House of Spies by Peter Matthews

House of Spies by Peter MatthewsHouse of Spies: St Ermin's Hotel, the London Base of British Espionage by Peter Matthews
Published by The History Press on September 28th 2016
Genres: History, War
Pages: 256
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley

St. Ermin’s Hotel has been synonymous with British espionage since the 1930s, when the SIS (MI6) was situated nearby at 54 Broadway. Bristling with intelligence officers such as Ian Fleming and Nöel Coward, the hotel was initially revealed by the notorious double agent Arthur Owens, code named SNOW, to be a covert base for the Secret Intelligence Service’s Section D, before three gloomy private rooms on the third floor became the birthplace of Winston Churchill’s SOE in the early days of World War II. During the late 1940s, the traitorous spies Kim Philby and Guy Burgess would hand over intelligence to their Russian counterparts when they regularly met in the hotel’s Caxton Bar, while St. Ermin’s proximity to government offices ensured its continued use by both domestic and foreign secret agents. This first book on the history of the hotel reveals the remarkable stories of the spies who met there and the secrets they were sharing.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good spy story, and true spy stories can be even more interesting than the odd James Bond page-turner, if they are done right. I say ‘can’ because it also requires a bit of self-awareness of the books which exist in the same space as the one you are writing in, which may already deal with similar material.

House of Spies is a look at the history of British espionage, beginning in the 1920s, through to more modern times. Sure I have read a lot of books – both fiction and non-fiction – about the work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, but this seemed like it would be an interesting read nonetheless. I am not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I found that this book while extensive in nature, did not provide me with very much new information, nor did it go in depth into the stories it was telling.

But I am prepared to accept that this book has been somewhat spoiled by the quality and quantity of material which has gone before it, and someone with either a specific interest about the location, or with less of an understanding of the history of spying in the last hundred years or so may find this more interesting than I did. I cannot fault the author’s research, or intention, I just felt that it was did not add a great deal to the body of work on the subject.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating Report
Overall: three-half-stars

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