A spy and a small prayer

Any author who gains an enthusiastic endorsement from John Le CarrĂ© certainly gets my vote every time. And I have to admit Ben Macintyre's Sunday Times bestseller The Spy And The Traitor is simply cracking.

Le CarrĂ© claims it's "The best true spy story" he's ever read and I have no hesitation in saying "Amen" to that. In my opinion, acclaimed author and broadcaster Macintyre has written a riveting account of Oleg Gordievsky's remarkable career as a covert MI6 spy, so riveting in fact that even Frederick Forsyth has gone so far as to say that "if any spy writer were to put it in a novel it would not be believed".

I found it difficult to put this amazing book down while I was working in Tenerife last month. From the moment I boarded the plane in Bristol and discovered that super spy Gordievsky had realised he was under suspicion when he noticed his apartment door locked differently, I was completely hooked. It was such a good read that I read it three times, savouring each succulent chapter as if it was a delicious piece of sirloin.

If you aren't familiar with the Gordievsky story, I suggest you get acquainted with it as soon as you can. Gordievsky was chief of the KGB station in London in the mid 1980s and had worked his way to the top of the slippery pole that was the KGB bureaucracy at a pivotal moment in the Cold War.

He obviously had access to intelligence of the highest order, intelligence he regularly passed on to his handlers in London well aware of what exposure would mean. The thought of a bullet in the back of the head does wonders for the concentration.

Macintyre makes a compelling case that Gordievsky was the most important spy in post-War history and one whose audacity and bravery may well have averted nuclear conflict. The most compelling part of the book for me, however, focuses on the astonishing rescue plan that sprung into operation following his recall for "discussions" back in Moscow.

In a spine-chilling account we discover that he alerted his MI6 contact by means of a Safeway bag and received confirmation that his message had been understood via a munched Mars bar. You couldn't make it up!

The incident that stands out most in my mind, though, occurred at the Finnish border when Gordievsky's escape team were trying to spirit him across in the boot of a car. As they waited for clearance, a Soviet sniffer dog began to circle the boot snuffling away as only border dogs can do.

Any betting man would have said it was all up for Gordievsky. But at that crucial moment Caroline Ascot, the wife of the MI6 chief, had a flash of inspiration and changed her baby's nappy using the boot for support. For unbelievably, "with immaculate timing", her little baby Florence had just filled it, much to the disgust of the aforementioned dog.

A remarkable coincidence some would say. But, as we know the more we pray the more coincidences like this happen. And so it should come as no surprise then to find that hundreds of miles away a senior Foreign Office official in London had glanced at his watch and said, "Ladies and gentlemen they should be crossing the border about now. I think it would be appropriate to say a small prayer." Now there's a challenge as we navigate the turbulent waters of Brexit.

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.