Spying is about secrets and secrets are power … power over your fellow man. You can make him do just about anything – right or wrong, good or bad – when you know his secrets.
The art of spying is dangerous. Yes, successful spying is an art that has been around quod longo tempore – since a long time. Generally speaking, in wartime, “professional” spying is punishable by death. This excites the imagination and, therefore, people continue to be fascinated by spy stories.
Spy stories sell. The truer the better.
Look around you: count how many spy stories are being created by the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Premium – in fact the entertainment industry in general, including, of course the literary world.
Most of it is unrealistic rubbish, but fortunately not all. At least not in the English-speaking world. The Brits and the Americans have, over the years, produced a group of authors who excelled in writing about spying convincingly and with style.
I thought you might enjoy becoming acquainted with the names and work of fifteen outstanding practitioners of this art over the last two centuries.
1. The Tale of the Neutral Ground by James Fenimore Cooper (1821)
2. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers (1903)
3. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)
4. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
5. The Informer by Liam O’Flaherty (1925)
6. Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham (1928)
7. Red Harvest by Dashiel Hammett (1929)
8. Wanderer by Sterling Hayden (1963)
9.The Quiet American by Graham Green (1955)
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré (1974)
11. The Eiger Sanction by Trevenian (1973)
12. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (1980)
13. Berlin Game by Len Deighton (1983)
14. Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst (2004)
15. The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius (2017)
I leave it to you to figure out which of these authors had really done some actual spying.
To help you in your endeavors I suggest you read British master spy Kim Philby’s own memoir, My Silent War, the Autobiography of a Spy, Random House, (New York, 1968), a compelling, yet breathtakingly arrogant and self-serving account of his career, but one which provides a great deal of fascinating detail.
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