YOUNG PHILBY by Robert Littell
Best of 2012
Kirkus Star

YOUNG PHILBY

KIRKUS REVIEW

A dizzying “what if” take on (in)famous British spy Kim Philby.

In 1963, Kim Philby, a member of British Intelligence, was exposed as a double agent working for Russia. The case continues to provide a mother lode for spy novels, and in this latest, Littell (The Stalin Epigram, 2009, etc.) spins the story even further, building to a finish that suggests the story still offers at least one more stunning “shoe drop.” Littell’s narrative follows the outlines of Philby’s private and public lives, which here are inextricably linked. The story unfolds in a series of first-person accounts from friends, lovers and contacts who knew Philby at key junctures in his career as an agent. There’s Litzi Friedman, who first puts callow but wary Philby in touch with the Russians when he visits Vienna; Guy Burgess, Philby’s flamboyantly gay classmate at Cambridge, whom Philby enlists as a spy for the Soviets; Frances Doble, a film star who romances Philby as he reports on the Spanish Civil War for the London Times; and Philby’s father, Harry St John Bridger Philby, aka “the Hajj.” From these narratives emerges a mural of the history of espionage before, during and after World War II, as well as an in-depth portrait of Philby, who becomes a canny informant despite his fear of the sight of blood. The narrators speak with distinctive voices, yet the chapters are unified by the dark lens of Littell’s mordant take on spies and their craft. As in The Company (2002), Littell shows particular skill at recreating pulse-quickening epic scenes of conflict—the Russian-backed uprising against Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, the war against fascist dictator Francisco Franco, and the horrors of Stalin’s kangaroo courts and of Moscow prisons. Veteran Littell remains unbowed by commercial pressures to speed up the text. Elegantly written paragraphs and speeches running to half pages distinguish his work.

A Cold-War spy novel for the top shelf.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00516-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2012




NEW & NOTABLE FICTION: NOVEMBER 2012:

Mystery BIRDS OF WINTER by Kinley Roby
by Kinley Roby
Sci-Fi BRONZE SUMMER by Stephen Baxter
by Stephen Baxter
Sci-Fi THE CASSANDRA PROJECT by Jack McDevitt
by Jack McDevitt
Fiction CITY OF DARK MAGIC by Magnus Flyte
by Magnus Flyte

MORE BY ROBERT LITTELL

MysteryA NASTY PIECE OF WORK by Robert Littell
by Robert Littell
FictionTHE STALIN EPIGRAM by Robert Littell
by Robert Littell
FictionVICIOUS CIRCLE by Robert Littell
by Robert Littell

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionTHE COMPANY by Robert Littell
by Robert Littell
FictionTHE TRINITY SIX by Charles Cumming
by Charles Cumming
FictionBLUFFING MR. CHURCHILL by John Lawton
by John Lawton