Cover Image: Beverly Hills Spy

Beverly Hills Spy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Thanks to Ronald Drabkin, William Morrow, and NetGalley for access to the Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What an interesting book! The unknown story of a British hero whose motivations lead him to spy for the Japanese with the very tragic consequences that we all know. The author brings the character to life and using previously classified information, highlights what various factions of US, British, and Japanese governments knew and did. Well done.

Posted to Goodreads manually due to link problems:

Was this review helpful?

An absolutely amazing story that will change the history of World War II.

Frederick Rutland was like a character out of a John LeCarre novel. A former World War I aviator of lower-class British origins, he became a rich businessman operating out of a mansion in Beverly Hills. That alone would make him a fascinating subject of a book, but in addition to all of that he was an agent of the Empire of Japan.

This book, with a subject worthy of the classics of their field by Ben Macintyre and others, tells the story of Rutland's espionage career on behalf of the Axis, all the while rubbing elbows with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Amelia Earhart. Part of what makes this story amazing is the utter failure of counterespionage. The FBI and British Intelligence failed to pick up on all the clues that he was a spy, as did the US Office of Naval Intelligence.

Only recently have his exploits been uncovered in now-declassified files. Hence this astonishing book.

Was this review helpful?

This book totally recontextualizes Pearl Harbor. A spy was clearly imbedded across multiple armies and double-crossed his country. I am excited to see what the reaction to this book will be, as it reshapes a lot of what we assume about Pearl Harbor.

Was this review helpful?

History is littered with people who are masters of rationalization. Ronald Drabkin's Beverly Hills Spy introduces us to another expert in dubious justification, Frederick Rutland. Rutland was a hero of World War I who was a pioneer within naval aviation. From there, every single nice thing you might say about him becomes a bit grayer. A devoted family man? Not if you ask his first wife. A fun party guest? Sure, as long as he gets to be the star. Patriot? Kind of, unless you count the time he spied for the Japanese against the United States right before World War II. Yes, he thought this was perfectly fine since he wasn't spying for the Japanese against Great Britain. The failure in logic was astounding and even Rutland seemed to realize it, but very late in the game.

Rutland's story is very interesting even if you want to wring his neck most of the time. Drabkin tells the story very smoothly and his prose is easy to read. The book does seem a bit short and there are a lot of characters. Sometimes Rutland fades into the background and the story suffers a bit. That said, there are certainly worse criticisms than, "I want more." It is highly recommended for World War II buffs who want to read a story they won't find many other places.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and William Morrow.)

Was this review helpful?

A true story of espionage set against the glamorous backdrops of Japan and Hollywood in the years leading up to World War II.

Once upon a time there was a British man named Frederick Rutland. You may never have heard of him (I certainly never had prior to reading this book), but he was responsible both for many advances in naval aviation and for (perhaps inadvertently) helping ready the Japanese navy to successfully attack Pearl Harbor. Pretty impressive for a man whose story today is not well known, Rutland rose from the lower classes in England to become a celebrated pilot for the British Navy and ultimately the RAF, at a time when most of his fellow pilots were drawn from monied families and elite schools. He was hard working, ambitious, and talented with all manner of mechanics. When the war ended, however, he didn’t end up getting the promotions which he felt he had earned in Britain and was enticed to travel to Japan, where his talents were both appreciated and rewarded. What started out as work sanctioned by his own government morphed over the years into decidedly grey territory. Rutland’s desire to live lavishly reached its pinnacle when he was asked to move to California to observe and report back to Japan what the US Navy was up to with its ships and the nearby airplane manufacturers. By the time it became clear that Japan would in fact enter into war against the US and Great Britain, would Rutland have a change of heart and provide information to those countries to avert a disastrous situation?

