Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945

4.14 avg rating
( 1,241 ratings by GoodReads )
9780006530633: Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945

The secret of SOE’s code war revealed for the first time… ‘As a comedy about the British at war, Leo Marks’s book ranks with the fiction of Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh.’ Observer

• This is the witty, engrossing and highly personalised account of Leo Marks’s experiences during the Second World War. He worked for the SOE – responsible for placing, monitoring and communicating with all British secret agents working in enemy territory. Marks played a crucial role, re-inventing how agents sent coded messages back to London and using every trick in the book to get his way.
• Between Silk and Cyanide is a great mixture of high level espionage, cynical commentary on government power struggles, human feeling for the agents risking everything for the war effort, and a keen sense of the absurd.

‘Leo Marks never made it into the field himself. But his memoirs are as explosive as any sabotage conducted by those who did… Leo Marks never once loses contact with the personal courage and sufferings of the agents in the field, the reality which so shames the Whitehall warriors in the eyes of posterity… His tale is by turns fiery, scabrous, infuriating and deeply tragic. The eyes mist over, the throat constricts; the heart thumps. I found Between Silk and Cyanide impossible to put down.’ DONALD CAMERON WATT, Independent

‘Irrepressibly witty and readable chronicle of a Candide in the madhouse of secret bureaucracy… It’s made up of reconstructed dialogue and amazing anecdote. Many readers who think they are allergic to Maths will be astounded to find themselves reading and even grasping the devilish poetry of figure-ciphering… But at the centre of the Book is the black mystery of the worst disaster of Britain’s secret war. The fun and satire of Between Silk and Cyanide sparkle against a dark background of anger and grief.’ Neal Ascherson, Observer

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.


Twenty-three is awfully young to find yourself with the power of life and death...Leo Marks failed the examination to go and work on codes at Bletchley by being just too good and too much of a smart aleck. Instead, he was imposed on a not entirely willing Special Operations Executive (SOE) to teach coding to agents dropped into Europe and to decode the sometimes indecipherable messages they sent back at great risk to their lives. His speeches to his staff on the mortal danger of slowness or carelessness are classics of guilt-tripping. Absence of mistakes made him suspect that the Germans had captured SOE's Dutch agents--his youth and personality meant that his superiors were slow to believe him. In his spare time, he revolutionized cryptography by inventing one-time-only pads, and wrote poems for agents to use as keys--including the poem associated with Violette Szabo, "Odette".

This is a moving memoir of the agents like Odette and Noor Inayat Khan, whose fates we already know and whom he tried in vain to protect. This is a powerful memoir of war, responsibility and guilt; Marks, hitherto famous as screenwriter on Peeping Tom and son of the 84 Charing Cross Road family, has written a classic. --Roz Kaveney


Martin Scorsese A mesmerizing account of World War II as fought on the home front in Great Britain by the ingenious codemakers whose work determined the life and death of the Allied agents in occupied Europe. Leo Marks, a brilliant cryptographer, is a masterful and passionate storyteller. I was immediately swept into his secret world of codes and "undecipherables," trying at times (without success) to unravel the puzzles myself, and found it difficult to put down the book until the drama had come to an end.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace


Marks, Leo
Published by HarperCollins Publishers (1999)
ISBN 10: 000653063X ISBN 13: 9780006530633
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Irish Booksellers
(Rumford, ME, U.S.A.)

Book Description HarperCollins Publishers, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 000653063X

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds