WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE WORLD’S MOST NOTORIOUS MASTER-SPY COMES IN FROM THE RUSSIAN COLD?
After years of exile in Russia, Kim Philby has had enough. He wants out. But where can he go? He knows too much to be let loose. Above all, he knows too much about his old accomplices who still operate at the highest levels of the British Establishment, occupying top Whitehall positions. So once he sticks his nose outside his privileged Soviet lair, the old wolf’s as good as dead. MI6, the KGB – above all, MI6 – will ruthlessly hunt him down. But Philby is, after all, one of the most skilful agents of all time. So he risks it.
Vicious power politics in London and Moscow… murder beside the Black Sea… bloody massacres in the heart of Africa – as Philby makes his break, violent death follows him. And British Intelligence is threatened with the exposure of the greatest infamy in its history…
Spy fiction from the same stable as Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
Originally released in 1974, Gentleman Traitor has been re-released in December 2013 by Hashtag Books.
I have to say that Gentleman Traitor was an on/off/on read for me, although I did read this over the busy festive period. The very first chapter gripped me with it’s drama and violence, after what was thought to be a group of terrorists entering a busy hotel in Africa, opening fire and killing every soul there, including youngsters! This was quite horrific and at one point in particular with young girls involved, it was quite emotional and tragic.
I just had to read on and longed to find out who was behind this attack. Were the culprits terrorists with serious political issues or could there be some other explanation to this horror? However, the following chapters focused on journalist, Barry Cayle, who was set to write a book on spy and traitor, Kim Philby, who had been living in exile in Russia for the last few years with a reputation of a man who likes a drink or two. Although the initial chapters were of interest and a great basis and background for the remainder of the story, I was a little disappointed that there was no more mention of the event from the first chapter and that the pace of the book was a little slower than I had expected.
The reader follows Cayle’s journey through most of the first half of the story and we find out about Philby’s desired comeback and the story picks up again at a nice pace as Cayle gets to meet Philby. Alan Williams describes the distances that Philby (and anyone connected to him) needs to make to keep everything under wraps extremely well and clear, making it a nice read to follow at the same time as providing the reader with a more complete picture of Philby’s way of life and everything he has to consider before making a move. There are moments in Gentleman Traitor when you simply just don’t know what is going to happen and when, making it an intense read at parts.
I like Cayle’s enthusiasm and determination to acquaint himself with Philby as much as he can. Cayle knows he is in dangerous waters but he still has this drive to discover as much as he can and to be as close as he can if and when anything should happen. Philby, although a traitor, doesn’t seem to be a character the reader dislikes. He has his problems and, knowing he is a hunted man, he has to go to extremes to avoid capture or even death. These events unfold in tragic and disastrous ways for some others, which is incredibly sad and unfortunate for those involved. However, I found myself wanting him to be able to make it through all of this and be able to live the rest of his life in a more relaxed manner and completely disconnected from the British and Russian Establishments.
I must admit a little more speed would have been welcomed during the first section but I must hand it to Alan Williams that he has written this novel well. With a great deal of politics continuing in the background of the main plot, involving the USSR’s KGB and the British MI5 and MI6 and also the geographical scope covering Europe and Africa mostly, one cannot doubt that Alan had extensive knowledge in this area. (I have later came to realise that Alan was in fact a great journalist himself, corresponding from across the globe, and at times when tensions must have been high, in Vietnam, for example.) It was also quite exciting to discover that Kim Philby was a real-life spy who did live in Russia. A character I am sure Alan Williams met once, briefly in Beirut. If so, this explains the storyline of Cayle and Philby, i.e. Cayle is possibly a fictional character based on Williams himself.
After hoping for a little more action in the first half, I did find the latter chapters somewhat fast moving and exciting in comparison. This half of the book certainly goes into the details of Philby’s ‘escape’ from Russia. From hijacking planes, travelling through Scandinavia, keeping an extremely low profile and maintaining an alias this second half becomes quite tense and gripping at times! Without wanting to spoil the ending, I have to say that I was surprised at the ending but found it interesting and liked it a great deal. For me, it was left open with a chance to write a sequel, however, I do like the idea that the reader can still ask questions and perhaps make up their own ending. This is not to say that on the most part stories weren’t wrapped up, because in many respects they were. The story truly came full circle.
Once I realised that Gentleman Traitor was written in 1974, before I began to read the book, I did consider how I would find the language of the era and questioned whether or not this would be a difficult story to follow. But, as I mentioned above Williams has written this thriller well. It is easy to follow, informative of some political views of the day and well explained. As I was born a good eight years after the original novel, my knowledge of the political states of the countries involved and the espionage that went along with it is very little. For instance, I was aware of the KGB in the USSR but only as I was an avid fan of the fictional tv series ‘The Professionals’ CI5 (the re-runs in the late 1990’s). Many of the episodes focused on foreign politics and MI5/6 and the KGB and more. Gentleman Traitor has made me more interested in the politics of the 1970’s, even if just to gain a small background knowledge.
Gentleman Traitor is available in Kindle edition on Amazon UK for 77p, and on Amazon US for $1.25. (Prices are correct at the time of posting but are subject to change.) You can also find paperback copies of Gentleman Traitor on Amazon too!
Gentleman Traitor was received gratefully by publisher, Hashtag Books, in return for an honest and fair review.
Reviewed by Caroline Barker