The greatest spy story of World War II?
I have recently finished reading “Rendezvouz at the Russian Tea Rooms” by Paul Willetts that tells the tale of of real life spies and spy hunters during World War II. It is written in the form of a novel even though it is based on real life events. It is a new genre writers and publishers like to call “faction”: facts that reads like fiction I suppose.
I think this is what puzzled me most about the book. Reading the book I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and somewhat betrayed. The front cover sports a young woman in a red dress, supposedly a depiction of Anna Wolkoff, one of the spies Willett decided to write about. The cover promises an “Inglorious Bastards” kind of expectation.
If this is truly the “greatest spy story of World War II” as the back cover boasts… While reading the book I couldn’t help questioning what is fact and what is made up: I mean, how could he possibly know how Tyler Kent, Anna Wolkoff or Max Knight felt at that very exact moment? Or what they thought? Or what the weather was like that day?
Only after everything at the end of the book does Paul Willett assure us in his “List of sources” that “gaps in the evidence haven’t been straddled by creative embellishment or fabrication”. He used weather reports, interviews, autobiographies, archives of old newspapers and magazines and letters.
What I did in fact find very interesting is the fact that Nazi Germany had so many supporters in Britian – especially with exiled Russians that fled from the communists.
Another thing that got me thinking is that a lot of the people that worked for MI5 such as Ian Fleming and Max Knight became celebrated authors of the detective/spy genre in literature.
Is that perhaps where my disappointment lies? Did the truth sell short for me? This didn’t come nearly as close to any of Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures. It didn’t read nearly as exciting. The first 250 pages is mostly just about the wonderful contacts that Max, Anna and Tyler had. Only when Anna and Tyler are caught does it feel like something actually happens in the book.
How do I review this book then? How can I say that this is NOT what happened? I can only say what I experienced and that was slight boredom – you can get lost in all the facts. It’s like reading or writing a book with more than 5 protagonists – afterwards there are just too many faces.
Maybe this is what real life spy stories are like? Just a little bit boring.
First published: 2015