Sailor, painter, doctor, lawyer, polyglot, and writer, Dmitri Bystrolyotov
(1901–75) led a life that might seem far-fetched for a spy novel, yet here
the truth is stranger than fiction. The result of a thirty-five-year journey
that started with a private meeting between the author and Bystrolyotov
in 1973 Moscow and continued through the author’s subsequent
research in international archives, Stalin’s Romeo Spy: The Remarkable
Rise and Fall of the KGB’s Most Daring Operative pieces together a life lived
in the shadows of the twentieth century’s biggest events.
One of the “Great Illegals,” a team of outstanding Soviet spies operating
in Western countries between the world wars, Bystrolyotov was
the response to Sidney Reilly, the British prototype for James Bond.
A dashing man, his modus operandi was the seduction of women—
among them a French embassy employee, a German countess, the wife
of a British official, and a Gestapo officer—which enabled Stalin to look
into diplomatic pouches of many European countries. Risking his life,
Bystrolyotov also stole military secrets from Nazi Germany and Fascist
Italy. A man of extraordinary physical courage, he twice crossed the
Sahara Desert and the jungles of Congo.
But his success as a spy didn’t save him from Stalin’s purges, at the
height of which he was arrested and tortured until he falsely confessed
to selling out to the enemy. Sentenced to twenty years of hard labor in
the Gulag, Bystrolyotov risked more severe punishment by documenting
the regime’s crimes against humanity in unpublished and suppressed
memoirs that rival those of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
The first full-length biography in any language, at once a real-life
spy thriller, a drama of desire, and a prison memoir, Stalin’s Romeo Spy
is the true account of a flawed yet extraordinary man.