Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: "Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot" by Giles Milton

The title says it all, this is a swashbuckling story of spies trying to keep the armies of socialism from marching over the earth.There a fleet of dashing spies filled with courage and a lust for an adventure all lead from London by their head, "C".

"C"'s identity was guarded for a very long time.His real last name was Cumming and he had been a high up in the British Navy when he was recruited for the job. He was an imposing man who liked to intimidate the people who worked for him but under it all he was generous and warm. There's a sad story about him though. He was driving in his car with his son when the got into a serious accident. His son was thrown from the car and landed on his head (never good). Cumming's leg was trapped in the mangled car, but he was desperate to reach his son. He took out his pocket knife and CUT OFF HIS MANGLED LEG so he could get to his son. They were discovered 8 hours later, Cummings laying unconscious next to his dead son.

The stories of these men, who mostly spend their time in Petrogard (St Petersburg) and Russia (by way of Scandinavia often) have amazing stories. Near misses, interrogations, prison sentences, dead sources and couriers, they experienced it all. One complained about having to grow a scratchy beard for a disguise, which cracked me up. Like, all the Russians want to kill you and you're upset that you're face is scratchy? Rub in some conditioner, you'll be fine.

There was one story right at the beginning of the book that I found fascinating. Have you heard the story about how Rasputin was killed? The men gathered had a hard time killing him. They poisoned him, shot him, and finally threw him in a cold river to hide the body. He was darn near impossible to kill, which helped to cement the theory that many people had that he was in alliance with Satan. So I was under the impression that this was what actually happened, like I learned that in history class I'm pretty sure. Turns out there was a British spy amongst the men who were determined to dispatch this creepy monk.In his memoirs the real story is told. When Rasputin's body is recovered, a few days after his last ice bath, it is in bad shape. One of his ears is ripped almost completely off. (Sorry in advance) his testicles are completely crushed and his penis is flattened. He had been beaten to death by a heavy object, and tossed into the river.

The story about his insane demise was made up by the men to help cement the feeling that Rasputin was craaazy and dangerous and that even in death he was scary. The concocted story was to help keep the outrage to a minimum and to make the Russian people feel relief at his demise. I was shocked when I read this. I even read this section outloud to my husband (which I generally don't do unless it's something awesome/funny because he generally just doesn't care) and he was surprised.

India also features largely into the story. The grasp that Great Britain held onto their "jewel of the Empire" was growing more tenuous. The British army's resources were stretched to the breaking point after WWI and there wasn't very many troops in India that could put down a revolution should one arise. Lenin knew that and started to do everything he could to rally the Indian people. He knew that if Russia and India could banned together his plan of world domination would be well on it's way.

Other notes:
-I love that the person who wrote this book is named Giles. So British.
-MI6 stands for military intelligence 6. Is there a military intelligence 1-5? I don't know.
-Someone says that Lenin looks like a "Scandinavian goblin". Someone else mentions that his features are somewhat Asiatic. If you look at his picture you can kind of see both. Scandinavian goblin is my favorite though.

I really liked this book. It really held my attention, very exciting. I thought I would get confused with everyone's names and aliases but I didn't. (I can't read spy novels, too much intrigue and I can't keep everything straight so this was a legit worry). The people are interesting the times are troubled and I learned so much. Also reaffirmed that I could never be a spy: no poker face, no language skills,not beautiful. Officially out of the running, haha. 4 out of 5 stars from me!

I got this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review


  1. Fun post. I think I would like this book and it would fit in with my British reading, not to mention that it has an echo in current events.

    1. History is certainly circular, isn't it?

  2. BTW, this would be a great post to link up with British Isles Friday on my blog this week.

    1. Im writing myself a note right now so I remember!

  3. Sounds interesting! And there is an MI5 - it spies on Brits while MI6 spies on 'foreigners' but I don't know if there were ever MI1 - 4...

    1. I see! Thanks for the info, I was really curious about that!


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