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The Spy Who Loved
IN 1952, a woman known as Christine Granville was viciously stabbed to death by the latest in a long string of lovers in a London hotel. A sordid crime of passion that would have merited a strong sense of revulsion and a bit of moral indignation in those pre-sixties’ days, but forgotten once it was out of the headlines.
However, the victim had been born Krystyna Skarbek in Poland in 1908, though she always claimed her birth year as 1915. She was the child of an idle if glamorous Polish aristocrat and a wealthy Jewish mother, and at the time of her death she was a decorated and revered member of the elite group of men and women who had been secret agents against the Nazis in World War 2.
Her name is less well-known than those of Odette Samson or Violette Szabo, but in many ways her wartime exploits were even more remarkable. Working for the Polish resistance, she had skied from Hungary into Poland early in the war to deliver material to contacts in Poland and help bring people out. She was the first woman to earn her parachute wings from the British, and she worked with the SOE in Egypt and Algeria, and most spectacularly in France. Among the bravest of the very brave members and supporters of the Resistance, when her fellow agent and lover was caught by the Gestapo, she went to the prison where he was being held, and just hours before he and his companions were due to be executed, effected their escape.
Clare Mulley tells a rollicking tale of courage and audacity, and that all makes for a gripping story. But ultimately, it is her post-war tragedy that sticks in the mind. There are people in this world who are not made for the ordinary, the humdrum. When the moment comes for them to take centre stage, they can do so with immense panache. But when it is over, the world they helped to create cannot and often does not want to accommodate them. This fascinating book exemplifies that — Christine Granville’s post-war life was, apart from her death, not a tragedy on the grand scale. Just very, very sad.