As everyone knows, I’m a big Kim Philby fan, and have read just about everything written on him, several times over. That Ben Macintyre book that came out a couple of years ago (A Spy Among Friends), about Philby and old buddy Nicholas Elliott, the MI6 officer whom he betrayed and then got mousetrapped by, is one of the most listened-to books I have on Audible. My husband and I have gone through it a dozen times.
So it was with something of a shock that I came across this—ugh, really terrible—review from the Toronto Star at the time of the book’s publication. This “Jennifer Quinn, Staff Reporter” writes in the journalistic equivalent of the chirrupy voice that many young females began to affect in the 1980s…you know the one I mean? The one affectedly nasal and high-pitched? And ending every phrase? With a question?
I mean, it’s really really awful, written like a pitch to 12-year-olds. You can read the whole damn thing here, but this opening snippet should be enough…
Being a spy might seem like a glamorous career, but the process of becoming one sounds truly tedious: To join MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, one must endure online applications, assessments for “geo-political” awareness, drug tests, and security checks. Lots of security checks.
But in the late 1930s, when Kim Philby decided he would like to become one of The Friends — the nudge-nudge wink-wink name those in the spy game bestow on each other — all it took was a chance meeting on a train, tea at a rather grand London hotel (which, by the way, is now part of the Marriott group) and a phone call from a muckety-muck in the secret service who knew his “people.” And he was in.
It now seems absurd that it was so easy for the man who would become the second-most famous double agent in history (Mata Hari being the first) to simply waltz into MI6 headquarters and steal secrets for his Soviet masters for decades. But that is pretty much what happened, and it is entertainingly and painstakingly chronicled in “A Spy Among Friends,” by Ben Macintyre.