Book Reviews

So many books (you know the rest)

A Spy Among Friends
by Ben Macintrye
Published in 2014 (I finished it on January 10, 2015)

A Spy Among Friends – by Ben Macintrye (2014) (NY Times Best Seller)

The main character is one Kim Philby, a villain—and a likeable one.

For a while at least.

His surprising “success” at being a double agent working for MI6, but reporting to the Soviets was due to great intelligence and charm. He deceived people for over 30 years. In WWII, he might have been on the side of the Russians, but as they were teamed to defeat the Germans, it wasn’t too bad then.

It’s during the cold war that things get worse. He essentially undermined all of Britain’s spy work (and much of ours) for several decades and was responsible for countless deaths. As well, the victims were not simply executed, but usually tortured cruelly and then killed. You start to like Philby a lot less after learning about those stories.

It’s a fascinating read though. The writing is straightforward and the stories and hard-to-believe facts become engrossing. As well, you learn the roots of many spy stories, including James Bond inspirations and John Le Carre novels. For example, one betrayal cost Lionel (Buster) Crabb his life as Philby most likely tipped off the Soviets in regards to Crabb being secretly hired by MI6 to take photos of the hull of a Soviet ship docked at Portsmouth. High-level Soviet defectors were also executed (after torture) when they tried to come to the West, but were pointed out by Philby before reaching safety. (The extended families of the defectors were often usually rounded up and could expect the worst.)

The book also follows the lives of other spies or top-level MI6 or CIA agents that were friends with Philby and trusted him with a plethora of top secret classified information. Often, over drinks at pubs, information would be spilled which led to more loss of life.

While Philby never seems to openly admit to guilt—in his mind he was serving a just cause—there was probably some adverse effect as he turned to extremely heavy drinking later in life. And this says a lot since in past days, spied often drank heavily. I won’t give away what his eventual fate was, but it will almost certainly shock you greatly.

Moreover, the book offers a great insight to how the British Intelligence Service worked (or did not) during the Second World War and thereafter. After reading it, one can see how Philby might even be an inspiration for the character of James Bond.

Except for the part about being a bloody traitor to his country.