Spymaster: The Man Who Saved MI6 by Helen Fry – Review
By Karl Hornsey
There are literally husbands of books around these days focusing on espionage, the intelligence services and their contribution and impact on the First and Second World Wars. And as that proliferation continues, the spotlight moves to some of the lesser known figures, whose stories deserve to be told. And few deserve to be told more than that of the life of Thomas Kendrick, a key figure in the history of the British secret service.
The task of telling the story falls to historian, lecturer and biographer Helen Fry, who has built up a back catalogue of works on the subject of espionage, including MI9, The Walls Have Ears and The London Cage. And if there’s one thing that Fry excels at in all of her books, it’s the incredible depth of her research. Spymaster is no different, with an astonishing amount of detail crammed into its pages, as demonstrated by the notes section stretching to 30 pages and the bibliography/further reading taking up another five pages.
Kendrick is one of those fascinating figures that seem to emerge out of the woodwork from time to time, someone whose work should have achieved far more recognition many years ago, but who spent so much of his life in the shadows that it’s no surprise that hardly anyone has heard of him. And this brings out the main challenge that Fry had in putting together the pieces of his life and how they impacted on MI6 and the secret services in general. While the central premise is about Kendrick, there’s just too little known about him to really build a whole book around him. So there are leaps of conjecture and other characters given prominence who only have a vague link with him. He’s a subject and a character definitely worth profiling, but it’s almost impossible to tie so many strands together and keep the story cohesive.
Thankfully, Fry’s passion for her subject matter shines through and she’s determined that Kendrick should have his day in the sun and the credit for maybe not saving MI6 as such, but for clearly playing a pivotal part in its existence. This is a book that demands concentration to follow what happened or may have happened, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth putting in the time to do so. Kendrick deserves for this story to be heard, and Fry deserves great credit for taking on the Herculean task of putting it together. It’s a decent addition to the collection of anyone interested in the fascinating world of espionage, and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come from Fry as she continues to build her reputation as one of the leading biographers in her field.
‘Spymaster: The Man Who Saved MI6’ by Helen Fry is published by Yale University Press, £20 hardback