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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

'Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms' by Paul Willetts

Published by Constable,
2 June 2016.
ISBN 978-1-4721-1987-2

This is an unusual book.  It straddles the space between fiction and nonfiction but cannot be described as faction, our modern confounding of these two forms.   The writer is anxious to dispel ideas of this as faction.  He has obviously got a great deal of research material - the lengthy list of sources makes this clear but he tells us, at the beginning of this list that although he has written in the style of a novel he sees the book as nonfiction because he has used archival sources for background features such as weather and, when he refers to the thoughts of characters, he has used information from their own autobiographical materials.

What we have is a story about Nazi spies in GB in the period just before the London Blitz.  Tyler Kent and Anna Wolkoff act as agents while Max Knight acts as MI5 spy hunter.   The story unfolds with alternating chapters on the activities of these three protagonists starting in 1939.  Gradually the two agents move towards meeting each other and using the documents stolen from the US Embassy in the UK by Tyler, who worked in the Code Room.  The Fascist sympathies of Anna Wolkoff are fully documented as she attempted to undermine the democratic government and demonstrate her rabid anti-Semitism.  The fact that Tyler Kent was actually stealing materials originally for the Russians is clearly shown (at the beginning of the tale he was at the US Embassy in Russia).

Max Knight organises various spies on their activities and, eventually arranges for their arrests.  The complex relationships documented require a lengthy list of people mentioned.  Notes are provided and the list of sources is enormously detailed.  The story is a fascinating one in its layering of WW2 experiences but it is of considerable length and depth!
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
Paul Willetts has written several  other non fiction books.

Paul Willetts is the author of four widely praised works of non-fiction, the latest of these being Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms. His previous book, Members Only, provided the basis for The Look of Love, a movie starring Steve Coogan, Anna Friel and Imogen Poots.  Alongside his non-fiction output, Paul has edited four collections of much-admired writing by Julian Maclaren-Ross — Selected Stories (2004), Collected Memoirs (2004), Selected Letters  (2008) as well as Bitten By the Tarantula and Other Writing (2005). Paul's occasional journalism has appeared in a variety of publications, among them The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Times and The Spectator.

Jennifer S Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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