As compulsive and pulse-pounding as any thriller I’ve read this year — any year, actually — Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and Traitor recounts the life of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer turned MI6 spy, who will go down in history as one of the greatest and most influential assets of British intelligence.
In A Spy Among Friends — still my favourite Ben Macintyre book, though this one comes close — the author explored the hidden truth of Kim Philby’s treachery, who is perhaps the most infamous double agent. ‘Philby tasted the powerful drug of deception as a youth, and remained addicted to infidelity for the rest of his life,’ wrote Macintyre, explaining that while Philby’s motivations for switching allegiances were originally rooted in communist ideology, it was his innate desire to burrow into the most exclusive of clubs — into a society so secret and insulated — that drove his prolonged sedition. The same question that drove A Spy Among Friends drives The Spy and the Traitor: what caused a seemingly loyal agent to turn?
Oleg Gordievsky was a secret agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service for more than a decade. Admitted to the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations before eventually being recruited to the KGB, he was content to eschew his partiality for democracy when the Berlin Wall went up and continue carrying out his orders. Of course, disenchantment with one’s profession occurs in every line of work; it’s not necessarily enough to warrant treason. But for Gordievsky, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was the last straw; a final provocation, the nail in the coffin of Gordievsky’s belief in the Soviet system. He was ripe for the turning, and he became such a prized operative to the British that his true identity was withheld from the country’s allies — including America’s Central Intelligence Agency.
But when the CIA eventually learned Gordievsky’s identity, a disgruntled officer named Aldrich Ames — discontented with his lot in life and his standing within the agency — decided to sell secrets to the Soviets, which set in motion Gordievsky’s spectacular escape from Moscow to the West. Macintyre’s storytelling here is filmic, cutting back and forth between the various players involved, masterfully ratcheting the suspense. Not even Daniel Silva or John le Carré, with the benefit of their imaginations, could conjure a getaway as riveting as Macintyre’s retelling of Gordievsky’s.
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 153mm x 29mm)
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 20-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom