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The Spy Who Loved: The secrets and lives of Christine Granville, Britain's first special agent of World War II [Unabridged] [Paperback]

Clare Mulley
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 April 2013

In June 1952, a woman was murdered by an obsessive colleague in a hotel in South Kensington. Her name was Christine Granville. That she died young was perhaps unsurprising, but that she had survived the Second World War was remarkable.

The daughter of a feckless Polish aristocratic and his wealthy Jewish wife, she would become one of Britain’s most daring and highly decorated secret agents. Having fled Poland on the outbreak of war, she was recruited by the intelligence services long before the establishment of the SOE, and took on mission after mission. She skied over the hazardous High Tatras into Poland, served in Egypt and North Africa and was later parachuted into Occupied France, where an agent’s life expectancy was only six weeks.

Her courage, quick wit and determination won her release from arrest more than once, and saved the lives of several fellow officers, including one of her many lovers, just hours before their execution by the Gestapo. More importantly, perhaps, the intelligence she gathered was a significant contribution to the Allied war effort and her success was reflected in the fact that she was awarded the George Medal, the OBE and the Croix de Guerre.

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The Spy Who Loved: The secrets and lives of Christine Granville, Britain's first special agent of World War II + Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice: The True Story of WWII Special Agents Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne + Outwitting the Gestapo
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; 1 edition (11 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447201183
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447201182
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 188,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Clare Mulley is the award-winning author of two biographies:
- 'The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville, Britain's First Female Special Agent of the Second World War', and,
- 'The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children'.

Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, was the first, and the longest serving, female special agent working for Britain in the Second World War. A Polish countess and beauty queen, in 1939 Christine swapped the comfort and security of life as a diplomat's wife to make an extraordinary contribution to the Allied war effort in occupied Europe and beyond, where she often had a life expectancy of just a few months. Making love to the cream of Polish and British special agents while fighting the Nazi advance, she was perhaps one of the most loved as well as one of the most successful female agents of the war. For her enormous courage and achievements she was awarded to OBE, George Medal and Croix de Guerre. Only now can her amazing story, hidden in secret service files and the unpublished memoirs of her many friends and lovers, be told in full.

Eglantyne Jebb was the in some ways unlikely founder of Save the Children. Never a mother herself, Jebb was not fond of children whom she referred to as 'the little wretches', and yet after the First World War she found herself facing private censure and public arrest as she fought for the starving children of Austria and Germany. 'The Woman Who Saved the Children' won the Daily Mail Biographers' Club prize. In pleasingly unlikely agreement, then PM Gordon Brown also called it 'a truly brilliant book'. All royalties from the book go to the Save the Children.

In 2010 Clare contributed to the 'Arvon Book of Life Writing'. She is a seasoned public speaker and occasionally writes and blogs for various websites, and papers including History Today, The Express and The Church Times, perfect titles for a historically-minded, left-wing atheist.

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Product Description


A stunning biographical achievement (Alison Weir)

Clare Mulley tells her story with a bravura that matches Christine's charismatic character (Saga)

A fine account of Christine Granville's extraordinary war, told with skill and care . . . Mulley succeeds in making her human . . .inspiring (Literary Review)

Compulsively readable . . . Clare Mulley has done a dogged piece of detective work piecing together Christine's ultimately tragic life. Understandably obsessed by her charismatic subject, she has written a thrilling book and paid due homage to a difficult woman who seized life with both hands (Daily Telegraph)

About the Author

Clare Mulley joined Save the Children as a corporate fundraiser in the 1990s. She is the mother of three daughters and currently lives in Essex, UK. Her first book, The Woman Who Saved the Children, a biography of Eglantyne Jebb was both critically acclaimed and won the Daily Mail Biographers' Club Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars keen insight into a difficult personality 7 Oct 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to admit that I didn't warm to Krystyna Skarbek in the early chapters of this biography. Perhaps it was the aristocratic I-don't-give-a-damn impression, perhaps I was jealous of the beauty. Anyway it didn't matter as Clare Mulley wasn't asking me to like her subject, just to become aquainted with this unusual personality. I like Mulley's narrative approach throughout. She stands back and describes events with the quiet assurance of thorough research. This enables the reader to stick with Christine (as Krystyna became) through the ups and downs of her extraordinary life. It also makes it easier to see her in context - both the close context of the people who worked with or managed her and the wider historical context. I felt I had learned a great deal more than the story of a life - I had a new angle on WW2 and its aftermath and an unexpected insight Polishness and the quality of extraordinary bravery.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book about a brilliant woman 2 July 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once again Clare Mulley has produced a wonderful biography about a woman I wish I had known a lot more about a long time ago. The remarkable twists and turns in Christine Granville's life are beautifully described in this book. It seems that the author has captured the essence of Christine's intriguing personality in this page-turner. Clare Mulley's scene-setting is such that I could feel my heart racing at key points during Christine's WWII experiences.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Biography of an Exceptional Woman 5 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Clare Mulley's 'The Spy who Loved' is the very compelling story of Christine Granville, Britain's first female special agent of WW2, who was born Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbeck, in Warsaw in 1908, the daughter of a dissolute Polish aristocrat and his very wealthy Jewish wife. Although the daughter of a count, Christine was never really accepted in the upper echelons of Polish society, due to her being half Jewish and she often felt on the margins of that society; however this only served to make her the ferociously driven and independent individual that she was.

