Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent War Hero Who Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor
"A beguiling tale of espionage and double-dealing in the years leading up to World War II. ... Strap in for a narrative that demands a suspension of disbelief—and richly rewards it." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review); Best Books of February Selection
The untold story of the World War I hero who became a fixture of high society in Golden Age Hollywood—all while acting as a double agent for the Japanese Empire as it prepared to attack Pearl Harbor
Frederick Rutland’s story is a rags-to-riches coup for the ages—a lower-class boy from England bootstraps his way up the ranks of the British military, becoming a World War I pilot, father of the modern aircraft carrier, cosmopolitan businessman, and Hollywood A-list insider. He oversaw this small empire from his mansion on the fabled Bird Streets of Beverly Hills. Snubbed for promotion in the Royal Air Force due to little more than jealousy and class politics, Rutland—to all appearances—continued to spin gold from straw, living an enviably lavish lifestyle that included butlers, wild parties, private clubs, and newsworthy living . . .
. . . and it was all funded by the Japanese Empire.
Beverly Hills Spy reveals the story of Rutland’s life of espionage on behalf of the Axis, selling secrets about fleet and aircraft design to the Japanese Imperial Navy that would be instrumental in its ability to attack Pearl Harbor, while collecting a salary ten times larger than the best-paid Japanese admirals. Based on recently declassified FBI files and until-now untranslated documents from Japanese intelligence, Ronald Drabkin brings the scope of this unforgettable tale into full focus for the first time. Rutland hides in plain sight, rubbing elbows with Amelia Earhart and hosting galas and fundraisers with superstars like Charlie Chaplin and Boris Karloff, while simultaneously passing information to Japan through spy networks across North and Central America. Countless opportunities to catch Rutland in the act are squandered by the FBI, British Intelligence, and US Naval Intelligence alike as he uses his cunning and charm to misdirect and cast shadows of doubt over his business dealings, allowing him to operate largely unfettered for years.
In the end, whether he fully intends to or not, Rutland sets in motion world events that are so monumental, their consequences are still being felt today.
Beverly Hills Spy is a masterpiece of research on spy craft, a shocking narrative about an unknown but pivotal figure in history, and brings new information to light that helps us understand how Pearl Harbor happened—and how it could have been prevented.
Praise for Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent War Hero Who Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor
"A beguiling tale of espionage and double-dealing in the years leading up to World War II. . . . Drabkin’s expertly narrated yarn, based on a trove of recently declassified documents, is constantly surprising, and it’s just the thing for thriller fans who enjoy kindred fictions of the Alan Furst variety. Strap in for a narrative that demands a suspension of disbelief—and richly rewards it." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[H]istorian Drabkin debuts with a riveting account of Frederick Rutland (1886–1949), a British WWI hero who spied for the Japanese on the eve of WWII. As a celebrated naval aviator . . . Rutland developed a taste for publicity and a lifestyle beyond his reach. Overlooked in the peacetime British military, he offered his services to the Japanese Navy . . . The Japanese later helped Rutland relocate to Los Angeles to spy on the U.S. Navy and develop an agent network. With the Japanese government funding his lavish lifestyle, he rubbed elbows with the most famous English actors in Hollywood at the time, including Alan Mowbray and Boris Karloff, . . . and Charlie Chaplin, whose former butler Toraichi Kono became a key player in Japan’s espionage network. . . . Drabkin writes with a novelist’s flair, roving between far-flung ritzy settings (Hollywood, London, Tokyo) and notable personages (from J. Edgar Hoover to Amelia Earhart). Readers will be swept up." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Thanks to recently declassified FBI files, Drabkin discovered why the UK, US, and Japan would prefer to keep their dealings with Frederick Rutland, aka 'Agent Shinkawa,' secret forever. . . . The life of a spy has never seemed so addictive or harrowing. Drabkin takes an evenhanded approach, portraying Rutland as complicated—equal parts hero and villain. This winning and dramatic biography pierces the veil of secrecy surrounding historical events." — Booklist
"Ronald Drabkin’s Beverly Hills Spy is a fascinating true tale of . . . an intelligence agent who, while living amid the movie-star glitter and comforting sunshine of Hollywood during the years inexorably counting down to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, was dutifully working for the Japanese intelligence service as well as any other espionage agency that would have him—and pay him, often lavishly." — Air Mail
“A rip-roaring ride through the world of espionage and the tortured existence of a deeply flawed man who spent years of his life trying to redeem himself. Drabkin makes the biggest moments of the 20th century come vividly alive through his storytelling.” — Kate Andersen Brower, New York Times bestselling author of The Residence and First Women
“An incredible story of British WWI hero ‘Rutland of Jutland’ and his fascinating life spying for Japan before WWII. Frederick Rutland traveled the world and mingled with Hollywood celebrities, all while the FBI, MI5, and the Office of Naval Intelligence watched him closely. A reminder of a lesson learned long before 9/11 that when law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, and allies do not work together, the consequences can be deadly.” — Jeffrey Trussler, vice admiral (retired) US Navy and former director of Naval Intelligence
“What a fascinating tale this is—of espionage, of aviation, of heroism and betrayal, of class boundaries in the US and the UK. It is a dramatic story from the pre–World War II era with resonance today.” — James Fallows, National Book Award–winning author of National Defense and former White House staffer
“Beverly Hills Spy is an unforgettable story—class politics, the interim between World Wars, heroes, traitors, espionage—set among the backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood. Readers will be shocked to learn the untold tale of Frederick Rutland, and the instrumental role he played in the attack on Pearl Harbor.” — Kirk Wallace Johnson, author of The Feather Thief and The Fishermen and the Dragon
“Expertly researched and written with flair, Beverly Hills Spy sheds fresh light on how one of the 20th century’s greatest cataclysms came to pass. Centered on the morally murky exploits of a war hero who loved the high life too much, Ronald Drabkin’s book crackles with rich details about the paranoia and misunderstandings that poisoned relations between the United States and Japan. All narrative history should be this revelatory, and this compelling.” — Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start
"A masterpiece of espionage nonfiction, Beverly Hills Spy takes readers through the exploits of famed aviation pioneer Frederick Rutland. But was Rutland a hero or traitor? Ronald Drabkin’s take on the story is filled with intrigue that will leave readers guessing why one of the greatest naval aviators of all time decided to help the Japanese Navy's attack on Pearl Harbor and how Rutland was connected to WWII secrets of Hollywood’s elite." — Brett Velicovich, author of Drone Warrior and Fox News contributor
“By using previously overlooked sources from three countries, Ronald Drabkin reveals the compelling story of one of the early twentieth century’s most important yet least-known spies. Frederick Rutland’s story carries important lessons about the nature of intelligence gathering in peacetime—and how it can be combatted. It also raises questions about how governments can best protect their secrets while preserving and protecting civil rights, even in wartime.” — Bradley W. Hart, author of Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States