This is part of my 2017 reading challenge, Cloak and Dagger, for which I’ve pledged to read all the spy books I have stacked up in my room. Read along!
I was incredibly excited to dive into Queen of Spies, because I really wanted to learn about Daphne Park. To be honest, I knew nothing about her heading into this book; I really just wanted to read a book about a woman who also just so happened to be a spy. But perhaps a year or so ago, I had a friend who worked at the company that would be publishing Paddy Hayes’s book on Park and I got her to sneak me a galley.
I only just now got around to reading it, and I’ll admit that this one was a bit of a let-down. This book is dense, and packed with details that will surely fascinate those who are already fairly familiar with SIS history (or British history, at least) and the ins and outs of international relations during the Cold War. The subtitle of Queen of Spies is “Daphne Park, Britain’s Cold War Spy Queen,” and though the book opens on an harrowing moment of Park in Moscow in the 50s and then dives into her childhood in Africa, Daphne Park is sometimes very difficult to find on the pages of a book supposedly about her.
There is much conjecture in these pages, as many of the details of Park’s missions are still highly classified, and the liberal use of “must have” and “might have,” while understandable, grew tiresome at times. And when the story veered away from Park–as it often did–it was easy to go five pages without so much as a passing mention of Park. While I understand some background is absolutely necessary to put Park’s missions and postings into the broader context, Queen of Spies often read more like an espionage textbook of whos and whens and whys, rather than the purported story of one woman. I found it difficult to connect with Park or her adventures, even with the use of her own words to tell her story, and sometimes felt a bit lost in the names, dates, locations, and acronyms of the intelligence community.
Park certainly had a knack for earning herself turbulent postings–Moscow, as previously noted; the Belgian Congo on the eve of its independence; Hanoi in the 1960s–and I appreciated that Hayes didn’t shy away from pointing out the struggles Park faced for her sex and the incredible glass ceilings she shattered. But I didn’t find much here that convinced me that Park deserved the title “Queen of Spies.” I’ll certainly be seeking other books about women in intelligence, because the one major thing I did learn from this book is that the contributions of women to our modern understanding of espionage have been both many and vital.
Cloak & Dagger 2017 Book Count: 3
Next up: The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman
If you’ve got a spy book recommendation for me, let me know in the comments below!