38) The Spy and The Traitor by Ben MacIntyre
This was recommended to me while we were on holiday by our friends Claire and Matt, who said it was “as good as a thriller, except it’s real”. And how right they were. It’s an amazing tale of the most famous Russian mole who spied for British intelligence, Oleg Gordievsky, and his ultimate escape from Russia under the eyes of the KGB. A story that I was dimly, partially aware of, but actually had little idea of the full, flabbergasting reality.
Gordievsky came from a traditional Russian family, with his father being a dyed-in-the-wool party man, but he grew more and more dissatisfied over time with the Communist party and what that meant to his life and that of his children – a dissatisfaction that grew as he experienced what life was like in Western countries. Having been brought into the fold by the British, Gordievsky continued to share countless secrets over many years, as his seniority and access grew.
Eventually, there came a sense that the Russians were on to him, and he has to escape – which is where the story accelerates into real-life James Bond territory in such an extraordinary manner that I don’t want to ruin it. Suffice to say it involves ambassadorial staff faking illness, changing a baby to throw people off the scent, and a fairly hare-brained plan to stop in a layby on the way to the Finnish border. It’s amazing, edge of the seat stuff all the way.
I’ve read previous books by Macintyre (Operation Mincemeat and Agent Zigzag) and he has a wonderful way at bringing these historical tales to life. But this is leaps and bounds better than the others I’ve read – I don’t know whether that is just because of the quality of the material, or whether he’s just more invested (having met Gordievsky himself), but it’s fabulous stuff. Highly recommended.
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