Ian Fleming’s master espionage agent with a license to kill has proven an enduring character, as the dozens of James Bond movies with their rotating cast of leading men would attest. However, Fleming did not simply craft Bond out of thin air; rather, he was, by most accounts, heavily inspired by the WWII British double agent Dusko Popov, a Serbian playboy who narrowly escaped being executed by the Nazis in 1937 and went on to join the Abwehr and British intelligence. Larry Loftis chronicles Popov’s wartime career and explores the influence on Fleming, who shadowed Popov at least once during the war, in Into the Lion’s Mouth.
Loftis’ book is meticulously researched, and includes a lengthy bibliography, an expansive set of end notes, and reproductions of the some of the key source documents he uncovered in the course of his research. He also includes a table comparing the characteristics of Popov, Bond, and others who have been cited as inspirations for Bond. In addition, one of the appendices to the book includes a rather lengthy list of sources supporting the proposition that Popov was the primary inspiration for Bond. Loftis is forthright about the primary source material that chronicles Popov’s activities during the war. Where there are inconsistencies, Loftis explores them and offers his own explanation for both the source of the inconsistency and the probable truth.
And the truth is that Popov was a master double agent. He joined British intelligence shortly after joining the Abwehr, and he spent the war funneling information to the British and disinformation to the Nazis. He provided an early warning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; sadly, J. Edgar Hoover (then director of the FBI) does not appear to have passed Popov’s warning on to anybody outside the FBI. One cannot help but wonder if the Japanese attack would have played out differently had Popov’s warning not gotten trapped within the FBI. Popov also managed to trick the Nazis into providing a significant amount of money to British Intelligence, all while managing to keep his cover intact and convince the Nazis of his continued value to them.
Popov survived the war and went on to flourish as a businessman. Loftis provides an epilogue that wraps up the story in a manner befitting its protagonist. The book provides some fascinating insight into the world of WWII international espionage, and is well worth the time of anybody who enjoys Fleming’s work or the many movies it has inspired.