TRUST NO ONE: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly

Richard B. Spence, Author . Feral House $29.95 (527p) ISBN 978-0-922915-79-8

Sidney Reilly (born Salomon Rosenblum in Odessa in 1874), notorious in England as a probable Russian double agent, remains largely unfamiliar to Americans, though PBS aired the British miniseries Reilly, Ace of Spies in the early 1980s. Some consider Reilly a real-life James Bond, but his résumé more closely resembles that of a Bond villain, or perhaps Sherlock Holmes's nemesis, Moriarty: a "diplomatic businessman," as one colleague described him, he crisscrossed the globe, brokering information and facilitating arms deals, always maintaining, as Spence, a professor of history at the University of Idaho, puts it, "a foot in all camps and access to the right people and information." Even his interest in Russia, especially after the 1917 revolution, may have stemmed from a desire to get in on the action should the country be opened up to foreign investment. Spence's biography covers a remarkable amount of territory, using newly released material in the British and Russian intelligence archives, but the dense narrative is frequently overwhelmed by the amount of detail. It becomes difficult to keep track of which alias Reilly is using at any given time, and the names of his colleagues blur together. In addition, Spence often relies on conjecture, about everything from Reilly's hypothetical involvement in several bombings in major American cities to the mysterious circumstances of his alleged capture and execution by the Soviets in 1925 (including persistent rumors placing him in Shanghai 13 years later). The historical aspects of the story are engrossing, but readers expecting a gripping espionage thriller will be let down by the scholarly tone and ambiguity. (Jan. 17)

Reviewed on: 10/28/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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