The assassination of Georgi Markov bore all the hallmarks of a Russian wet job

In September 1978 Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian émigré writer, waited at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge on his way to work at the BBC World Service. Feeling a sting in his right thigh, he looked round to see the man behind him picking up his apparently fallen umbrella. The man apologised in a foreign accent and hastily crossed the road where he hailed a taxi. Markov felt feverish that night, was admitted to hospital and within four days was dead. ‘The bastards poisoned me,’ he told doctors, as they struggled to identify what was wrong with him. ‘The bastards poisoned me,’ Markov told doctors, as they struggled to identify

How much would your family stump up for your ransom?

‘I can’t quite believe I’m here, having a steak dinner with a killer,’ writes Jenny Kleeman, as she sits with a hitman for the big opening to her book about the price we put on life. Someone paid to take lives is about to spill the beans on his dark trade. There should be tension. There should be jeopardy. We should be worried about Kleeman’s safety. So why does it feel a bit flat? It is difficult to find a hired gun, obviously. This one is John Alite, who was ‘a hitman for the Gambino dynasty’. However, he is now ‘a motivational speaker’ and ‘host of several podcasts’, and seems

Who planned Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson’s murder?

Until very recently, political assassination was a mercifully uncommon occurrence in British politics, though that has changed. Previously when such murders did happen, they were usually associated with Ireland: the 1882 Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, the killings of Airey Neave and Lord Mountbatten, and numerous unsuccessful plots and near misses. One spectacular example occurred in June 1922, when Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson was shot dead outside his Mayfair house by two IRA operatives called Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, who were swiftly captured and hanged, after a trial whose procedures were sharply criticised by George Bernard Shaw among others. Wilson is not much remembered

‘It was all a fairy tale’: Lina Heydrich’s description of the Holocaust

There have been many biographies of Reinhard Heydrich, the cold, cynical head of the SS in the Third Reich, but none quite like this one. Nancy Dougherty, an American film critic and biographer, died in 2013 before finishing a very large manuscript. The book was put into shape by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, an old friend of hers, who died in 2018. It now sees the light of day years after the research and writing was carried out, but it is a fine posthumous monument to both author and editor. What makes this biography different is not the life of Reinhard but his wife Lina. Dougherty spent three long sessions in the

After Aberfan, clairvoyants had a field day

In the wake of catastrophe, however random or unpredictable, one of the first things people can be relied upon to do is look around for somebody to blame. There isn’t always an obvious candidate, of course, but disaster makes us resourceful, and often the casting process is simply a matter of laying hands on someone who happens to be fairly near by and looks like a good enough fit for the role. Assigning responsibility is an extremely effective therapy, after all, restoring a feeling of control over the capricious environment. Someone should have known, we insist. Someone ought to have seen this coming. John Barker, the central figure of The

Lasting infamy: Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler, reviewed

Were it not for an event on the night of 14 April 1865, John Wilkes Booth would be remembered, if at all, as an actor; brother of the more famous Edwin, and son of Junius Brutus – a footnote to the history of American theatre. But that night Booth leaped on to the stage of Ford’s theatre, Washington D.C., shouting ‘Sic semper tyrannis!’ before fleeing. He had just shot Abraham Lincoln. Five days earlier the Civil War had officially ended. Booth, a Confederate sympathiser, feared Lincoln would overthrow the constitution – he was already promising votes to freed slaves. The assassination was Booth’s way to ‘avenge the South’. Karen Joy

Ahmad Shah Massoud was Afghanistan’s best hope

Ahmed Shah Massoud was described as ‘the Afghan who won the Cold War’. While famous in France (he was educated at the Kabul lycée, and the French saw him as the ultimate maquisard who drove a super-power out of his country), he is not a familiar figure in Britain. This book, a rich and detailed account of the travails and tragedy of Afghanistan between 1976 and Massoud’s murder in 2001, will correct that. Sandy Gall’s knowledge of the jihad is encyclopaedic. He was the first well-known journalist to make the dangerous journey into occupied Afghanistan and bring the human cost of this terrible war to our TV screens. To produce

Why Haiti’s president was assassinated

There was a time when Haiti was at the centre of the New World. It was one of the richest islands on the globe, producing cane sugar for the sweet tooth of Europe. It cultivated coffee, cotton and rice, and it produced rum. The Pearl of the Antilles, the island stood at the gateway to all the resources of South and Central America. Mexico, with all its gold, lay just beyond Haiti’s northernmost cape. Great powers of the era — France, Britain, Germany, and the United States — vied for political and military control. Now Haiti is failed state. Failed by the West after centuries of violence and resource extraction and

The truth behind Putin’s hit lists

If we are to believe the gossip, Vladimir Putin draws up death lists the way ordinary people jot down their shopping. And bang on schedule, as Joe Biden makes a point of labelling him a ‘killer,’ not one but two death lists materialise from parts unknown. This weekend the Daily Mirror — not, it has to be said, usually a Kremlinologist’s ‘must-read’ — claimed that Putin is ‘now beside himself with rage’ and is drawing up lists of would-be victims, saying ‘we have long arms. No scum can hide from us.’ The quotes come from an unnamed office of Russia’s much-feared Federal Security Service (FSB), which is apparently planning how

The ruthless politics of Pakistan — and the curse of being a Bhutto

Hours after Benazir Bhutto arrived back in Pakistan on 18 October 2007, two bombs exploded near the bullet-proof truck carrying her as it inched through hundreds of thousands of supporters in Karachi. She had returned after eight years in exile in an attempt to become prime minister for a third time. As with other major incidents in Bhutto’s life, Victoria Schofield, her friend from their time at Oxford, was there. ‘Suddenly, without warning, there was a loud explosion, the impact of which literally blew me out of my chair,’ she writes. More than 140 people died. Bhutto survived. Straight after the blasts Schofield found her at home. ‘She showed me