An excellent account by an insider, John Whitwell (real name Leslie Nicholson) of the British Secret Service in the 1930s and 40s, with the main emphasis on the pre-war years. The book is best compared to an autobiographical travel book, but it is a gem. Although very discreet, and not only in terms of tradecraft, the author portrays the trials and tribulations of an intelligence officer, as Europe slowly slips into war, with considerable charm. The narrative is spliced with some excellent anecdotes and character portraits. At first sight it appears a nice sedate read with a touch of humour from a by-gone era, but what emerges is that Nicholson for all his humanity and idiosyncratic approach is at the end of the day a very seasoned professional. There are also a significant number of loose ends left about in the book, which may never be answered to anyone's satisfaction. Outside of a jolly good read, there are two main attractions to the book. The first is that it gives a very good feel of how a middle-ranking officer saw his organisation and government cope with the increasing threat posed by Nazi Germany. The second is the use of human collection assets, which are now becoming much more fashionable as a result of the failures of 11 September. Nicholson in his time had to do most of his work without the benefit of significant technical assets, and how he tried to set about it makes for fascinating reading.