‘This woman seems to be a double agent of the Soviets and the Germans,’ said a report of France’s Deuxieme Bureau in 1922. She spoke Russian, English, French, Italian and German fluently. She had a passionate affair with the British agent, Bruce Lockhart and became the mistress of both Maxim Gorky and H G Wells. A string of other lovers and a marriage of convenience gave her a title – Baroness Budberg – and access to some of the most powerful and distinguished men of her age. A Ukrainian aristocrat, she should have perished with the Russian Revolution yet she not only survived but swept in and out of Russia at will during the civil war and the Communist regime that followed. Directly or indirectly, she seemed to wrap both Lenin and Stalin around her many-ringed fingers.

But who was Moura Budberg, this mysterious femme fatale who flitted from affair to affair and broke the hearts of literary luminaries like H G Wells and Maxim Gorky? Did she spy for the Bolsheviks during the Revolution and the Communists thereafter? What was her exact role in the Lockhart plot set up to overthrow Lenin? And which counted more with her, a passionate love affair or the harsh realities of Cold War politics? While still in her thirties, she became the heroine of a Hollywood movie. In her forties, she translated Russian literature for the world to enjoy – and made a fortune as Gorky’s literary agent. In her fifties she worked in British publishing and counted among her friends agents like ‘Klop’ Ustinov and Guy Burgess. Long before he was ‘outed’ she told the authorities that Anthony Blunt was a Red agent; no one believed her.

This is the first book to make use of the Freedom of Information Act to evaluate the woman who was Moura. MI5 files, Lockhart’s unpublished diary, letters and extensive interviews with those who knew her help create a detailed and vibrant picture of one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century. As her lover H G Wells wrote, ‘But the Moura who was never really there has vanished now for ever and nothing in earth or heaven can bring her back.’