Abel: The True Story of the Spy They Traded for Gary Powers
This is a spy story in the finest tradition, with the added advantage of being true.
There are plenty of surprises, not least the fact that the protagonist "Rudolf Abel" – whose name I knew from other histories – actually adopted this, the name of a colleague (dead, unknown to him) to muddy the waters of his interrogation. In fact, Willie Fisher was raised in Newcastle upon Tyne, left for Russia with his Leninist parents and only accidentally avoided being purged by Stalin as part of the Great Terror. His time as the main "illegal" on the US east coast was largely uneventful, and (it's possible to argue) a waste of his other talents that might have been more profitably exploited in research and training. It captures the romance and the dedication of spycraft – but also the tedium, the danger, and the fact that much of it is often pointless in even the medium term.
There remain some questions. Were the Rosenbergs really spies? – this story suggest so, whereas a lot of modern research denies it. It a story that will be revisited again as more archives are opened.
4/5. Finished 28 October 2016.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)