2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2015
I bought this book on the strength of its reviews. Given the subject matter and the fact the author is a thriller writer you would think it should be a top read.
Sadly not. It is definitely well researched. The story contains enough intrigue to sound good. Yet somehow the writing strips away all tension. We're left to guess in the barrage of fact-listing which points are really important. It is like listening to a story told by a drunk friend who never seems to come to the point, then when they do, you missed why it was so important. It seems more like an overwrought dissertation than a thriller.
Unfortunately the title and the reviews were the best thing about this.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2013
Jeremy Duns has written a very good book on one of the best known spies who operated during the Cold War. Penkovsky's main contribution was to help the Americans understand what kind of missiles the Soviets had sent to Cuba during the missiles crisis in 1962.
The discovery of Penkovsky remains a mystery due to the fact that the Russians have not yet released any document which would clarify this point.
Although this book is extremely well researched, there are two main problems with it. The first one has to do with the footnotes. One has to find out which footnote belongs to what. The second one is about two episodes which are imaginary and are the product of Dun's imagination about some things that happened during the discovery of Penkovsky.
However, this book contains some new insights of the years 1960-1963, the period when Penkovsky was working for both the Americans and the British and nevertheles merits five stars, reservations included.
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2013
`Dead Drop' by Jeremy Duns (Simon & Schuster £14.99)
(publisher's review copy)
This is the story of the Soviet defector Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, agent? double agent? triple agent? plant? .. Who knows? .. Duns thinks he does. His view is different from that of, for instance, Chapman Pincher (who has a different narrative regarding Penkovsky's initial attempts to make contact) and Peter Wright. However Duns has had the use of a mountain of recently released CIA papers (MI6 and the KGB have been less forthcoming). YOU decide.
The author has now turned his hand to the factual, having cut his teeth as a writer of spy stories and the result is a very readable narrative. He does as well as anyone to guide the reader through a maze of conflicting evidence and no doubt a certain amount of official disinformation.
Penkovsky himself comes across as vain, egotistical, greedy, mercenary, spendthrift, licentious and with a huge chip on his shoulder relating to his inability to gain further promotion in the GRU, and with farcically little grasp of British and American social realities. The introduction letter he wrote to the Americans would do credit to a Nigerian scammer. However, during his brief (two-year) career as an informant Penkovsky supplied the CIA with copies of thousands of pages of technical information and a raft of background on the Soviet leadership.
The story is set against the background of the arrests in the Portland Spy Scandal (7.1.1961), the US-made fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion (17.4.61), the exposure of George Blake (1961), the sealing of East Berlin (13.8.61), the first rumours of the Profumo affair (1962) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (27.7.-28.10.62) .
The book includes a long narrative of the Cuba crisis. At the time I certainly had no idea how serious this was - I recall watching it all unfold from an armchair in a wardroom TV room in Portsmouth with no interruption to ordinary RN business, and seeing it as a sort of game. Kennedy was up against a man whose latent murderous inhumanity had been demonstrated long before in the pre-war Ukrainian famine. Kennedy was however armed with precise and relevant technical information, in sad comparison to Tony Blair forty years later who plainly did not understand the difference between strategic and battlefield WMD (but perhaps I am being too charitable). It is clear from the book that the crucial identification of the Cuban missiles as IRBMs came from material supplied by Penkovsky.
We go on to see how the crisis was solved in part by application, as recommended by Mahan, of the `silent pressure of sea power', without which there is no global power. The Soviets learned from this; their own efforts, under the visionary Admiral Gorshkov, to develop their own global maritime reach were part of what so overstretched their economic system that it all came crashing down.
Understandably, after all the UK spy scandals, the CIA thought the British services were a touche flawed, but had no alternative to using MI6 to run Penkovsky in Moscow. It was, however, a CIA man who was lifted by the KGB on 3rd November 1962 when visiting a blown dead drop following a KGB spoofed `Penkovsky' phone call. Penkovsky himself had been arrested on 22nd October, but the CIA and MI6 were not to discover this for certain until later. There is plenty of evidence that the individuals MI6 used were not ideal choices and that some had only a poorly developed sense of security, and that sometimes compromised by a liberal naivety. A worked example is included of the penny not yet having dropped regarding the blackmail risk involved of being homosexual (and indeed in 1961 we sent just such to Moscow as our naval attaché).
Greville Wynne perhaps deserves a bit more background, including an intriguing story that he had a permanent hip injury after jumping off a ship in Odessa in 1959 onto a sand heap that wasn't there. This tale indicates that whatever agency moved the sand heap knew all about him before he was ever involved with Penkovsky. Also, his travelling showroom lorry was allegedly paid for by MI6 [see [...] ].
These are just some examples of the short cuts and expediency that seem to have characterised MI6's `tradecraft', going right back to the Venlo Incident and WW2 where defective messages were accepted and agents sent to their deaths as a result. Not that the KGB were perfect - at about this time I met a lady who had been nanny to a diplomatic family in Russia - she said that when the KGB visited they always left the lavatory seat up.
A clue to Penkovsky's credibility is the vast expense the Kremlin incurred in cleaning up after his interrogation and execution. The fallout in the West was also dramatic and did nothing for the CIA's view of MI6.
The book is well illustrated and is supported by a comprehensive bibliography. The notes are another matter. Whereas they include detailed sources, these are identified neither to page numbers (only to the relevant chapter) nor to any system of reference numbers. More seriously, there are numerous asides included - one of them two and a half pages long - which adumbrate the text. This meant that I had to keep two bookmarks in action, one in the text and the other in the notes. In this I think the novelist missed a trick as an historian. Such a pity as I hugely enjoyed the book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2014
What a fantastic read this book is, absolutely riveting. Jeremy Duns has clearly put a huge amount of work into the book and his conclusions as to the likely end to the Penkovsky case are radically different to the official sources. Highly recommended.