I’ve read a few other books by this author and never had a problem with them. But for some reason, I struggled to become engaged with this book at my first attempt and had to set it aside for a few days and then try again. Thankfully, my second attempt worked, and I found myself enjoying the read.
I suspect one of the things that put me off initially is that there are 12.5 pages of ‘dramatis personae’ at the front of the book, which to my way of thinking achieves very little. Really, what purpose does it serve in a work like this? Surely, adding the names to the index would have been a more productive use of space?
As usual, my biggest gripe with an imprint of Pen & Sword books is the pictures. There are very few pictures included in this volume, and as most of them are portrait-type pictures, they would certainly be better placed amongst the text rather than grouped together towards the centre of the book.
The book claims that we are looking at the greatest spies and agents of the 20th century. I beg to differ here. We are possibly looking at the greatest spies and agents of the 20th century who are currently known to us. The best spies are the ones who are never detected.
Overall, the book is very readable, and in one section the author explained a coding system that was used. To be honest, although rather basic, I found this very interesting.
Whilst I don’t think I really got much closer to knowing why people sell out, there was one glaring quality of the more successful spies that shone through; they tend to be charismatic liars.
The biggest benefit that the book had to me was one that was completely unexpected. I found myself reacquainted with The Times on-line newspaper archive as I followed up on various names and incidents.
The bottom line here, this is really a middle-of-the-road book, and although there are a few new snippets in it, there’s nothing exactly earth-shattering. Despite the dust-jacket hints, I didn’t see any tips for future scandals.
Currently priced at £23 on Amazon (down from £25) I think the book is fair value and I’ll run to 3.5 Anchors because I quite enjoyed reading it and picked up a couple of new pieces of information.