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Reviews of Beverly Hills Spy by Ronald Drabkin

Beverly Hills Spy

The Double-Agent War Hero Who Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor

by Ronald Drabkin

Beverly Hills Spy by Ronald Drabkin X
Beverly Hills Spy by Ronald Drabkin
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2024, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

In the spirit of Ben Macintyre's greatest spy nonfiction, the truly unbelievable and untold story of Frederick Rutland—a debonair British WWI hero, flying ace, fixture of Los Angeles society, and friend of Golden Age Hollywood stars—who flipped to become a spy for Japan in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Frederick Rutland was an accomplished aviator, British WWI war hero, and real-life James Bond. He was the first pilot to take off and land a plane on a ship, a decorated warrior for his feats of bravery and rescue, was trusted by the admirals of the Royal Navy, had a succession of aeronautical inventions, and designed the first modern aircraft carrier. He was perhaps the most famous early twentieth-century naval aviator.

Despite all of this, and due mostly to class politics, Rutland was not promoted in the new Royal Air Force in the wake of WWI. This ignominy led the disgruntled Rutland to become a spy for the Japanese government. Plied with riches and given a salary ten times the highest-paid admiral, shuttled between Los Angeles and Tokyo where he lived in large mansions in both Beverly Hills and Yokohama, and insinuating himself into both LA high society and Japan's high command, Rutland would go on to contribute to the Japanese navy with both strategic and technical intelligence. This included scouting trips to Pearl Harbor, investigations of military preparedness, and aircraft technology. All this while living a double life, frequenting private California clubs and hosting lavish affairs for Hollywood stars and military dignitaries in his mansion on the Los Angeles Bird Streets.

Supported by recently declassified FBI files and by incorporating unique and rare research through MI5 and Japanese Naval archives that few English speakers have access to, author Ronald Drabkin pieces together to completion, for the first time, this stranger-than-fiction story of one of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters of espionage history.

Chapter 1
Pearl Harbor

December 6, 1941

Admiral Husband Kimmel, the commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, granted a rare interview to reporter Joseph Harsch of the Christian Science Monitor. Harsch asked whether Kimmel believed the Japanese would attack the United States.

"No, young man. I don't think they'd be such damned fools."

This was the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The United States had double the population, vast natural resources, and an economy five times larger than Japan's. It wasn't that the Japanese couldn't attack. It was that they wouldn't. Like many Americans, Kimmel thought that if the Japanese were to attack the far more powerful United States, it would be tantamount to them committing national suicide.

Despite his flippant attitude, Kimmel did have clues that an attack could come. The US Army and Navy were reading many Japanese codes, under a top secret program called Magic. US Navy headquarters had recently sent Kimmel war-warning memos...

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BookBrowse Review


When it comes to espionage, not only is truth stranger than fiction, sometimes it can be downright unbelievable. Ronald Drabkin's exceptionally entertaining account of World War I hero Frederick Rutland, Beverly Hills Spy, is all the more jaw-dropping because it's entirely true. Beverly Hills Spy is a rollicking narrative of brazen spy craft, buttressed with new revelations and insights that will significantly add to studies of Pearl Harbor and WWII military intelligence...continued

Full Review Members Only (862 words)

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

Air Mail
Ronald Drabkin's Beverly Hills Spy is a fascinating true tale of ... an intelligence agent who, while living amid the movie-star glitter and comforting sunshine of Hollywood during the years inexorably counting down to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, was dutifully working for the Japanese intelligence service as well as any other espionage agency that would have him—and pay him, often lavishly.

Thanks to recently declassified FBI files, Drabkin discovered why the UK, US, and Japan would prefer to keep their dealings with Frederick Rutland, aka 'Agent Shinkawa,' secret forever... . The life of a spy has never seemed so addictive or harrowing. Drabkin takes an evenhanded approach, portraying Rutland as complicated—equal parts hero and villain. This winning and dramatic biography pierces the veil of secrecy surrounding historical events.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A beguiling tale of espionage and double-dealing in the years leading up to World War II... . Drabkin's expertly narrated yarn, based on a trove of recently declassified documents, is constantly surprising, and it's just the thing for thriller fans who enjoy kindred fictions of the Alan Furst variety. Strap in for a narrative that demands a suspension of disbelief—and richly rewards it.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Drawing on recently declassified files, historian Drabkin debuts with a riveting account...Drabkin writes with a novelist's flair, roving between far-flung ritzy settings (Hollywood, London, Tokyo) and notable personages (from J. Edgar Hoover to Amelia Earhart). Readers will be swept up.

Author Blurb James Fallows, National Book Award–winning author of National Defense and former White House staffer
What a fascinating tale this is—of espionage, of aviation, of heroism and betrayal, of class boundaries in the US and the UK. It is a dramatic story from the pre–World War II era with resonance today.

Author Blurb Jeffrey Trussler, vice admiral (retired) US Navy and former director of Naval Intelligence
An incredible story of British WWI hero 'Rutland of Jutland' and his fascinating life spying for Japan before WWII. Frederick Rutland traveled the world and mingled with Hollywood celebrities, all while the FBI, MI5, and the Office of Naval Intelligence watched him closely. A reminder of a lesson learned long before 9/11 that when law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, and allies do not work together, the consequences can be deadly.

Author Blurb Kate Andersen Brower, New York Times bestselling author of The Residence and First Women
A rip-roaring ride through the world of espionage and the tortured existence of a deeply flawed man who spent years of his life trying to redeem himself. Drabkin makes the biggest moments of the 20th century come vividly alive through his storytelling.

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Beyond the Book

From Stagecraft to Spy Craft: Celebrity Spies

The history of celebrities dabbling in espionage is a fascinating one. As Ronald Drabkin illustrates in Beverly Hills Spy, famous people often have opportunities to gather intelligence from high-value sources. Who would not want to socialize with a beautiful or handsome star?

Poster of Josephine Baker advertising her performance at the Strand TheaterOne of the most audacious celebrity spies during World War II was Josephine Baker, an American-born French singer, dancer, and actress. When France declared war on Germany in September 1939, Baker was recruited by French military intelligence as an "honorable correspondent" and worked directly with the head of French counterintelligence in Paris. She attended parties at embassies, ministries, night clubs, and other social gatherings, charming German ...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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