Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Maugham, W. Somerset (1941). Ashenden: The British Agent. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Date Updated: March 30, 2015
This book is from a list I obtained from Nigel West. Nigel West is an author specializing in security, intelligence, secret service and espionage issues. He is the European Editor of the World Intelligence Review, published in Washington DC, and the editorial director of The St Ermin’s Press. In 1989 he was voted” ‘The Experts’ Expert” by The Observer. He writes regularly for SpearsWealth Management Survey and works with The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies. He judges this book as one of the best spy novels
Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was already a well-known and established British author when he visited Russia in 1917. Living in Switzerland, where he hoped the air would help his tuberculosis, Maugham was recruited by British Military Intelligence 1c (MI 1c), the office that evolved into MI6 in later years. This office dealt with overseas military intelligence, and Maugham’s job was to watch German agents in Switzerland. Maugham later wrote a fictional account of his work in Switzerland in a series of spy stories, Ashenden.
Ashenden is a collection of short stories based on the author’s personal experiences during the First World War. It is considered by Nigel West as one of the Best Spy Novels by Spies’
In Russia Maugham witnessed the arrival of Lenin and the rapid collapse of the Kerensky regime. He reported back that only a large amount of money or a massive invasion with troops, or both, could stop the Russian Revolution. But the Allies were engaged at the moment in fighting the Central Powers, and Maugham’s advice at first fell on deaf ears.
Disillusioned with espionage, and his tuberculosis unimproved, Maugham returned to Switzerland, retired from the spy business, and worked on his fiction. He was lucky he got out before Dzerzhinsky organized his round-up of foreign agents. While Maugham worked his Swiss experience into some of his fiction, he never wrote about his time as a British agent in Russia.
Maugham was born in Paris, and studied medicine at St. Thomas Medical School in London. He wrote a number of major works, including Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), and Cakes and Ale (1930). He produced the Ashenden series on espionage in 1928. He died at his villa in the south of France in 1965