As a Soviet double agent, Blake betrayed uncounted western spying operations—including the storied Berlin Tunnel, the most expensive covert project ever undertaken by the CIA and MI6. Blake exposed hundreds of western agents, forty of whom were likely executed. After his unmasking and arrest, he received, for that time, the longest sentence in modern British history—only to make a dramatic escape to the Soviet Union in 1966, five years into his forty-two-year sentence.
... fascinating, rich and probing ... Mr. Kuper is very good on the range of intellectual and political factors at play in this ... One of the pleasures of this book is that Mr. Kuper makes no effort to play down episodes like this, in which Blake’s espionage had almost no real impact ... a beguiling and endlessly interesting portrait of one man’s rigid, Panglossian desire to see the best in everything ... No matter how hard Mr. Kuper probes, and his questions are consistently good, he meets a wall of relentless positivity. Long ago, you realize, Blake had learned to avoid asking difficult questions, either of himself or of his KGB handlers. In many ways, the beauty of Spies, Lies, and Exile is the manner in which Blake’s wide-eyed credulity is matched, blow for blow, by Mr. Kuper’s considered skepticism and his ability, at the end, to see through the veneer of self-deception.
... wise, engaging ... Refreshingly for a writer on espionage, Kuper resists the temptation to big up his subject, and freely admits that in the grand scheme of things Blake’s espionage career didn’t make much difference — except to the lives of the men he betrayed ... Kuper’s highly readable and multi-layered portrait is largely sympathetic, yet clear-eyed about the human cost of moral stances.
The result isn’t new information — Blake’s description of his life was consistent with previous accounts, which Kuper often quotes — but it is an enjoyable and lively retelling of a story now largely forgotten ... Kuper will be familiar to FT readers as an entertaining and thoughtful writer, and his approach is to try to understand his subject while resisting his charm. Instead of a formula spy yarn, we get a personal encounter with Blake, as Kuper wrestles with his motivations and justifications, asking whether someone who barely knew Britain can really be called a traitor ... Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it may be hard to recall why people like this once mattered so much. But their betrayals were real: as Kuper has to remind himself in the wake of a friendly encounter, at least 40 agents behind the Iron Curtain were killed as a result of information Blake passed to his handlers. In the end, listening to his refusal to acknowledge his part in that, we’re left with the impression that the final person Blake deceived was himself.