Christine was beautiful, resourceful, courageous, highly motivated and highly sexed; she was fiercely determined and addicted to danger, excitement and adventure. Married to her first husband when she was twenty one years old and married for a second time when she arrived in England after the outbreak of war, Christine presented herself to the British Secret Service and offered to ski over the Tatra Mountains, (with her one-legged lover) into occupied Poland and return with a first-hand account of the situation in Warsaw. And, surprising as it may seem, she was commissioned to do just that, and this hazardous journey over the frozen mountains into Poland, was just one of many dangerous missions undertaken by this rather amazing woman. Apart from skiing into Poland, she served in Egypt, parachuted into occupied France, and saved the lives of many British, Polish and French officers. She made a significant contribution to the war effort by managing to infiltrate her way into the enemy camp and then smuggle information into Britain sewn into the lining of her gloves, with a cyanide tablet sewn into the hem of her skirt in case she should get caught.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book of 2012 19 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Of all the books I have read this year nothing comes close to this wonderful story of Christine Granville, who served as a secret agent throughout the Second World War. Born Krystyna Skarbek into an aristocratic Polish family, at a time when women were typically not expected to aspire to anything except becoming wives and mothers, she began her intelligence work for the Allies long before they had set up organizations for this purpose and travelled across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in pursuit of her work, returning with invaluable information. Beautifully written, this fast paced book is full of danger, intrigue and tragedy but also gives an excellent insight into the character of a supremely courageous yet vulnerable woman. This really is a book not to be missed!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but harrowing reading! 11 Aug 2012
By Lynette
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a well written/researched book that takes you on an incredible journey. It is not for the faint hearted. It is daunting to read and be reminded of everything that happened during the War, the politics, the savagery. Great book, but not one you read before bedtime.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and deep look at this former agent 28 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Spy Who Loved is the story of Christine Glanville born Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek, reputedly Churchill's favourite spy from WW2; she was also sometimes dubbed Britain's most beautiful spy, possibly as she had once taken part in a 1930 Polish beauty contest. There are several recently published books on the same subject and their almost simultaneous appearance is a curious coincidence. However, as she was later employed by SOE after it was established in 1940, the title 'spy' is not one that they would accept - agent was the accepted description.

Christine Glanville was originally a nom de guerre, although she formally adopted the name post-War when she opted to remain in Britain, used by the daughter of a Polish Count and a Jewish mother. Not truly accepted by relatives on either side of her family, she sought more from life than she had been served. A family relationship with the Polish composer, Chopin, gave her no advantages. Once Poland was invaded, and with her Jewish connections likely to make life more complex had she stayed, she was later able to escape to Britain where she underwent extensive training. She had initially worked as a spy in Poland and then moved to France where her knowledge of the language served her well, all within the first months of the War. On escape to Britain, she was recruited by the newly born SOE and continued under their umbrella until War's end, becoming their longest-serving female agent. She returned to Poland several times in order to act as a courier, physically transporting information that could not be sent via radio.

As a spy she was highly capable and successful operating within Europe and North Africa. She was able to gain information and sometimes hid slips of paper within her gloves where they went unfound.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent story, well told
An excellent story, well told. Makes most fictional "Bond Girls" seem chaste and retiring and yet Christine was very much a real person whose death was shrouded in as much... Read more
Published 18 days ago by meharibear
5.0 out of 5 stars Kristina's life reads like the heroic and tragic story of Poland in a...
A must read. Kristina's life reads like the heroic and tragic story of Poland in a nutshell.
Published 24 days ago by Mrs Magdelena Munford
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing story of a Polish Heroine.
Wonderful story of the Life of Christine Glanville. The first British SOE agent. A brilliant passionate story of a brilliant passionate Polish woman agent. Read more
Published 26 days ago by clifford luty
5.0 out of 5 stars The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley
I have just finished reading Clare Mulley's wonderful book "The Spy who Loved" about the Polish Countess Krystyna Skarbeck who became a secret agent and worked for the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. John R. Strain
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
I found this rather boring.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs Berry
5.0 out of 5 stars good
Published 2 months ago by William Finch
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
I found this book to be tedious and convoluted. Couldn't be bothered finishing it. Disappointing.
Published 2 months ago by Bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An interesting and well written and researched book to add to the history of a really brave woman
Published 2 months ago by Bruce
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary story about a brave woman who loved men, but above all...
Extraordinary story about a brave woman who loved men, but above all loved her country , Poland. Fantastic, gripping, and well documented ( interesting pictures) read.
Published 2 months ago by Mr. Wieslaw Koleczek
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow and awkward
Disappointing read for me. Too much background not enough spying and rather plodding. However someone looking for a different read may well find it interesting, just not for me.
Published 3 months ago by David Moss
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