Clare Mulley

Sidney Reilly, Ace of Spies, remains an enigma

Suave, savage and irresistible to women, the Bond-like character takes many secrets with him to his – unknown – grave

Sidney Reilly seems destined to remain a man of mystery. [Getty Images]

‘James Bond is just a piece of nonsense I dreamt up,’ the former naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming once said. ‘He’s nota Sidney Reilly you know.’

Sidney Reilly was not really Sidney Reilly either; but he was certainly a James Bond. Born Sigmund or Schlomo Rosenblum (this is a book full of caveats), he spoke possibly six languages and identified at different times as an Englishman, an Irishman, a Greek or Turkish merchant, a German machine-tool operator and a Tsarist officer.

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