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The Spy Who Loved is the story of Christine Glanville born Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek, reputedly Churchill's favourite spy from WW2; she was also sometimes dubbed Britain's most beautiful spy, possibly as she had once taken part in a 1930 Polish beauty contest. There are several recently published books on the same subject and their almost simultaneous appearance is a curious coincidence. However, as she was later employed by SOE after it was established in 1940, the title 'spy' is not one that they would accept - agent was the accepted description.

Christine Glanville was originally a nom de guerre, although she formally adopted the name post-War when she opted to remain in Britain, used by the daughter of a Polish Count and a Jewish mother. Not truly accepted by relatives on either side of her family, she sought more from life than she had been served. A family relationship with the Polish composer, Chopin, gave her no advantages. Once Poland was invaded, and with her Jewish connections likely to make life more complex had she stayed, she was later able to escape to Britain where she underwent extensive training. She had initially worked as a spy in Poland and then moved to France where her knowledge of the language served her well, all within the first months of the War. On escape to Britain, she was recruited by the newly born SOE and continued under their umbrella until War's end, becoming their longest-serving female agent. She returned to Poland several times in order to act as a courier, physically transporting information that could not be sent via radio.

As a spy she was highly capable and successful operating within Europe and North Africa. She was able to gain information and sometimes hid slips of paper within her gloves where they went unfound. When colleagues were captured she was able to use her charm to secure their release. For her exploits, she was awarded the George Medal and later made an OBE by a grateful Britain and also received the French Croix de Guerre. Monetary rewards did not follow and Christine's life was not an easy one as she was effectively stateless and unemployed.

It is possible that, had she not been murdered in 1952 in a London hotel room by a stalker with claimed romantic intentions which she did not welcome, her name and story could have been more widely known than it is. The story of her death as published in the newspapers of the day may have helped stop the publication of her wartime acticities for many years. She was then only 44 years old and could have had a long and happy life ahead of her had circumstances been different.

This book tells her story in some detail. Christine had a complex personality and the author has done well to 'get inside her head', which may explain why others had written rather little in the past. Her name had been mentioned by earlier authors but with very little detail of her exploits; those omissions and oversights are now corrected.
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on 12 May 2014
This is a remarkable book about a remarkable woman. The phrase "stranger than fiction" comes to mind. In fact you have to wonder whether there are flights of fancy, not from the author herself but from the sources/memoirs she quotes. As Ms Mulley herself says, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction. Apart from that, there are certainly one or two mistakes, for example that there were German troops being "massed along Russia's eastern (sic) borders" in 1941. And that Owen O'Malley knew Rupert Brooke at Harrow: they were both at Rugby.

Having said that, the book is a very good read: exciting and interesting. There's an underlying atmosphere of derring-do, And Christine herself comes across as a wild card, very brave, with a love of danger and quite a sexual appetite. But she was obviously not quite a superwoman: she never learnt to swim, disliked bicycles, was slow at Morse code and averse to office work. She even disliked guns, which is odd for someone in her job. These were countered, however, by many abilities: physical fitness, feminine charm, an aptitude for languages, powers of persuasion , an "almost reckless self-confidence" and "a repertoire of espionage skills".

Not that these were used throughout the War. After doing sterling work in Poland and Hungary at the start of the War and before going to France in 1944, she had two relatively fallow years in Cairo and Jerusalem. But her work with the Resistance (Maquis) in France is the stuff of legend.

There are some fairly poignant echoes too: the difficulties that war heroes found readjusting to civilian life, and indeed finding jobs, when peace came. And how the once welcome Poles found resentment when they took jobs in England. Yes, the post-war parts of the book are the saddest. And the manner of Christine's death, too, after all her bravery, is tragically ironic.
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on 6 April 2015
Although labelled as a biography, and researched and footnoted accordingly,this is an excellent tale of one of the most important secret agents/SOE operatives of World War 2.

Her exploits seen from 70 years after the conflict are simply amazing.

This would have been 5 star but for two elements which were the jumping about of timeline narrative during some passages and the lack of contextual challenge to the treatment of the Poles during and after WWII

Yes, the Poles and their Eastern European neighbours were treated, or allowed to be treated, appallingly by the allies following Yalta, but what options did Churchill or Roosevelt actually have? An immediate war with the Soviet Union? The Pacific War was still ongoing - very quickly the focus of the USA's war effort. Britain after 6 years of European War was exhausted. Not our best moment and one that haunted the British for many years. In the 50th anniversary of Churchill's death and state funeral it remains a constant criticism to his wartime leadership.

Global politics aside, the sexism and distrust of foreigners exhibited by the leaders of Britain directly impacted Christine's life post war. She was clearly a very complex person and her attitude and approach to life jarred with the conservative approach of her masters. She was not the only veteran treated very shabbily by the ruling class, but her treatment was and is a stain on our war memory. In her case exasperated by the secrecy of the organisations she worked for. The change of Government immediately after the war also disconnected much of the political influence of people like Churchill who were great advocates of SOE during the war.

