Tag Archives: Espionage

Stalin’s Englishman: the lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie


The story of the Cambridge Spy Ring, or the Magnifivent Five as they were dubbed by the media, continues to be of interest, long after the Cold War ended. How did this group of young, wealthy, Cambridge University students fall into the clutches of the Soviet Union during the 1930s? The reality is that Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt and Cairncross, all brilliant young men, were very willing recruits because, in the polarised politics of the time, they saw it as a simple choice between Fascism or Communism, and they chose the latter.

Guy Burgess was the most important, complex and fascinating of the Cambridge Spies. An engaging and charming companion to many, an unappealing, utterly ruthless manipulator to others, Burgess rose through academia, the BBC, the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6, gaining access to thousands of highly secret documents which he passed to his Russian handlers. And he did all of this in plain sight while drawing attention to himself via a disolute and promiscuous lifestyle. There was no security vetting in those days. The only entry requirements were that you went to Eton and Oxbridge and came from a ‘good family’. It was all about the connections which tied the ruling class together.

Burgess lost his father at an early age and some have speculated that this may have influenced his later direction in life. He was devoted to his mother and was an outstanding Cambridge undergraduate. He joined the Cambridge University Socialist Society and came into contact with other rich young men who were attracted to Marxism and how it was being implemented in the Soviet Union. His comrades included John Cornford, who was killed in the Spanish Civil War, and James Klugmann, who went on to become a skilled organiser within the Communist Party of Britain.

This is Andrew Lownie’s first full biography and he draws a rich picture of Guy Burgess’s lives, both personal and political. He shows how Burgess’s chaotic personal life of drunken philandering did nothing to stop his penetration of the British Intelligence Service. Even when he was under suspicion, the fabled charm which enabled close personal relationships with numerous influential figures prevented his exposure as a spy for many years. But it was the exposure of Donald Maclean which led to Burgess’s exile in Russia. Maclean was tipped off by Kim Philby and had to be smuggled out of the country. Burgess was instructed to escort Maclean to Europe, where we would be taken care of by his Soviet handlers. Burgess did not realise that he had been given a one way ticket and that he would become a fellow defector with Maclean in Moscow.

Burgess and Maclean left England in 1951 and disappeared for the next five years. Their mystery was solved when Tom Driberg visited them in Moscow and published Guy Burgess: a portrait with background in 1956. Burgess was not happy in Moscow and missed his mother, friends and London life. When he died in 1963 his ashes were sent back to England and placed in the family plot besides those of his father. Guy Burgess had finally had his wish and returned home.

Through interviews with over a hundred people who knew Burgess personally, many of whom have never spoken about him before, and the discovery of hitherto secret files, Stalin’s Englishman brilliantly unravels the many lives of Guy Burgess in all their intriguing, chilling, colourful, tragic-comic reality.

Review by John Pateman -Chief Librarian/CEO Thunder Bay Public Library


Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is back and this time its with a great story.  Having a huge fan base, Evanovich hasn’t been eager to change any aspect of her hit series, which has resulted in a number of uneven books as the years have progressed.  Stephanie is still pretty inept as a bounty hunter, she can’t quite make up her mind on which of her romantic prospects to keep, and someone should called the Guinness World Records people because Stephanie’s pet hamster, Rex, has easily set a record for longevity.  Oddly enough, everything old feels new again and there is a fresh feel to the latest book. Top Secret Twenty One weaves multiple crime threads, the most important ones featuring a rogue Russian assassin who wants to settle a debt with Ranger and the murder of a number of poker buddies following the arrest of one on underage prostitution charges.  As any Plum fan is aware, the crime or crimes are simply the vehicle that Evanovich uses to get Stephanie and frequently Lula, into a host of ridiculous situations. 
topsecret twentyone

Everyone’s favourite, Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur, who is working through a bucket list that includes “getting” Joe Morelli’s grandmother, Bella, to seeing Ranger naked, makes a memorable appearance.  There are various crazy characters, from a 300 pound fugitive who likes to hang out naked on his parents garage, the return of the incredibly annoying little person Randy Briggs, to a pack of demonic, feral chihuahuas. The story moves at a brisk pace and while the action is laughable, the overriding sense of fun makes for an enjoyable read.



Bond……James Bond


As I was cleaning up the basement yesterday (very ambitious I know) and trying to determine just what was in some of those long forgotten boxes, I came across some absolute gems that I can’t believe I have never written about.  If you like espionage, spy drama and suspense, of course you have to try out Ian Fleming and his James Bond series.  These novels are dedicated to the genre and have some of the most original stories concerning ole 007.  Now, many of you may not know that little about the James Bond film franchise and the movie story lines are from Fleming’s books.  The only two actual James Bond movies that were based on Fleming stories and accurately portrayed were From Russia with Love and to a lesser extent Casino Royale (which were both deadly movies by the way).  The rest of the Bond movies only have the title, certain names and locales from each story in common.  Don’t get me wrong, I love just about every James Bond movie out there (even the George Lazenby as Bond one, actually I loved the George Lazenby one).  However, if you love Bond and have only watched the movies, there is whole other world of James Bond stories out there for your enjoyment.  Fleming truly is a great writer of espionage stories and stories involving great plots.  After Fleming’s last publication in 1965, there was hiatus of 16 years before  author John Gardner picked up the reins as Bond’s new storyteller.  These novels are just as intriguing and captivating as their predecessors.  Honestly, some of Gardner’s Bond stories are very, very good and follow along one giant story line taking place through numerous Bond novels (this is where you might want to start at the beginning of the Gardner Bond novels and work your way through in order).   There are also other writers out there since Gardner that have written James Bond stories but I can’t really vouch as to the quality of the works.  So to recap: grab a martini (shaken and not stirred of course), grab some Bond novels and get reading.  PS – greatest Bond movie ever: Dr. No (Hands Down)!