An attempt to introduce the world to a female spy far more successful than Mata Hari and just as captivating.
Moura Zakrevskaya (1891-1974) was born in Ukraine to a family with land, wealth, and a connection to the czar. Despite her origins, her instinct for survival and a liberal political temperament led her to spy for the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. After leaving Russia in 1921, though, evidence of her continued spy activity is largely circumstantial. She was often in the right place at the right time to engage in espionage; travel in and out of restricted areas was frequently easier than seemed legitimate; and both the general gossip and the files kept by European governments concluded that she was likely a spy for one entity or another for most of her life. For the most part, McDonald (The Prince, His Tutor and the Ripper: The Evidence Linking James Kenneth Stephen to the Whitechapel Murders, 2007, etc.) and Dronfield (The Locust Farm, 2013, etc.) craft a colorful tale, but they impart little of the urgency that makes spy stories so successful. Combined with the amount of historical and familial detail necessary to make sense of Zakrevskaya’s life, this makes for an informative but rarely thrilling read. The biography is thorough for a subject as careful and secretive as an assumed spy, and while the authors make an effective argument that their subject lived a double life, there is little payoff in terms of hard documentation. Prodigious research and endnotes prove mostly that Zakrevskaya was incredibly effective at survival, generally through her many relationships and affairs. The story retains an air of mystery, much like the woman herself, but in a work promising “the lives, loves and lies of Russia’s most seductive spy,” that mysterious nature is more disappointing than tantalizing.
Intriguing but lacking the salacious detail and hard evidence necessary for true fascination.