Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Dead Doubles: The Extraordinary Worldwide Hunt for One of the Cold War's Most Notorious Spy Rings by Trevor Barnes

by Trevor Barnes
Release Date: September 8th 2020
2020 Harper
Hardcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062856999
ASIN: B082J3G7K6
Genre: Non-Fiction / Cold War / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
The dramatic arrest in London on January 7, 1961 of five Soviet spies made headlines worldwide and had repercussions around the globe. Alerted by the CIA, Britain's security service, MI5, had discovered two British spies stealing invaluable secrets from the highly sensitive submarine research center at Portland, UK.  Their controller, Gordon Lonsdale, was a Canadian who frequently visited a middle-aged couple, the Krogers, in their sleepy London suburb. But the seemingly unassuming Krogers were revealed to be deep cover American KGB spies—infamous undercover agents the FBI had been hunting for years—and they were just one part of an extensive network of Soviet operatives in the UK.

In the wake of the spies' sensational trial, the FBI uncovered the true identity of the enigmatic Lonsdale—Konon Molody, a Russian who had lived in California before being recruited by the KGB. Molody opened secret talks with MI5 to betray Russia, but before he had the chance, the KGB blackmailed Britain into spy swaps for him and the Krogers.
My Thoughts
Dead Doubles was a fascinating look into the sensational capture and trial of the Portland Ring spies, spies who had been stealing sensitive secrets from the submarine research center at Portland, and it would be discovered, at other important areas as well.  The original focus was on Konon Molody, known as Gordon Lonsdale in the U.K., but soon switched to the Krogers as well as Houghton and Gee. I really enjoyed how the author detailed the information about the spies and how they were all connected.
First things first though. I went into this book with quite a detailed knowledge base about espionage and as a result, did not struggle with the names or the people involved. Having read quite a few books about Kim Philby, the Rosenbergs, Klaus Fuchs, George Blake, the Cohens, Rudolf Abel, and so on, I was already familiar with many of the leaders of the FBI, CIA, M15, etc... While the author was really great at explaining a lot of things, he definitely wrote this book for those who have an interest in espionage and who already have a foundational knowledge about the people involved.  A list of people and their jobs is listed at the front of the book to help those who may be lost or struggle with the amount of information.
I really enjoyed how the author set up the various chapters in this book, focusing on specific subjects at a time, slowly incorporating new ones, until you could see the pattern developing and how they all fit in together. A lot of the information regarding how much damage the 'Krogers' and 'Lonsdale" actually did was not revealed until the last part of the book, but I certainly thought the process was fascinating.  The amount of work and surveillance that went into discovering what they did was immense.  I particularly loved the politics at play between the various countries and how relationships shifted and changed as deceptions were uncovered.  Gosh, the Cold War was fascinating on so many levels.
The author was limited in how much he could tell us however, as many of the documents surrounding the trial and arrest are still classified, both in the U.K. and in Russia.  Things are slowly being released, so it was a real treat to read some of the reports from the time period to see who was actually to blame for the espionage, and how lack of security led to a lot of the problems.    

Dead Doubles is a meticulously researched novel about Konon Molody and the Portland Spy Ring that had a huge impact on so many levels.  When they set out to capture 'Lonsdale', they really didn't know what the end result was going to be, and it was shocking how deep the clandestine operations went, and how much information actually made its way across the border.  I enjoyed the way the novel was written and appreciated the descriptions of the spy-tech stuff that was used at the time.  Do I recommend this book to everyone? No. I really think you need some knowledge of the time period as well as knowledge of the people involved before investing in this book.  Once you do, it is definitely worth checking out.