

Real life Smiley’s people and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy! I know that he knows, but does he know that I know he knows that I know he knows?

Just when you thought you were beginning to think you understood things, along comes Nigel West and turns it all upside down: a deeply researched book which shows just how easy it is to pull the wool over people’s eyes. People are always making false claims but sometimes it is difficult to sort truth from fiction.

Mr West takes a look at some of the ‘revelations’ previously written about the cold war (Biographies mainly) and methodically dissects them in the light of more recent or more reliable information. In the clandestine world of spies, deceivers and misdirection, it is often the case that the deception is the written article itself.

Of course, any avid reader of newspapers could write a reasonably convincing (but bogus) story about their alleged part in murky dealings; and the secretive way that the intelligence forces work is likely to not only aid them, but to a large extent, even cover for them. However, eventually the truth seeps out.

Many of the subjects in this book have obviously embellished their stories in order to sell books or to inflate their own standing and credibility, and many have gotten away with it for a long time.

Unfortunately, in many cases we don’t have final closure. For example we don’t get to learn what really happened to Lionel “Buster” Crabb in Portsmouth harbour, but we do learn that some of the stories told by those claiming to be there or ‘in the know’ are likely complete fabrications. Did Crabb really go diving after having a mild heart attack earlier in the day?

Another case examined is that of John Urwin’s ‘The Sixteen’, reviewed by myself here - Link. Mr West gently takes the whole tale to pieces using his research and common sense. It’s quite painful to read, but it’s incredibly difficult to argue with it.

As my long departed dad used to say, “The truth will out,” and over time and with various archives opening up, Mr West is proving him right.

I enjoyed this book immensely, even if it did shatter a few firmly held beliefs of mine. I also enjoyed following up on many of the references he provided to back up his research.

I sincerely hope that there is going to be another volume like this in the not too distant future.

Not the easiest nor quickest book to read, but well written, well researched and incredibly enjoyable if you have any interest in the cold war: 4 1/2 anchors from me.