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1.5 out of 5 stars
1.5 out of 5 stars

on 24 November 2012
There can only be three reasons why you would want to read this book :

1. You have an interest in Greece during the First World War and want to see what a British participant makes of the struggle between the Royalists and the Venizelists in 1916. I am not qualified to know how accurate MacKenzie's account is. He certainly portrays himself as the man with his finger on the pulse who knows everything. He makes it seem plausible but it is history through his prism which I suspect is pretty distorted.
2. You are a fan of Compton Mackenzie and want to read everything he ever published. Despite some good turns of phrase this is is a pretty dry read which will test the loyalty of even his most devoted fan
3. You are intrigued as to why the Security Service got the book banned when it was first published in 1932. What may have been controversial then is mundane in the extreme to-day. There is really hardly anything worth reading as regards this aspect, unless you have an academic interest in how security/intelligence work was handled in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1916.

I was conned by the publisher's blurb which describes it as an espionage classic. That it most certainly is not. Give it a miss.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 January 2012
Just sometimes governments do an author a favour when they ban their book. Spycatcher was turned from an obscure memoir into a front page news bestseller courtesy of an attempted ban. Compton Mackenzie's memoirs of secret service in Greece during the First World War did not benefit to quite the same extent, but the government's enforced censorship of the book certainly gave the book a degree of rebellious chic that its contents only rarely deserve.

Courtesy of Biteback, you can now read the full, unexpurgated version penned by the author of Whisky Galore and sometime British secret agent and you can therefore see how what worried the government was not racy tales of foreign adventures but lengthy lists of spies, their assistants and their working methods.

The simple test of whether or not you should read it is whether or not you want to read in full a 12 point "Memorandum on proposals for control of passenger traffic from and to Greece". In other words, for the specialist, this is a book is crammed full of useful detail. What tales of drama there are (such as the bizarre story of an agent who forgot his alias and had to hide in a toilet for two days) are smothered in long bureaucratic accounts and extensive arguments over detailed points of narrative which are never clearly explained to the uninitiated reader.

Aside from the occasional toilet-style incidents, and frequent complaints about the temperature, the book is livened up by Mackenzie's frequent swipes at others who have retold the same events. They are variously described as "pathetic", "credulous", "eager apologists", "harlequin", "stupid" and more. In an effort to demonstrate that he alone can be trusted to give the authoritative account (which just happens to be flattering to himself), he buries the reader in a collection of documents and details.

The publishers have done little to help guide the reader through this detail. There are, for example, no explanatory footnotes for the first time a new significant name or organisation is introduced in the text.

There is, however, in an appendix the details of the concerns the government had over names and procedures that the unexpurgated text gave away. Reading through them, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that removing much of this was really doing the book a favour by removing much of the excess detail. Perhaps too the government did him a favour by helping inspire Mackenzie to turn to fiction the following year to settle more scores in the form of the excellent satire Water on the Brain.

This is a book for the specialist, not for the casual reader.
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