House of Spies

Title:                      House of Spies

Author:                 Peter Matthews

Matthews, Peter (2017). House of Spies: St. Ermin’s Hotel, The London Base of British Espionage. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press

OCLC:    991642666

UB271 .G7 M38 2016


Date Posted:      October 5, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

In his memoirs, My Silent War[2], Kim Philby wrote that in the summer of 1940, he was interviewed at the St. Ermin’s Hotel for a position in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). In retrospect, this was a signal event in the hotel’s history. In addition to rooms for recruiting interviews, MI6 had other offices in St. Ermin’s during World War II because the hotel was a block from its headquarters on Broadway (the offices were given up after the war). Thus the book’s claim that the hotel—still in operation today—was, as its subtitle suggests, the London base of British espionage does not apply after World War IL This contradicts the dust jacket blurb that states, “St. Ermin’s has been at the centre of British intelligence since the 1930s,” adding that “Ian Fleming and Noel Coward were found to be in the hotel’s bar.” Neither is mentioned in the book.

Author Peter Matthews does not account for these discrepancies. Moreover, his book adds a few more of them—for example, the omission of Philby’s recruitment story. Equally surprising, St. Ermin’s itself is barely mentioned in House of Spies. There is a chapter entitled “London Spies,” that comments on “the Cambridge spy ring” and its “association with St. Ermin’s Hotel,” but no association is ever established in the book and the occasional mention of the hotel bar makes no reference to any espionage operations. The chapter does discuss the recruitment of the Cambridge spies by the Soviets, but those events did not involve the hotel in any way. In short, the book has too many inexcusable errors. These might have been avoided had source notes been provided.

The bulk of the book is devoted to intelligence matters in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War—with only incidental mention of St. Ermin’s; interesting, but not on topic. House of Spies does not live up to the promise of its title.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 128). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] Philby, Kim (1968). My Silent War: The Soviet Master Spy’s Own Story with an introduction by Graham Greene. London: MacGibbon & Kee

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