This book. Is. Amazing.
Do you know how many uncaptured German spies were operating in Britain during WWII?
Every single German spy was either captured or became part of MI5's XX System, aka "Double-Cross." And each one of them was... a character. As McIntyre puts it:
"They included a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a mercurial Frenchwoman a Serbian seducer, and a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming. Together, under Robertson's guidance, they delivered all of the little lies that together made up the big lie.
The Double Cross spies were, variously, courageous, treacherous, capricious, greedy, and inspired. They were not obvious heroes, and their organization was betrayed from within by a Soviet spy. One was so obsessed with her pet dog that she came close to derailing the entire invasion. All were, to some extent, fantasists, for that is the very essence of espionage. Two were of dubious moral character.One was a triple, and possibly a quadruple, agent."
The story of the Double Cross spies reads like a British farce, up to and including the fact that all of the spies were given punny names. One of the handlers thought of the entire war in times of cricket. One agent, codenamed Garbo, created an entirely imaginary network of sub-spies that comprised 27 hallucinated agents. Another nearly drove MI5 to send a warship to bring her dog over and avoid the sacrosanct quarantine laws. Yet another began his career in Portugal, making up fake reports for the Germans about Liverpudlians hanging out in wine bars and naval exercises in what turned out to be landlocked lakes. No matter how easily the British managed to defeat the Germans in the spying game, the Soviets' Cambridge Five had just as successfully infiltrated them. Yet the Cambridge Five were, if anything, too successful: knowing from their spies about Double Cross, the Soviets were convinced their own agents had also been doubled. Oh, the perils of paranoia.
Double Cross is occasionally poignant-- it is, after all, about WWII-- and often incredible, but above all, it is hands-down funny. My favourite quote:
One evening, in his safe house in Hinxton, near Cambridge, Caroli crept up behind his minder while he was playing solitaire and tried to throttle him with a piece of rope. When this failed, he apologized, tied the man to a chair, and ran off with a can of sardines, a pineapple, and a large canvas shoe. He then stole a motorcycle and motored, very slowly, toward the coast with the canoe balanced on his head. He intended to paddle to Holland. A roadman reported to police that a man with a canoe had fallen off his motorcycle on Pamisford road, and he had helped the man throw the canoe over a hedge.'
If you're looking for a crazy fun nonfiction book to read, then Double Cross is it.