If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, Gordievsky grew to see his nation's communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union's top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6. Ben Macintyre brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man's hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.
One of the — many — things that makes this book so riveting is the extraordinary blend of precision planning and amateur dramatics in MI6’s escape plan. Gordievsky knew that the British had spotted his signal when a man coming towards him bit very conspicuously into a Mars Bar ... As he has often proved before, Macintyre does true-life espionage better than anyone else. He has a remarkable ability to construct a narrative that is as taut and urgent as it is carefully nuanced. Here the pace never slackens and the focus never drifts, while Macintyre’s insight into his subject’s tangle of contradictions never loses its sharpness. It’s a tough call, but The Spy and the Traitor may well be his best book yet.
Ben Macintyre’s wonderful The Spy and the Traitor complements and enhances Gordievsky’s first-person account ... Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, 'proud, shrewd and irascible'. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.
[Gordievsky's] story has been told before, not least by himself in the autobiography he wrote in retirement in Britain, but it has found its ideal chronicler in this exceptionally rewarding book by Ben Macintyre. Over the past decade, from his breakout success with Agent Zigzag to his biography of Kim Philby...Macintyre has built an entirely justified reputation for his true spy thrillers. Those books were good, but this one’s better. In fact, it feels a little like he has been waiting all the time to tell us about Gordievsky, since this story is so much bigger than those he has told before ... Macintyre’s prose is elegant and enlivened with occasional asides that are eminently quotable, as well as inevitable nods to the classics of the spy genre, above all John le Carré ... The Spy and the Traitor...is in no doubt that Gordievsky was serving a cause that was just and correct...His decision to hand the KGB’s secrets over to Britain was a 'righteous betrayal' ...
Moscow did not see things that way of course and Gordievsky, who is living somewhere in the suburbs, remains under sentence of death. The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, another Russian who spied for Britain, in Salisbury earlier this year, gives this book an unexpected contemporary relevance. We are back in an age of tensions between the west and the Kremlin and we need people such as Gordievsky just as much as ever.