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Saturday 17 October 2020

THE ALPHA LIST - Book review



Ted Allbeury served as an officer in the Intelligence Corps, working on SOE counter-intelligence, so his espionage books have the ring of authenticity. During the Cold War he was captured and tortured when running agents across the border between East and West Germany, and he hints at this on p75:

‘Laker had been killed in Oslo by a KGB operator a couple of years ago. Laker ran a line-crossing operation across the Finnish frontier into the USSR. He had lasted about eight months which was the equivalent of three score years and ten in that part of the world doing that particular job… Laker had been a survivor from a previous line-crossing network and ought to have been pulled out…’

The Alpha List was published in 1979. It’s a first-person narrative by agent Dave Marsh, who has been tasked with investigating an old friend, a Labour MP, Charlie Kelly, who is suspected of passing information to the Soviets. There’s talk of an Alpha List, which could be significant, but Charlie won’t disclose any details.

It’s fascinating how we get to know these two men growing up in post-war England, and how their politics and idealism change them.

Marsh is involved in a game of cat-and-mouse not only with his own people but also the Russians. The truth that is finally revealed to Marsh is devastating.

This was written when the Soviet Union was a powerful protagonist, before it was broken up. When the UK, not Europe, was in effect the front line against Soviet aggression. Would the United States have risked a Third World War if the USSR had attacked the UK?

Some of Allbeury’s books have downbeat endings; be warned, this is one of them.

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