The Spy Who Loved Me is Keepin’ All My Secrets Safe Tonight*

The spy thriller doesn’t really fit neatly into the crime fiction genre. Certainly there are crimes committed in spy stories; but those novels generally aren’t ‘whodunits,’ or even ‘why/howdunits.’ Their suspense comes from the ‘cat-and-mouse’ plot, or sometimes from the question of which characters can be trusted and which can’t. There are other ways, too, in which spy novelists add tension and suspense to their stories.

The spy novel can take a number of forms, too. For instance, Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have done their share of espionage. In novels such as By The Pricking of My Thumbs and N or M?, they find ways to outwit highly placed and well-funded spies. By no means are they bumbling amateurs, but they’re also not the sort of people we usually think of when we picture a ‘typical’ spy. And that’s part of what makes them successful.

It is for Dorothy Gilman’s Emily Pollifax, too. As fans can tell you, at the beginning of the series, she’s a widowed New Jersey woman with grown children. She’s looking for a new purpose when she sees an advertisement from the CIA. She’s selected for what’s supposed to be a very easy mission: a simple delivery to Mexico. No espionage or other spy activity is involved. But things don’t work out that way, and Mrs. Pollifax is soon in much deeper than anyone thought. As the series continues, she shows the advantage she has in not looking threatening. She’s simply a late-middle-aged woman going about her business. This series is cosier than a lot of spy series are; and in that sense, it’s not, strictly speaking just a set of spy novels. But it does show the diverse ways in which fictional spies find their way into the genre.

The Cold War between the UK, USA, and their allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies provided a very effective context for some memorable fictional spies and spy thrillers. For instance, it would be hard to discuss fictional spies without discussing the work of John le Carré. His George Smiley (and some of this other characters) have become iconic. And the stories are as much about the characters as they are about the espionage and the ‘thriller’ aspects of his novels. Novels such as Call For the Dead and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold take readers into the lives of the people in the various spy agencies. That makes them more human, and it’s one reason for which many people argue that he’s the best in the spy/espionage genre.

But there are plenty of others. Authors such as Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum and Jack Higgins have also created memorable stories. The Cold War has frequently been the context for those stories, but so has World War II and its aftermath.

Today’s world, of course, is a changing landscape in terms of geopolitical realities. And authors such as Daniel Silva and Tom Clancy have addressed those changes. So has le Carré, among others. And we can see in both this changing landscape and the sorts of spies and other espionage artists that there isn’t only one way to be a spy.

But in popular culture, perhaps the most memorable spy is Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Whether you’ve read the books, seen the films, or both, it’s hard to deny that character’s influence. And it’s not hard to see why. Bond is suave, sophisticated, and smart. He has all sorts of gadgetry at his disposal, and he travels in some of the highest circles. He’s got plenty of skills, too, from baccarat to boating. And there are the women…

Several actors have portrayed Bond over the years, and we could certainly debate about which one was the best Bond. One of them, Sir Roger Moore, left us yesterday, and he will be missed. In the years between 1973 and 1985, he took the role of Bond in films such as Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, Moonraker and Octopussy. He may not have originated the role, but he definitely left his mark on the franchise.

I know, I know, fans of The Saint; he left his mark there, too.

What about you? Do you read espionage/spy novels like Fleming’s, Deighton’s, Ludlum’s or Clancy’s? Which spy characters have stayed with you?

 

In Memoriam

This post is dedicated to the memory of Sir Roger Moore, who brought Bond to life for many people.

 

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s Nobody Does it Better.

28 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Daniel Silva, Dorothy Gilman, Ian Fleming, Jack Higgins, John le Carré, Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy

28 responses to “The Spy Who Loved Me is Keepin’ All My Secrets Safe Tonight*

  1. Col

    I always preferred Roger Moore as Bond to Sean Connery, probably because I had grown up with him as the Saint. I do like an espionage tales every so often, though I haven’t delved too far into many series. I think Brian Freemantle’s Charlie Muffin is going to be a firm favourite – off the back of one book read! Deighton, Le Carre, Silva and others are on the pile waiting.

    • I hope you’ll like them when you get to them, Col. And thanks for mentioning the Charlie Muffin series. I admit I’ve not had the chance to try that one – yet. Next time I’m ready for an espionage story… In the meantime, I have fond memories of the Moore Bond films, too.

  2. I have read all the espionage authors you mentioned, except for Jack Higgins, and I want to try a book by him. I also want to try the Charlie Muffin series that Col mentioned. Roger Moore will be missed.

    • I really want to try the Charlie Muffin series, too, Tracy. And I’ll be interested in what you think of Jack Higgins. As for Roger Moore, I agree; he will be missed.

  3. Margot, because I was once upon a time employed in the collection and dissemination of highly classified intelligence, I have a soft spot in my heart for cloak-and-dagger espionage tales; my favorite by Le Carre (better as a writer in his early works) is his first — Call for the Dead. One of my other favorites from long ago was The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. A huge favorite among nonfiction accounts is Cheevers’ Act of War: http://www.jackcheevers.net/

    • Thanks, Tim, for sharing both your experiences and your books choices. I didn’t know you’d been in the intelligence service. I agree with you that Call for the Dead is a very strong novel; I can see why you like that one so well. And the Clancy is very good, too. Thanks also for suggesting Act of War.

      • Yes, I worked for the Naval Security Group (subordinate reporting to NSA) from ’66-’69. Encryptions, code-words, intercepts, surveillance and more. My final tour with NSG involved keeping tabs electronically on Cuba while in GITMO.

  4. My mother was pregnant with me when she met Roger Moore when he visited Melbourne for Fabergé fragrances. She says he was absolutely charming and didn’t take himself seriously at all. So many great stories coming out in the wake of his death. A life well lived and a lovely tribute, Margot.

    • Thank you, Angela. And it’s very good to know that Moore was pleasant in person, and not too stuck on himself. And how exciting that your mum had the chance to meet him! A brush with fame – fun! You’re right, too, that his was a life well-lived.

  5. I’ve always had a soft spot for Roger Moore, not so much from Bond but from his days as The Saint (obviously that was in my previous life… 😉 ) One of my favourite series from way back then, though, was The Persuaders, with two of my then heart-throbs – Moore and Tony Curtis. Moore also always seemed like a genuinely nice chap whenever he appeared on an interview programme. I’m glad you highlighted him – because of the tragic news this week, there haven’t been the kinds of tributes to him over here as there normally would have been. Hopefully there will be once things have settled back to some kind of normality:)

    • I hope so, too, FictionFan. In fact, that was why I didn’t mention Moore yesterday; it wouldn’t have been right to do that. But he was influential, and in the interviews I’ve seen, he always did seem both pleasant and authentic. Never seemed to buy into the hype, if I can put it that way. I admit I’ve not seen The Pretenders, but I did like him very much as Simon Templar. And he did justice to the Bond role, too. He will be much missed.

  6. Margot: Moore was Bond to me. Impossibly handsome, suave, debonair and a killer smile. What mere mortal could rival him?

  7. He was the ideal Bond, all the right qualities! Sadly espionage is one of my less favourite types of read so I’m lacking in examples for this post!

  8. Roger Moore does seem to have been a lovely man.
    I will read almost any spy thriller, well at least try any writer once, and have read most of those you mention. I would also add 2 Josephs -Joseph Hone, a writer from a while back who I have recently discovered, and Jospeh Kanon, a current writer whose most recent spy novel, Defectors, is out shortly – it’s terrific.

    • I agree with you, Moira, about Roger Moore. And thanks very much for the suggestions of both Hone and Kanon. Like you, I’m always interested in trying new-to-me authors, and with strong characters, a good spy thriller can really draw the reader in. Two more new authors for me to explore, for which thanks.

  9. Len Deighton is my favourite writer of spy novels, I think. And my favourite fictional spy is Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in the file of the Ipcress File – that wonderful theme music and opening sequence.
    Roger Moore: there is always something attractive about a man who doesn’t take himself too serious . . .

    • I agree, Christine, about men who don’t take themselves too seriously. So nice not to have to deal with huge, hype-fed egos! I don’t blame you for being especially fond of Deighton; he is such a talented writer, and does such an effective job of character development without losing the plot. And Michael Caine was great in The Ipcress File (Must watch that again!)

  10. kathy d.

    I haven’t read spy thrillers nor seen too many movies, but have seen my share enough to know that Roger Moore was captivating and attractive as James Bond. The quintessential Bond.

  11. I liked him as The Saint much more than as James Bond. So much so that I bought some of “The Saint” Audible books. Alas, not nearly as good as the TV show.

    • You’re not alone, SRB. Plenty of people remember Moore very fondly in that role. I admit, I’ve not read or listened to the novel; sorry to hear they didn’t live up to the promise of the TV show.

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