18 November 2019

The Spy in the Tower - Reviews and a Request

The Spy in the Tower (cover) by G.K. Jakobs
The Spy in the Tower (cover)
by G.K. Jakobs
The Spy in the Tower has been published for just over six months now and I've received some feedback from a few people, including a maternal uncle who thought he was ordering a "pamphlet" and received a "tome", much to his surprise! It certainly isn't an overnight read but I was hoping that a few people may have had a chance to read through it.

The granddaughter of Lily Knips posted this kind review on Amazon.co.uk:
I am declaring an interest' as I'm mentioned in the book as is my grandmother Lily Knips who formed a relationship with Josef Jakobs 'the spy in the Tower' before finding safety in England as a refugee in 1938 from Nazi Germany.

Giselle Jakobs contacted me a few years ago and brought this extraordinary story to my attention and I was able to help with some aspects of her research.

Over the past five years she has worked tirelessly to create an absorbing book exploring the fate of spies sent over to spy for Germany-in this instance sending information to help the Luftwaffe's bombing raids. They were very often poorly trained. The book is intensely personal as it is about her grandfather and family but it is also extremely well-researched from the point of view of political context, the history of espionage/double agents and MI5 interrogation techniques and objectives.. People involved in this narrative faced challenging and life-threatening choices and situations with varying degrees of courage and manipulation.
Fellow author, David Tremain had this to say on the GoodReads site:
Full disclosure: I have to confess that I was in some way instrumental in helping the author in getting her book published as I believed that it was an interesting story which should become public knowledge.

Joseph Jakobs was yet another pawn in the Germans' game of sending spies to Britain during WW2 and, as the title suggests, he came to a sticky end. His granddaughter, Giselle Jakobs, begins by documenting his early life and how he became involved with the Abwehr and German espionage. Like most spies, his life was chequered by many affairs, illegal dealings, and falling in and out of prison because of them. The beginning of his downfall came when (no pun intended) he parachuted into England in December 1941 to begin his spy mission but injured his ankle in the process. By this time the British (MI5) had already dealt with a number of spies, and so were not sympathetic to his cause, yet at the same time they respected him as a brave man and it was with some reluctance perhaps that they put him on trial. What emerges from this story is how biased the trial was, and how determined the British were to punish anyone who dared to attempt to spy on them. The book raises important questions about the fairness of the Treachery Act and how spies were handled during WW2, as well as comparing Joseph's case with that of others. He died an honourable man. The author's description of his final days spent in prison and his execution by firing squad are incredibly moving, as is his final letter to his wife, a letter she would never see. Anyone interested in wartime espionage should read this book as it is an important contribution to the genre.
Another fellow author, Traugott Vitz, had this to say in an email to me:
Well, now, what would I say if someone asked me, "Tell me about the book you've just read"?...

I loved it. The subject - Spies, World War Two etc - is one that I'm interested in anyway. And since it is well written and readable throughout, you'll lay it down (till next day) only when you're tired from digesting the enormous amount of subject matter. But there's more to it.

The book is incredibly well researched, with footnotes all over the place to corroborate what the author claims to be true. It also shows evidence of careful proofreading. An example: The author - I've been exchanging emails with her - always says her German is rusty and hasn't seen much use since her childhood days. Nevertheless and, given the subject, very naturally, she uses a lot of German expressions and sentences. But I, being a native speaker of German, found only a dozen or so language errors in 448 pages (and some of them must be attributed to her sources, not to herself). I've seen MUCH worse from anglophone authors.

The author dived deep into the parliamentary history and legal intricacies of Britain's War Emergency legislation such as the Treachery Act. She followed every step of the legal proceedings and pointed out where there were weaknesses in courtroom tactics or outright violations of established procedure.

She also followed side issues, like the fate of other German spies, with similar zeal and made good use of the results for her main line of argument. (Which means her book can as well be used as a starting point for research into other cases of "German Spies in Britain".)

Her conclusions are well founded, in my opinion: That the Germans sent Josef Jakobs to Britain not to gain information but as cannon fodder or "canary in the mine". And that the British, under the veil of bewigged and gowned legal procedures, killed him not to atone for his guilt but because it was politically expedient.

And there's still one more layer to that book: When you are writing about your grandfather, it is inevitable that your family history and your own person will be involved and affected. If you don't lay open to the reader in which way this is the case, it will come out in unexpected places. Giselle K. Jakobs has seen that trap, I think. And she decided to lay open to the reader the multi-faceted image she got of her grandfather (not all of the facets being favourable) AND how the research process influenced her in her relation to her family and to her inner self. That is, by the way, a step I'd love to see the authors take in many other books as well - not only when they're researching something as close to home as their own grandpa. There is no such thing as disinterested and impartial historiography, you know.

So - "Spy in the Tower" is a book on a VERY special subject within the already special historical field of "History, Modern, World War Two, Espionage, German, in Britain" and will, for that reason, probably not make the bestseller lists. No matter. But it is also a book which establishes Giselle K. Jakobs as a trustworthy, thorough and thoughtful historical writer. Fellow researchers will notice that and pay their respects. Chapeau!
I do have a request to any of my blog readers/followers who have read the book... could you please post a review either on Amazon (if that is where you purchased your book) or on the GoodReads site. Amazon only allows "verified purchasers" to post reviews on their site but... GoodReads is a nice alternative. Here are some direct links to the book's page on the different Amazon sites:
Thanks so much!

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