There is quite the cast of characters in this book, and the fact that they are real makes it even better. It's also a time period full of intrigue, from the beginning of World War II, through the Cold War. The two people who the book really centers around is Kim Phillby and Nicholas Elliott. If you couldn't tell from the title, Kim will be wearing the black hat, and Elliott is wearing the white hat. (I'm going to do my best to not give too much away, because the intrigue unraveling is the best part).
Kim's home life was rich in moolah and ridiculousness. His dad was a really well-respected expert on the Middle East, he even was a convert to Islam. However, he also brawled, drank and whored himself into oblivion so maybe not an upstanding example of, well, anything.(Another theme in this book is men who never got approval from their fathers and how it shaped them. This is a book with some daddy issues.) Kim's name isn't actual Kim, his dad nicknamed him that after the Kipling work. Kim went to all of the best schools and had the best of opportunities but always did the bare minimum to get by. After a "C's get degrees!" college education he drifted a little, until he dropped a hint that he thought it might be cool to be a spy (it didn't stop him that he had none of the skills that were required) and it happened. His true talents lay in his personality, he captivated people. He was charming and people were drawn to him instantly. When you were talking to him it was like you were the only person in the room.
Elliott also came from daddy issues and a lot of money. However, he worked hard and was dedicated to his work. He wasn't handsome, and he didn't quite have the charm that Kim had, but he made up for it by actually being good at his job. He was well liked and respected, incredibly loyal to his friends including Kim.
These 2 are fast friends as they work their way up through the ranks at MI6. While Elliott must have thought things like "Well, I have this awesome and glamorous job and I get to work with one of my best friends. How great is my life?" Kim's thoughts were more like "Well, I had dinner with Elliott and got all kinds of spy gossip. Got to make sure this get's passed on to my Soviet handlers ASAP!".
What follows is a book about terrible betrayal, near misses, paranoid dictators, weird code names and the basic crippling of spy agencies on multiple continents. And a few disastrous cocktail parties.
I loved this book. When I wasn't reading this book I wished I was. There are a lot of people mentioned in this book, but it wasn't hard to keep everyone straight. Luckily no one gets new code names often. The ending (which obviously was true and what actually happened) made me angry. It wasn't the type of justice that I would have liked to see handed out, but maybe I'm just a little bit vindictive!) 4 out of 5 stars!
*I received this book for free in exchange for a fair review from Blogging for Books*