17 May 2019

Book Review - The Beautiful Spy - the Life and Crimse of Vera Eriksen - David Tremain (2019)

Cover - The Beautiful Spy by
David Tremain - published April 2019
by The History Press
The Book
The Beautiful Spy - The Life and Crimes of Vera Eriksen. David Tremain. The History Press. 2019.

Summary
In late September 1940, two men and a woman beached their inflatable life raft on the coast of Scotland. The group split up, one man (Werner Walti) went off on his own and got as far as Edinburgh. The other two (Karl Theodore Drücke and Vera Eriksen) didn't make it beyond the railway station of tiny Port Gordon. All three aroused the suspicions of the locals and were swiftly arrested. Suspected of being spies, they were sent down to London to the tender mercies of Major Robin W.G. Stephens at MI5's secret interrogation centre (Latchmere House).

Drücke and Walti didn't reveal much and were ultimately executed in early August 1941 at Wandsworth Prison. Vera was sent to Holloway Prison and finally an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Strangely, she was never prosecuted and speculation has raged for decades as to the reasons for her escape from justice. Speculation has also raged about her post-war life... Did she move to the Isle of Wight and live under a new name? Did she become a double agent for the British against the Russians? Did she die in Hamburg in 1946 as suggested by a death certificate? Vera's life, as Tremain says is a "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma".

Review
I'd been looking forward to this book for months! It had a publishing delay in Britain (from February to April), plus a delayed release in Canada (several months). But... whilst in London, I bought a copy at Foyles.

The book is, true to Tremain's style, very well-researched. He has delved into the files of Vera and her associates and presents a lot of information. I might almost say, however, that there is a bit too much information. Some of the secondary people, who are presented with a fair bit of biographical detail, could have had their information relegated to footnotes. I admit I got rather lost in the sheer volume of people presented to me. I commiserate with Tremain because I too did a lot of research into the lives of secondary characters in the Josef Jakobs saga, which, ultimately, did not make it into my book. It was hard to cut them out. Having said that, on the last page of the book, Tremain mentions a Ernst Bodo von Zitzewitz (mentioned in Spurven: Den dramatiske historie om spionen Vera Schalburg by Kirstine Kloster Andersen (2018)) who apparently paid for Vera's funeral. I would have loved to know more about this character...Who was he? Did he exist? Was he connected to the Abwehr? But in this instance, Tremain leaves the reader hanging.

I also wished that Tremain had perhaps drawn a few more inferences/conclusions throughout the book, and not just lay out the facts for observation. This may just be a personal preference. Some chapters seemed a bit disjointed and I wasn't always sure how the pieces were connected to what had gone before.

Tremain has done an admirable job of presenting every shred of fact on Vera, and her direct and not-so-direct associates

Tremain has given several interviews on radio programs and one of them, from TalkRadioEurope is available here.

Review Score
4 out of 5 - very well researched but a bit daunting to read.

Other Resources
Daily Record - mentions Tremain's book
Daily Express - mentions Tremain's book

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