A SPY AMONG FRIENDS by Ben Macintyre
Kirkus Star

A SPY AMONG FRIENDS

Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

KIRKUS REVIEW

A tale of espionage, alcoholism, bad manners and the chivalrous code of spies—the real world of James Bond, that is, as played out by clerks and not superheroes.

Now pretty well forgotten, Kim Philby (1912-1988) was once a byname for the sort of man who would betray his country for a song. The British intelligence agent was not alone, of course; as practiced true-espionage writer Macintyre (Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, 2012, etc.) notes, more than 200 American intelligence agents became Soviet agents during World War II—“Moscow had spies in the treasury, the State Department, the nuclear Manhattan Project, and the OSS”—and the Brits did their best to keep up on their end. Philby may have been an unlikely prospect, given his upper-crust leanings, but a couple of then-fatal flaws involving his sexual orientation and still-fatal addiction to alcohol, to say nothing of his political convictions, put him in Stalin’s camp. Macintyre begins near the end, with a boozy Philby being confronted by a friend in intelligence, fellow MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott, whom he had betrayed; but rather than take Philby to prison or put a bullet in him, by the old-fashioned code, he was essentially allowed to flee to Moscow. Writing in his afterword, John Le Carré recalls asking Elliott, with whom he worked in MI6, about Philby’s deceptions—“it quickly became clear that he wanted to draw me in, to make me marvel…to make me share his awe and frustration at the enormity of what had been done to him.” For all Philby’s charm (“that intoxicating, beguiling, and occasionally lethal English quality”), modern readers will still find it difficult to imagine a world of gentlemanly spy-versus-spy games all these hysterical years later.

Gripping and as well-crafted as an episode of Smiley’s People, full of cynical inevitability, secrets, lashings of whiskey and corpses.

Pub Date: July 29th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3663-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2014




9 BOOKS WITH SURPRISE ENDINGS:

FictionBIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty
by Liane Moriarty
MysteryTHE SECRET PLACE by Tana French
by Tana French
NonfictionBLOOD ACES by Doug J. Swanson
by Doug J. Swanson
MysterySTANDING IN ANOTHER MAN'S GRAVE by Ian Rankin
by Ian Rankin

OUR CRITICS' TAKES ON MORE BESTSELLERS

See full list >
Cover art for ROCKS
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for THE LOST KEY
VERDICT:
SKIP IT
Cover art for THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER
VERDICT:
BUY IT
Cover art for LITTLE HUMANS
VERDICT:
BORROW IT

MORE BY BEN MACINTYRE

NonfictionDOUBLE CROSS by Ben Macintyre
by Ben Macintyre
NonfictionOPERATION MINCEMEAT by Ben Macintyre
by Ben Macintyre
NonfictionAGENT ZIGZAG by Ben Macintyre
by Ben Macintyre

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionSPIES OF THE BALKANS by Alan Furst
by Alan Furst
NonfictionVENONA by John Earl Haynes
by John Earl Haynes
FictionSMILEY'S PEOPLE by John le Carré
by John Le Carré