Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stella Rimington's 5 best books about spies in Britain

For the Wall Street Journal, former MI5 director-general Stella Rimington named a five best list of books about spies in Britain.

One book on her list:
Elizabeth's Spymaster
By Robert Hutchinson
St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne, 2007

In 1570, when Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth for refusing to return England to the Roman Catholic fold, conditions ripe for intrigue soon developed. Elizabeth's Catholic subjects were feeling conflicted loyalties; the pope's action had made attacks on England by Catholic countries more likely; and some co-religionists of Elizabeth's Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, were conspiring to put her on the throne. As Robert Hutchinson relates in "Elizabeth's Spymaster," the English queen countered with Francis Walsingham, who for two decades operated what was effectively England's first counter-intelligence service, with tentacles stretching across Europe and agents throughout England. He ensnared Mary and forced her execution, and later provided intelligence that helped defeat the Spanish Armada. Walsingham was ruthless -- but as a spymaster deadly effective, smashing several conspiracies. He and his team were adept in the arts still essential to counter-intelligence: code breaking, surveillance, message interception and the "turning" of hostile agents.
Read about another book on Rimington's list.

Stella Rimington's latest novel, Illegal Action, is out this month from Knopf.

--Marshal Zeringue