As the last veterans of WWII reach their dotage and their numbers dwindle - this book is a fitting tribute to not just one extraordinary lady but to all those veterans who gave up so much of themselves to remove the threat of the Nazis - recommended!
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on 23 September 2016
I heard Clare Mulley talking about her biography of the wartime spy Krystyna Skarbek (AKA Christine Granville) on BBC Radio 4's 'Great Lives' and I read her amazing book shortly after. This book is a fascinating portrait of a very brave woman, a Polish national, who worked under cover as a British (SOE) agent in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe and in France. The author has produced a very readable account of Granville's short, highly energetic but, in the end, tragic life based on war records and personal interviews from a wide variety of sources. She paints a vivid picture of Christine's exploits, many of which involved remarkable courage, an unparalleled degree of guile and also great charm. She was very attractive vivacious, totally independent, and fearless. Also very restless and the sort of person who was never really satisfied, always searching for something and incapable of settling down. She was a woman whose love life was as varied as her wartime assignments but it was her attraction to men that led, in the end, to her demise. What is amazing is that, against all odds, Granville survived the War, was highly decorated and assumed a 'normal' life in London. This book must have involved the author in countless hours of detective work, tracking down details of her life, digging out photographs and piecing together a multitude of other documentary material to produce a book that is not only gripping but also very well referenced. This is a worthy tribute to a truly great person and I would highly recommend it.
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on 29 May 2013
Quickly delivered by Kindle. This is an excellent book, filled with the heroic acts of this Polish, half Jewish aristocrat - who adopted an English name so she could join the SOE in the Second World War and at the same time spy for what she (and we English) thought right and were prepared to fight to maintain. The fact that I, and many, many more, knew nothing about her exploits (and incidentally love life) before this time places her amongst the few we should now revere. She did not bother about fame and success - or the fact that she, with her winning smile and look, accomplished far more than many of the rest of us with the same ideals. Thank God for the likes of her. The book is beautifully written - and comes to its tragic denouement in a hotel in London in 1953 - it does its author great credit both in its presentation and accuracy - there is a proper and long reference section pushing the writing and publication into the top league. Go on- read it - then think sadly on all you missed and didn't previously know.
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on 26 July 2016
Hard to get through at times, and characters come and go in the telling of this remarkable lady's life, but the book is worth persevering with.

Hugely informative, and an entertaining and fascinating spotlight on Christine Granville's extraordinary life as a resistance agent in the second world war. Even if you don't like history books (I don't), this book will engage you and carry you through her breathtakingly action-packed life.
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on 8 September 2013
Clare Mulley has given an excellent account of a war time story that would elude most people who had never heard of the book's subject matter. Being of Polish extract I was drawn to the story and the account of the escapades of this Polish aristocrat Krysztyna Skarbek. Apart from being an account of "daring do" in the second world war, it illumines a period of Polish twentieth century history and the tribulations of the Polish people under the Nazis. However, despite "Christine's" amazing courage in enemy occupied Europe, I drew away from her as the book progressed and felt a dislike for her personality. To my mind despite her courage she appeared to be the sort of person who always wanted her own way. Her personal life shows her to be extrremely promiscous which was probably the thing that eventually led to her death.That is not to detract from the book and the way it was written which is excellent. It's just the subject, Christine. I probably wouldn't have liked her and although men admired her beauty, there are a number of remarks about her from other women who perhaps held a dislike for her. Her turning down a property willed to her and the things that she did, for example, becoming a stewardess for Shaw Savill Line to get to Australia to try and recoup an investment for her friend, show her to be unbalanced.

Strictly then, I believe that she was possibly not of a stable nature; even crazy perhaps. Nevertheless, the book gives an insight into the SOE in occupied Europe and the difficulties in relationships between the various resistancee factions. This book is well worth the read even if Christine doesn't come out of it too well for me. That said I was saddened by the description of her death by a jealous lover and felt that her story might have led elsewhere had she lived.
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on 13 July 2013
She was born Krystyna Skarbeb the daughter of a Polish Count and a mother who bought money to the marriage. She spent the first years of her life skiing, going to parties, and have lovers. But it took World War 2 to bring her alive. She would climb the mountains into Poland in the winter to help her homeland. She would later serve in the FANYS and SOE in Egypt, North Africa and France. Along the way she become Christine Granville.
"The Spy Who Loved" by Clare Mulley was a really good book. What I found so amazing is that this woman risked her life in trying to free her homeland. There are very few who can say that they did this. "The Spy who Loved" is a must read for any who enjoys reading non-fiction about World War 2.
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on 23 July 2017
Excellent story about the World War Two Spy...Christine Granville. A really brave Polish woman who risked her life for Britain in the
2nd World War...a great and true story of her heroism.
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on 19 April 2017
one of the best books on espionage I have EVER read absolutely stunning, I just could not put it down, what a woman, such a tragic end for her though. I would recommend it to ANYONE who likes that sort of thing.
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