The bugged shoes and poison brollies are fun and fascinating. But why are the sections about state-sponsored torture and assassination so uncritical?
Sitting in a glass case, standing out against a backdrop of deep red, theres an ice axe that still bears a rust mark, the consequence of a bloody fingerprint left on it decades ago. One day in 1940, this axe was hidden inside Ramn Mercaders suit jacket, suspended by a string, as he walked into the office of Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary living in exile in Mexico, having been sentenced to death as an enemy of the people in his home country.
Mercader slipped behind Trotskys desk and brought the axe down with tremendous force, penetrating two-and-three-quarter inches into his skull. Trotsky died 26 hours later. Mercader served 20 years in prison then returned to a heros welcome in Moscow. On his deathbed in 1978, his last words were: I hear it always. I hear the scream. I know hes waiting for me on the other side.
The Mexican police department kept the axe as evidence, later putting it on display. When its museum director retired in the 1960s, the axe was presented to him as a gift. He passed it on to his daughter who, for 40 years, slept with it under her bed before finally putting it up for sale in 2005. This extraordinary remnant of Stalins murderous rule eventually found its way into the International Spy Museum, which has just opened in Washington DC.