Audacious, brilliant, chameleon. All these words could be used to describe the man that became Britain’s greatest spy, a man known by several names and who came from many places, depending on who was asking and when. Was he from Poland? Or was he the son of an Irish clergyman? Many believe he was born in Odessa, Ukraine, a place hot in today’s headlines. He certainly had the ability to be convincing to anyone he met, including the head of Britain’s intelligence services.
Sidney Reilly, one of many names he was known by, was the most successful spy in history. His adventures first came to light during the Russian Revolution in 1917 when he was tasked by Britain’s Secret Service with overthrowing the Bolsheviks after they had formed a new government. He had already succeeded in stealing the plans of the Kaiser’s new and modern fleet of battleships from Krupp, to help Britain and her allies win World War I, and was awarded the Military Cross in 1919.
In 1953, novelist Ian Fleming used Reilly’s secret Admiralty Intelligence file to write his novels about a fictional secret agent he called James Bond 007. But Reilly’s true exploits were even more thrilling and fantastic than those of the fictional James Bond. Reilly was Britain’s best spy—but was he also a Soviet double-agent?
Author John Harte retells Reilly’s story as it really was, in fast-moving prose with an eye for telling detail—and provides a twist: He tells us what really happened to Reilly after he vanished in Soviet Russia in 1925 and was assumed to have been murdered by Stalin’s secret police. Apparently not!