9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
A Secret War in a New World, 14 Oct 2013
In 1917 Russia fell to the Bolshevik Party and became the world's first communist state. In response, Britain's nascent intelligence service sent some of the bravest, maddest, and frankly suspect men in her employ to spy on Moscow.
Among them were Paul Dukes, who shed identities like snakes do their skin, Sidney Riley, who lived on a precipice but acted as if it were a plateau, and Arthur Ransome - yes, that Arthur Ransome - who had access to Lenin but also Bolshevik sympathies.
The spies mission was to send information back to Britain that would help her formulate her political and military response to the new Russian government/threat. Given the type of characters involved, though, it is perhaps no wonder that one of them - Riley - became involved in a plot to actually overthrow the Bolshevik government. Amazingly, it very nearly succeeded.
Britain's secret war against Bolshevik Russia was not limited to Petrograd, where the 1917 Revolution started, and Moscow. In north eastern Iran, Wilfred Malleson, conducted a dirty tricks campaign against Russia and Afghanistan that was so successful it caused a breach in relations between the two countries.
Giles Milton does a wonderful job of bringing the exploits of Britain's spies to life in Russian Roulette. Of course, he is helped by the extraordinary deeds of his subjects, and the fact that they remain relevant today - Churchill's decision to launch chemical attacks on the Bolshevik army being a case in point - but there can never be a substitute for a good narrator; Milton is such a man. His narrative is clear, engaging and sympathetic to its subject. No one is perfect but any faults in Milton's penmanship weigh as heavy as feathers.
If I have one criticism of the book it is that it is over too quickly. Having said that, Riley et al are such a remarkable bunch that I don't suppose a thousand pages would have been enough for me.
Russian Roulette will obviously appeal most to lovers of the spy genre, and those interested in Russian and British history of the early twentieth century. If you simply like a good yarn, however, with the added frisson that the events recounted by Milton actually happened, then I think you will be equally satisfied.
In short, Russian Roulette was an absolute pleasure to read, and I commend it wholeheartedly to you.