Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms

Written by Paul Willetts

Review written by Stephen Thornley

An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.


Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms
Constable
RRP: £9.99
Released: June 2 2016
PBK

Willets’ novel is set in WW2 London with a backdrop of the blackout, the scarcity of foodstuffs with the constant fear of air raids and fifth columnists. In amongst all this are the spies working for the enemy. Some are Nazi sympathizers, others are British haters and others White Russians hoping Hitler's forces will defeat the Soviet Union.

There are thousands of people in the country who support the fascist government in Germany; many had openly shown their support before the German occupation of the Sudetenland. Now, however, fascist supporters of Herr Hitler have becomeless obvious, but are still fermenting trouble and planning revolt. A fifth column is forming with The British Union, the Right Club, the Link, the Nordic League and the Anglo-German Fellowship all seemingly innocuous sounding organizations, each one a right wing fascist supporting group, plotting against the British Government and informing the enemy.

The amount of information Mr Willetts provides and the sheer scale of the documentary evidence he must have trailed through to obtain it is quite astounding. Many of the details are backed by reference notes found at the back of the book, the author also gives lengthy information about his sources here too. The detail he imparts to us about the often unusual and sometimes bizarre characters, their friends, meeting places, clothes and lifestyles brings the Home Front war experience close up. Though, of course almost all the characters are peopled from the upper levels of society, none of your working class types here. It is quite revealing just how many well educated intelligent people were willing to be taken in by fascist propaganda to practice a political ideology based on racial hatred.

The narrative centres on a British MI5 spy controller named Max of Section B5b and his investigations into the activities of The Right Club an organization set up by a sitting MP. In particular, the activities of two people a U.S. Embassy worker Tyler and a Russian Nazi sympathizer Anna. But the connections each of them had with other supporters [like-minded people] and agents is a little bewildering.

Needless to say, the Russian Tea Rooms are at the centre of things; as they are a meeting place for many Russian emigres who for one reason or another find themselves in London. The rooms are run by an ex-Naval Attaché to the Imperial Russian Embassy, Admiral Wolkoff and his wife Vera. Both fascists and admirers of Germany's leaders they, like their daughter Anna are under the covert watch of MI5.

Tyler, originally posted to the Moscow U.S. Embassy, is forced to move to London after being compromised by the Soviets. He begins stealing copies of communications between the U.S. and European governments and particularly sensitive telegrams between Churchill and Roosevelt. He has a very expensive lifestyle to maintain, he rubs shoulders with the very wealthy and aristocratic elite. The salary of a clerk working in the code room of the U.S. Embassy could not come near supporting such a sybarite such as Tyler.

Anna is an anti-Semite who believed in the idea that there was a Bolshevik-Jewish plot that resulted in the Russian Revolution. She saw the fascist risings in Spain, Italy and latterly Germany as the ideal way to remove the communists from her home country and to eradicate the Jewish threat [as she saw it], to Europe.

While Tyler and Anna are making contacts to help their independent causes, Max is busy embedding his agents into the fascist Right Club's membership circle. Inevitably, Tyler and Anna are introduced to one another with Tyler's natural charm soon winning a friendship with Anna. Their activities quickly become recognized as a serious threat to the country's security.

Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms is an interesting and absorbing read for those who enjoy the twists and turns of espionage and counter espionage. It is remarkable for its detail, as the reader is drawn into those terrible times with the narrative highlighting just how near these fifth columnists were getting to the seats of power. If these groups had incited their supporters to rebel at what could have been a decisive moment in the war, how would the country have defended itself? If it hadn't been for people such as Max and his agents would the course of the war have been different? Who knows!

 

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