Summary and book reviews of The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley

The Spy Who Loved

The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville

by Clare Mulley

The Spy Who Loved
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 448 pages
    May 2014, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Book Summary

Acclaimed biographer Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary story of Britain's first female special agent of World War II, a charismatic, difficult, fearless, and altogether extraordinary woman.

The Untold Story of Britain's First Female Special Agent of World War II

In June 1952, a woman was murdered by an obsessed colleague in a hotel in the South Kensington district of London. Her name was Christine Granville. That she died young was perhaps unsurprising; that she had survived the Second World War was remarkable.

The daughter of a feckless Polish aristocrat and his wealthy Jewish wife, Granville would become one of Britain's most daring and highly decorated special agents. Having fled to Britain on the outbreak of war, she was recruited by the intelligence services and took on mission after mission. She skied over the hazardous High Tatras into occupied Poland, served in Egypt and North Africa, and was later parachuted behind enemy lines into France, where an agent's life expectancy was only six weeks. Her courage, quick wit, and determination won her release from arrest more than once, and saved the lives of several fellow officers - including one of her many lovers - just hours before their execution by the Gestapo. More importantly, the intelligence she gathered in her espionage was a significant contribution to the Allied war effort, and she was awarded the George Medal, the OBE, and the Croix de Guerre.

Granville exercised a mesmeric power on those who knew her. In The Spy Who Loved, acclaimed biographer Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary history of this charismatic, difficult, fearless, and altogether extraordinary woman.


Perhaps appropriately for a secret agent, the deceptions and confusions that surround Christine's life start with her birth [Although she was 'Krystyna' until 1941, to prevent confusion I consistently use her adopted name, 'Christine', of which, she later wrote, she was so proud]. One story has it that Christine was born at the Skarbek family estate on a stormy spring evening in 1915, and that her arrival coincided with the appearance of Venus, the evening star, in the sky. As a result she was nicknamed 'Vesperale'. In an even more romantic version of events, she was born 'in the wild borderlands between Poland and Russia', to a family that was noble, 'tough, used to invasions, warfare, Cossacks, bandits and wolves'.1 In fact Christine arrived in the world on Friday 1 May 1908. One of her father's childhood nicknames for her was 'little star', but she was born at her mother's family ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The book is called The Spy Who Loved because Christine was a passionate woman. She loved action and adrenalin. She loved men, and they loved her, and she loved freedom and independence - both for her country, Poland, and for herself, personally. What do you think she was most passionate about?
  2. Mulley writes that Christine "lived boundlessly, as generous as she could be cruel." What do you think were Christine's greatest strengths, and what were her weaknesses?
  3. What do you think Christine would have done with her life if the Second World War had not taken place? What do you think she would have gone on to do with the rest of her life, were it not for her untimely death?
  4. Did you know much about female special agents during the ...
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BookBrowse Review


This biography insightfully explores Christine Granville's ineffable qualities and illuminates a little-known, but fascinating character from history. Christine was indeed a spy who loved. She loved freedom, Poland, a handful of interesting men, and a life full of adventure. Fans of WWII history, espionage, or James Bond will be delighted by this real-life espionage story.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (1048 words).

Media Reviews

Better than any James Bond novel… The most frank and comprehensive tribute yet to Christine… A thrilling account.


This summer’s most spellbinding saga of espionage and adventure.

The Wall Street Journal

Well-written and thoroughly researched

The Daily Beast

Outstanding...more eye-popping adventures than we’d find plausible in any novel or movie.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Mulley] gives a remarkable, charismatic woman her due in this tantalizing biography.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

Compulsively readable… [Mulley] has written a thrilling book, and paid overdue homage to a difficult woman who seized life with both hands.

Sunday Times (UK)

Brings alive a glamorous, swashbuckling heroine.

Mail on Sunday (UK)

Engrossing biography details the high-voltage life of one of Britain's most remarkable female spies... Fascinating.

The Sunday Express (UK)

Mulley's fastidiously researched tome provides the most detailed picture yet.

The Telegraph (UK)

[A] splendid book… [a] captivating female version of the Scarlet Pimpernel… Christine Granville remains as alive, well and compelling as ever: a figure of radiant magnetism, ruthless determination and a courage that – as several of them attested – could make a strong man shudder

Literary Review

Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources, Clare Mulley's The Spy Who Loved is a fine account of Christine Granville's extraordinary war, told with skill and care... Mulley succeeds in making her human... What is quite clear from this inspiring biography is that Granville was as charismatic as she was courageous.

Daily Mail (UK)

This book, massively researched and excitingly told, brings an extraordinary heroine back to life.

The Spectator (UK)

This is a meticulously researched but also highly readable account of [Granville's] heroic but unfulfilled and deeply tragic life, without any attempt at gloss. It is one of the most exciting books I've read this year.

The Economist

Assiduously researched, passionately written and highly atmospheric biography… Not just the story of a uniquely brave and complicated patriot, but also a scholarly and tautly written account of secret operations in occupied Europe.

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Beyond the Book

The Special Operations Executive

Christine Granville worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an organization set up to assist European resistance movements and according to Winston Churchill, "to set Europe ablaze." The SOE was formed from three different but overlapping units: a propaganda unit known as Department EH run by a Canadian newspaper magnate; Section D, a division of the Secret Intelligence Service focused on sabotage and propaganda; and a department of the War Office, known as MI R. In July 1940, all three were rolled into one organization - the Special Operations Executive.

Although expectations were high for the SOE, there was trouble in the early months. The organization faced three primary challenges: how to recognize resistance movements, ...

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