What a fascinating story! Frederick Rutland came up with ways to improve planes’ landing gears, design landing decks on aircraft carriers to make landings safer, and other very practical and important innovations that helped advance the capabilities of military aviation. He was at the same time a flawed individual, who developed a taste for being in the spotlight and resented the bigotry he sometimes experienced because of his humble origins. Although generally considered charming in social settings, he could come across as arrogant or condescending in his professional capacity….in fairness, because he often was smarter or more talented than those with whom he worked. Leading Japanese naval and intelligence people were willing to put up with Rutland’s often outrageously expensive demands in return for the very real value he brought to them, and slowly but deliberately pushed him over the line into espionage against the Americans. Rutland justified his actions by saying that (a) he didn’t think that Japan would ever actually go to war against the US, and (b) he wasn’t betraying his own country. While living in California, he and his family lived in a large home in the Hollywood Hills, and numbered among his acquaintances famous actors like Charlie Chaplin, Alan Mobray, and Boris Karloff, as well as people like Amelia Earhart and banker Eisuke Ono (who had a daughter named Yoko). Ian Fleming and J Edgar Hoover pop up too….quite the Who’s Who list! The various US intelligence agencies of the day were not good about working together and sharing information, and just as those rivalries and antipathies contributed to the successful attacks on 9/11 so did they play a factor in missed opportunities in those earlier years both by not uniformly acknowledging the threat to the US posed by Japan (the FBI felt that Nazis and Russian-sympathizing communists were the real dangers, while some in naval intelligence were very concerned about Japan) and in keeping information from one another. The same was true in England, and matters were further exacerbated by the British not wanting to reveal the embarrassing fact that one of their own war heroes was working against the US for Japan. The world knows how this situation ended on December 7, a941….facts revealed in this book make the reader wonder if only certain things had or had not been done, had information been shared and believed, might that attack have been averted? Fans of Ben Macintyre, Alexander Rose and Giles Whittell might find this book to be of interest, as should those who enjoy espionage stories real or fictional. The author speculates that Rutland might even have been one of the inspirations for James Bond, so Ian Fleming fans take note. Beverly Hills Spy is well written, the story moves along at a good clip, and Rutland is presented in a way that neither whitewashes his misdeeds nor condemns him completely for what he did and, perhaps more importantly, what he tried to do. Many thanks to NetGalley and William Morrow for allowing me access to a copy of this intriguing addition to the canon of spy stories.

Was this review helpful?

An absolutely fascinating look at a man few have heard of, but after reading, you will realize why.
Frederick Rutland was a British WWI aviator whose bravery and courage were well known at the time. His story impacts the way the Japanese were able to prepare for Pearl Harbor. He was able to travel between Japan and America through the 1930's and helped the Japanese build their planes. Nothing he did at the time was illegal. Drabkin has managed to research how the Japanese could so easily spy in America. They could walk up to the Navy Ports, the aircraft factories, and interact with Americans. It is quite an amazing story.
Naval intelligence and the FBI did not interact, and the build-up to Pearl Harbor was simply not believed.
When Rutland finally realized that, contrary to his expectations, Japan did plan on attacking the US, no one would believe him. When he returned to England to try to convince the, he was thrown in prison.
Stories that were particularly interesting involved Charlie Chaplin, who surrounded himself with Japanese servants. His major domo Kono eventually became a Japanese spy.
Ian Fleming was one of the interrogators of Rutland and perhaps used parts his personality for James Bond.
Drabkin takes many of these stories and weaves them into a fascinating tale of spies and war.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the EARC of this book.
This is my honest review. I found the book fascinating.

Was this review helpful?

A WWI British hero comes to America to spy for the Japanese in exchange for a cushy life. It’s an infuriating story. Frederick Rutland said he didn’t believe the Japanese would attack, that doing so would be suicide. Yet he did everything he could to help them succeed. The British knew what he was doing but didn’t bother to inform the US.
Also demonstrated was the inter-agency friction in the US, particularly between the Office of Naval Intelligence and the FBI. After Pearl Harbor, Hoover was adamant that Admiral Husband and General Short be blamed to avoid the failure being placed where it belonged, with the FBI.
Intriguing and disgusting.

Was this review helpful?

This book was filled from cover to cover with interesting facts on not only the “Beverly Hills Spy” but a broad array of important people who played key rolls in the lead up to the attack of Pearl Harbor. Reading all of the important scenarios that Rutland orchestrated and played a role in across numerous countries was riveting.

When starting this book I was hoping for an engaging storyline filled with true facts. However, at times I felt like I was reading from a textbook rather than an engaging story. The context was informative and well organized.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read and review this book as an ARC, and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Was this review helpful?

My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher William Morrow for an advanced copy of this new look at the buildup to World War II and the Japanese agent in California who changed history in many ways.

Intelligence agencies have an acronym they use to describe how they recruit agents to work against their own countries interests. More clearly to become traitors. MICE, is the term, which translates to Money, Ideology, Coercion and Ego. Money is the most popular, but results do vary, as a person might take the money and not do anything, or keep asking for more and more money, first class tickets, watches, houses, and promising much but delivering little. Ego works well also, there are always people who get annoyed at their lessers moving up, while nothing good every happens to them. Frederick Rutland was a British war hero, one who loved the publicity and fame that being a hero gave him with, and who wanted a good life for his wife and children, and himself. Working for the Japanese navy in the years between World Wars was one of those ways he could make lots of money, life a good life, and keep his hand in high society and technology. And change history. Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent War Hero Who Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor by first time author Ronald Drabkin is a story of a little-known player in world events who might have changed world events for both Japan and America, if not for the inter-agency battles that still plague intelligence agencies.

