Book of the Week

Rendezvous At The Russian Tea Rooms: The Spy Hunter, The Fashion Designer And The Man From Moscow by Paul Willetts. Photo: PA Photo/Constable

Rendezvous At The Russian Tea Rooms: The Spy Hunter, The Fashion Designer And The Man From Moscow by Paul Willetts. Photo: PA Photo/Constable

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Rendezvous At The Russian Tea Rooms: The Spy Hunter, The Fashion Designer And The Man From Moscow by Paul Willetts

Take a deep breath before you open this book, as from the first page it plunges into the fevered atmosphere of 1939 and the eve of London’s Blitz.

This gripping tale is based on true events which made headlines around the world and were described by one American newspaper as, “The greatest spy story of the war”.

Packed with spies, secret assignations, surveillance and kidnapping, it’s an impressive portrait that lays bare the sinister truth behind spy networks of the Second World War.

The central characters are a Russian fashion designer with Nazi connections whose clothes were worn by the Duchess of Windsor, an American womaniser who worked at the US Embassy, but was spying for the Russians and an eccentric, but brilliant MI5 spy hunter, who enjoyed taking his pet bear cub for walks around the streets of London.

Rather than detracting from the main story, the long cast list at the beginning, photographs of the main characters in the centre and copious notes at the end serve as a useful reminder that these complicated and at times, bizarre, events actually happened.

This is Paul Willetts’ fourth non-fiction book - his previous works include Members Only, a study of strip-show boss Paul Raymond, which inspired 2013 film The Look Of Love starring Steve Coogan and Anna Friel.

He began researching Rendezvous At The Russian Tea Rooms more than 20 years ago and spent more than five years trawling through hundreds of personal and public documents including letters, photographs, MI5 reports, a summary of a phone tap from the National Archives and photographs.

His diligence has certainly paid off, in that he has created a powerful and hugely entertaining record of a bygone era.