Spies, Lies, and Exile: The Extraordinary Story of Russian Double Agent George Blake

New Pr. May 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781620973752. $27.99. CRIME
Journalist Kuper (Ajax, the Dutch, the War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour) explores the world of Soviet double agents with this posthumous biography of George Blake, an officer in Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) who in 1961 confessed to spying for the USSR. Blake (born George Behar in the Netherlands) turned double agent while in a North Korean prison camp in the 1950s and was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of countless British agents during the Cold War. When he was discovered, Blake was sentenced to 42 years of imprisonment in Britain; his 1966 escape from London’s Wormwood Scrubs jail and subsequent exile in Russia are the stuff of action thrillers, yet his story is less known to modern audiences than those of other double agents like Kim Philby and Donald Maclean. Kuper draws material from his 2012 interview with Blake in Russia (one of few interviews Blake granted), as well as from earlier interview transcripts, a memoir, and recordings of Blake’s lectures to groups of Stasi officers in East Berlin in the early 1980s. Kuper makes clear that Blake’s words were often untrustworthy, though he clearly is somewhat sympathetic to a man whose life did not go as planned.
VERDICT This well-written and solidly researched biography of a complicated man will resonate with readers who enjoyed Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends or the novels of John le Carré.
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