"A Taste for Treason: The Letter That Smashed a Nazi Spy Ring" by Andrew Jeffrey is a superbly-researched and grippingly-written account of the efforts of Nazi Germany's spymasters to gather intelligence on Britain, France, the USA and elsewhere in the years leading up to World War Two and the early part of the war itself. This is a book that can be highly recommended to anyone with an interest in military history, in World War Two, or in the dark arts of espionage.
The book's subtitle is "The Letter That Smashed a Nazi Spy Ring" and this gives the book a point of focus. On Friday, 28 January 1938, MI5 intercepted a letter sent from New York to a Dundee hairdresser called Jessie Jordan for onward posting to a contact in Germany. We return to this letter and to Jessie Jordan at various points during the book and the skill with which the author has woven his story of a worldwide web of intrigue around it is both remarkable and compelling.
The sometimes very difficult relationship between MI5 and the FBI is charted as it slowly develops before and then into the war, then as it blossoms into a much deeper and broader transatlantic intelligence relationship. Meanwhile the German intelligence agencies emerge from the book with a school report that would for the most part read "must try harder". They did have notable successes, especially in pre-war France. But on the whole they are portrayed - very convincingly - as bumbling amateurs. Their selection of agents tended to be disastrous and the intelligence targets they selected often resulted in the gathering of information of low or no value; or which could have been gleaned far more easily and with much less risk by other means.
The rear cover blurb gives a good sense of what lies within the book: "Dundee, 1937. When housewife Mary Curran became suspicious of hairdresser Jessie Jordan's frequent trips to Nazi Germany, she had no idea that she was about to be drawn into an international web of espionage. Thanks to a tip off from Mary, MI5 and the FBI launched major spy hunts on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the true story of a decade-long series of Nazi espionage plots in Britain, Europe and the United States. It shows how a Nazi spy's letter, posted in New York and intercepted in Scotland, broke spy rings across Europe and North America. And it reveals, for the first time, how that letter marked the genesis of an intelligence and security alliance that today includes the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand."