In 1917, a band of communist revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II-a dramatic and explosive act marking that Vladimir Lenin's communist revolution was now underway. But Lenin would not be satisfied with overthrowing the Tsar. His goal was a global revolt that would topple all Western capitalist regimes-starting with the British Empire.
Russian Roulette tells the spectacular and harrowing story of the British spies in revolutionary Russia and their mission to stop Lenin's red tide from washing across the free world. They were an eccentric cast of characters, led by Mansfield Cumming, a one-legged, monocle-wearing former sea captain, and included novelist W. Somerset Maugham, beloved children's author Arthur Ransome, and the dashing, ice-cool Sidney Reilly, the legendary Ace of Spies and a model for Ian Fleming's James Bond. Cumming's network would pioneer the field of covert action and would one day become MI6.
Living in disguise, constantly switching identities, they infiltrated Soviet commissariats, the Red Army, and Cheka (the feared secret police), and would come within a whisker of assassinating Lenin. In a sequence of bold exploits that stretched from Moscow to the central Asian city of Tashkent, this unlikely band of agents succeeded in foiling Lenin's plot for global revolution.
In 1918, Lenin announced that the Bolshevik victory in Russia heralded the beginning of worldwide revolution. so why did his claim fail to bear fruit? Prolific historian Milton (The Boy Who Went to War) credits British spies in this impressive account of skullduggery carried out by colorful figures amid the chaos of revolutionary Russia. Well before the revolution, British intelligence was operating in Petrograd, tasked with keeping the crumbling Russian army in the war against Germany. A British agent probably fired the fatal shot in the 1916 murder of Rasputin, the charismatic monk who exerted a baleful influence over the Czar's family and was widely accused of sabotaging the war effort. After the revolution, British spies successfully gathered information, engaged in sabotage, encouraged and financed the regime's opponents, and plotted an unsuccessful coup. Those who survived often wrote self-serving memoirs, and one who didn't inspired a BBC TV series: Reilly, Ace of Spies. While brilliant spycraft frustrated a Soviet-led invasion of India, Morton fails to make his case that it thwarted world revolution, but readers will not regret picking up this entertaining history of spectacular, often nasty derring-do by real-life secret agents. Maps, 8p. b&w insert.