Truman Capote said:
“Writing has laws of perspective of light and shade just as painting does or music.”
Being a mystery writer, I have to agree with Truman on this one. Everyone has their favorite shading of genre. Adjust the variation of setting and pace and you may have a cozy. Add a trill of thrill and you have an action suspense novel. Put your main character fighting against any number of governmental agencies or threats to it and you have a spy thriller.
Spy thrillers are not my personal favorite mystery genre, although I have read some good ones: le Carre”s novels were stunning, as were the Bourne series. Some of the earliest spy novels were made into delightful movies, like Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. I decided to let you in on the favorites of someone who should be an expert on the subject: Frederick Hitz, the former inspector general of the CIA. Here are his picks for the top four fictional agents.
Rudyard Kipling’s Kim: Hitz point out Kim’s excellent cover: an Anglo-Irishman who assume native dress and darken his face so he can pass as an India. Kim’s employer in provides institutional cover for British spies in India, using Kim at first to deliver news of troop movements along the Grand Truck Road. Recruited to the service, Kim is sent to surveying school to perform surveys in the outback, where is keeps his eye on French and Russian intruders. Then Kim becomes a manservant to a wandering Tibetan Buddhist holy man, which gives him the freedom to travel anywhere in India. Hitz says Kim “has excellent spy instincts. He’s a watcher.”
James Bond: Think how many people would be disappointed if Hitz hadn’t hit on Ian Fleming’s Bond, James Bond. Hitz admits Bond “isn’t a very careful spy” but points to Dr. No and From Russia with Love as illustrating the great ops security which both show it does not pay to get too close to Mr. Bond. Booth manages to escape being swallowed up by a swamp-eating protective machine policing Dr. No’s Cayman Island. In Russia, Bond’s sidekick is “eliminated” by a KGB assassin trying to gun down 007, who of course, survives.
George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is John le Carre’s creation. Described as “small, podgy and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance one of London’s meek who do not inherit the earth.” Interesting how appearances can be deceiving, isn’t it? And his gift of going relatively unnoticed made Smiley a master spy, one who knew that in his profession, to stay alive meant “there is no such thing as coincidence.” This was one case where casting got it absolutely correct in the BBC series when they hired Alec Guinness to play George.
Frederick Forsyth’s Jackal is meticulous in his trade and craft. In The Day of the Jackal Hitz notes “a maximum of preparation is required when you intend to assassinate a heavily guarded chief of state and want to survive the attack. Stealing multiple identities, adopting different guises, the Jackal is exhaustive in the minutia of his work. The famous ending revolves around an unanticipated simple human act of kindness.
Who would you add to Hitz’ hit list?