Japan at the end of the First World War was riding high with great plans for expansion and rewards from their allies for their efforts. Racism, especially from America soon dashed these hopes, giving the new found nationalism and militarism different targets to aim at. Japan needed help to increase the power and strength of their navy, and soon began to work with Britain designing carriers, and developing longer flight airplanes. Frederick Rutland was a British Naval war hero, a hero of Jutland for flight, and for rescuing a drowning sailor during a ship sinking. Much was expected from Rutland, as he was keen with technology, developing carrier landing, stronger landing gear for planes, and other accomplishments. However Rutland was brn common, and had an attitude. Soon Rutland was out and began to work with the Japanese at first overtly, than covertly, as attitudes and war fever began to build. The Japanese Navy paid for Rutland to move to California, Beverly Hills, and work to gain information on the naval strength and technology, while hobnobbing with the rich and famous. Rutland was happy to do this, gaining the observation of both the FBI and Naval intelligence. Whose handling of Rutland lead to an American disaster.

I knew nothing about Frederick Rutland, nor the Japanese espionage efforts in California, and really learned a lot from this book. I find it hard to believe this is Ronald Drabkin's first book. The research, the ease of writing in both technical, historical even class problems is very well done, and interesting. I had no idea there was an attempt to assassinate Charlie Chaplin, nor that would be his only brush with Japanese spies. Their really is a lot of information in this book, and I can't get over how much new information is being presented. There is a strong narrative drive that is rare in many history books, and the story never drags. A very well done book that raises a lot of questions and offers a new look at Pearl Harbor and how it was allowed to occur.

Recommended for history and World War II fans. Also for people who enjoy well written nonfiction. The story grabs one from the first pages, and keeps right up to then end where the author talks about his personal connections to the story. I look very forward to what the author has planned next.

Was this review helpful?

While Beverly Hills Spy is a factually accurate title - Rutland was a spy and lived in Beverly Hills - it has oversold the Hollywood angle of the biography a little. Of all the players, from England to Japan to the US, only three or so were major film figures (Boris Karlov, Alan Mowbray, and Charlie Chaplin), and the level to which Rutland was actually embedded in the movie colony is swamped by his dealings elsewhere, whether Japan or vis a vis US military interests. That said, the focus on Japan's relationship to the US and GB between the wars is a welcome change from the most well-trodden WWII territory. For folks who are interested in military history and 20th century geopolitics, this is a well-organized, interesting take.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Was this review helpful?

I was invested in reading this nonfiction book, it had a interesting concept and enjoyed learning about something that I hadn’t learned about Pearl Harbor. It was written perfectly and I thought the information was well written. Ronald Drabkin does a great job in writing this.

Was this review helpful?

This story was so intriguing that it was hard to put down. Ronald Drabkin started researching this book as he was poking around in old FBI files about his father who had worked in counterintelligence for the US Army in the 1950’s. His father’s story seemed to overlay with Frederick Rutland, as he was tracking people in the espionage world. The more he looked, the more that interesting information unfolded, and he felt compelled to write a book. In the author’s own words, he is one degree of separation away from most of the characters in this story.

Beverly Hills Spy is about Rutland, a swish WWI hero who came from a poor background and became a sailor then parlayed his experience into helping to develop the first aircraft carriers and then aircraft in Britain. His ability to solve issues and create new methods earned him high praise. He got pushed aside from further military duty because he was power hungry and a seeker of recognition. He bumped against his superiors who were all educated and he was terminated as he didn’t take orders well. With his job prospects dimming, he was contacted by the Japanese who at that time (1920’s) were in England looking to build their navy and build out their air capabilities as they were projecting their future conflicts, mostly with the US.

Rutland becomes an asset to the Japanese as he not only adds technical information, but volunteers to move to California and steal information at the new companies developing planes and military equipment. He works with various Japanese handlers and even starts a business in aircrafts in Japan, all while being financed by the Japanese military.

Rutland is such a fascinating character that at times you wonder how he did what he did! Rutland demands that the Japanese set him up living the high life as a cover. He hobnobs with the rich and famous of the times and works his British side to great effect in Beverly Hills. He befriends powerful players like Charlie Chaplin and Boris Karloff, and he passes himself off as an international businessman.

There is so much great information in this book, and it is also an easy engaging read. I highly recommend it. Great first book Mr Drabkin - keep looking in those declassified files.

Was this review helpful?

Learning in-depth background regarding Japan’s spying operations pre-WWII made “Beverly Hills Spy” a great read. Speculation that the main character—Fredrick Rutland—was the basis for Ian Fleming’s James Bond (Ian appears in this non-fiction book.) was icing on the cake. Details secondary to the main plot grew tedious at times, but the plethora of incredible espionage tidbits sprinkled though out more than made up for the digression.

Was this review helpful?