The author: "Nigel West", ie Rupert Allason, the maverick, litigious former Tory MP and specialist in spooks, dumped by the voters of Torbay in May and now returning with a vengeance to the spy-book business.

The book: Counterfeit Spies (St Ermin's Press/ Little, Brown, pounds 18.99), in which "West" explodes the claims of two dozen or so rival titles in the field. He takes fishy tales of Second World War derring-do behind enemy lines and gleefully shows them up as fibs and fantasies foisted on publishers by plausible dreamers, or else outright crooks.

The deal: This fun but smug Blitzkrieg on competitors arrives as a taster for the St Ermin's Press: the new espionage imprint that Allason will oversee as the "Nigel West Intelligence Library". Ejected from politics, "West" is rebranding himself as the infallible "M" of spy scribblers. He'll have his work cut out, as quite a few historians treat him as a nuisance with a naive attitude to his sources.

The goods: It's unfortunate that "West" mocks his fake agents for re- telling the same yarns with different publishers. Back in 1984, he wrote Unreliable Witness which (how shall we say?) previewed this new tome. True, the spy- lie trade has moved on apace. "West" valuably nails some serial offenders such as "Christopher Creighton" (ie John Ainsworth-Davis), who in 1996 made another splash with his fanciful account of a plot to extract Martin Bormann from Berlin, OpJB. And he rubbishes (one more time) all those romantic tales of glamorous SOE agents keeping up their plucky silence in Gestapo torture chambers. Many of the more absurd cons filled the "vacuum of knowledge" in the years before we knew the truth about Britain's real wartime secret: the decisive decoding of the "unbreakable" German Enigma ciphers at Bletchley Park.

The verdict: As a catalogue of Walter Mitty fantasies and publishers' credulity (or worse) Counterfeit Spies hits the mark. However, "Nigel West" has been trading for almost two decades off revelations supplied by some disgruntled figures inside British intelligence. Much of this stuff is old hat and stale news. The true test of Allason's mettle will come later in the spring when he publishes an eagerly awaited volume on the KGB "crown jewels", based on newly opened archives. In the shadowy world of the spook book, you can hear the sound of sharpening knives...

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