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3.3 out of 5 stars
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3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 7 April 2008
A well researched and detailed biography of 'M' MI5's first spymaster (as the title hints). Chronicling the man's life from humble beginnings through the Police force and into public retirement - after which his life becomes very interesting as his secretive role as Head of MI5 begins.

An interesting insight into the world of espionage and the roles personal and political politics can play. Also hints at a darker side to the personality of a man where a ruthless edge is a precursor to attain and perform in such a role.

More for the Spy fanatic than the casual Bond fan, an interesting read but heavy going at times.
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on 21 February 2013
I persevered through to the end! It is a book for those who like facts. The biggest frustration is the continual footnotes which are at the back of the book. This makes accessing them a tad difficult on the Kindle. It is however a fascinating insight into Policing in the late 19th & early 20th centuries.
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on 18 February 2013
Massive amount of detail, often about all sorts of people, detracts from the main character. I found myself jumping from one chapter to the next, simply to avoid the next 15 pages that didn't tell me anything.
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on 13 February 2013
This book is really for the historian rather than James Bond fans. It is rather stodgy and at times difficult to follow the various characters or leaps in time. For all that, it is a worthwhile read
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VINE VOICEon 21 March 2013
I found this book a bit disappointing. While it purports to be a biography of the first M in the secret services, William Melville, he didn't feature hardly for much of the book, coming across, appropriately enough, as a shadowy figure. We learn about his humble background in Ireland and his moving to England, his early career as a bobby on the beat in South London arresting burglars and embezzlers, then his rise as a senior detective until his ostensible retirement in 1903 when he became involved in secret work, retiring from that in 1917 from ill health, and dying soon afterwards.

This is really much more a history of late 19th century policing, an era of great change, and of security threats in the 1870s to 1900s, the initial period dominated by Fenians and anarchists, then later by German spies, though most of these were rather pathetic figures and much of the spy fever was imaginary. What struck me was how contemporary some of this felt: bombs on the London underground in 1883 and the debates in Parliament, the press and society about acceptable boundaries between curtailing liberties and guaranteeing security.
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on 6 February 2013
Espionage has been with us for ever having been needed ever since man took up his first cudgel and the dawn of
dominion over the land of your tribe . Until the urbanisation brought about by industrialisation any stranger was
noted and remarked upon and had no chance of secrecy so any spies existed only at the top of feudal society but with the advent of steam and development of personal travel it was possible for nations to send agents to spy or forment
Political trouble. As usual the powers that be were fighting the previous war and slow to see the danger and counter
measures evolved from the new police force. This book is a study of a man who came from Ireland looking for work
and by chance rather than choice became a policeman,an occupation at which he excelled and in which he went into
the fight against anarchism. The agents,quaintly drawing and snapping forts were not noticed because of their novelty. Now they would be below the radar because of apathy and Google Earth. This book is a good history of life
before James Bond.
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on 19 March 2013
This book promises interest and excitement, and to some extent achieves both, but it is a bit long drawn out and pedestrian. On occasions it's somewhat muddling but then I suppose that espionage/counter espionage is just that. But it's also full of intrigue, secrecy and a lack of co-ordination, even rivalry, between various government departments. The historical backdrop is interesting too: from Fenians to anarchists to German spies and the First World War. However, while the book is ostensibly about William Melville, he is in fact just the lead character. I didn't feel I'd really got to know him.
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on 11 June 2013
I enjoyed this book as a follow on to many other books based on the spy's from the war. It seemed a natural thing to read and I wasn't disappointed. I found that it was easy to pick up and put down and it was full of interesting details and facts that can be related to other stories from the many documentaries on related subjects. Well worth the read.
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I tried to persever with this but had to knock it on the head and filed it away. Maybe I would have dealt better with it as a paper book rather than as an e version. Anyway, might come back to it another time and see if I 'succeed' in fininshing it, mind you life it is too short to make yourself read a book!!
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on 2 February 2013
A well written and researched book but I would have liked to get to know more about the man himself
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