Ben Macintyre – The Spy and the Traitor (Penguin, £8.99)

This is the extraordinary true-life story of Oleg Gordievsky, the renowned Russian spy who passed over top secret information to the British, while holding a variety of roles in the KGB. It is a hugely captivating tale, whether honing in on the fine detail of spycraft and labyrinthine escape plans, or opening the plot out onto the world stage.

When Thatcher and Gorbachev have a landmark meeting, Gordievsky ends up playing a role in the preparation of both parties. The testimony of all the main Secret Service and KGB protagonists is well-represented here, from thorough research and interviews, not least Gordievsky himself: a man living a double life, keeping secrets from both his country and family, the latter particularly causing much anguish and deliberation.

Gordievsky is painted as a man of courage and conviction, genuinely admired by the author, and in stark contrast to other spies who are motivated by money and self-advancement, or exploited for their weaknesses. There are many interesting passages dedicated to why someone becomes a spy.

John Le Carré himself calls this book “The best true spy story I have ever read” and it is easy to see why. Everything you could want from a top spy story is here: codenames, intense paranoia, clandestine meetings, safe houses, double agents and even a potential UK leader unveiled as a fully paid up KGB agent. Plus you get to find out how a packet of cheese and onion crisps and a full nappy both had a knock-on effect on international Cold War relations!

The plot has the build-up and tension of a gripping thriller, and the climax is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. A truly remarkable book.

Tim Curtis