Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Multitude of Favorites 4: Espionage Writers

Okay, so, so far I've covered my favorite Horror writers, Speculative fiction writers, and "Literary" writers. Time to go all secret agent here.

I miss the Cold War.

In no particular order, here are my favorite writers of spy stories:

Eric Ambler. If you like old Alfred Hitchcock movies, you'd love Ambler. His work was romantic and darkly atmospheric, taking you to all sorts of seedy and exotic places with his hapless heroes. He did his best work between the two world wars, in that strange period of uncertainty and shifting politics. Favorites-- A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, JOURNEY INTO FEAR and EPITAPH FOR A SPY.

Grahame Greene. No one could do the burnt-out agent in far-away lands like Greene. His books were exciting and complex, but also had a remarkably dark sense of humor. I love OUR MAN IN HAVANA and MINISTRY OF FEAR.

Adam Hall. Hall's "Quiller" series is fantastic, balancing the sort-of "real world" feel of someone like John LeCarre with the outstanding action of James Bond. And Quiller himself is a great character-- cynical, ever-closer to burn-out, but thoroughly capable. Favorites-- THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, QUILLER KGB, and THE NINTH DIRECTIVE.

Edward S. Aarons. His "Assignment" series about Cajun secret agent Sam Durell went on for years; after Aarons died, the series continued, ghost-written under the name Will B. Aarons. Those aren't as good, sad to say. But the ones Aarons wrote were top-notch-- exciting, suspenseful, and chock full of exotic locations and great action. I recommend, especially, the first few: ASSIGNMENT TO DISASTER, ASSIGNMENT-TREASON, and ASSIGNMENT-SUICIDE.

And finally, Alan Furst, the only modern writer on this list. All of Furst's work takes place during WWII, and even though recurring characters are rare, it becomes increasingly clear as you read them that they occupy the same dark and romantic world. Amazingly suspenseful, melancholy, but with surprising bits of action, they're pretty addictive. Favorites include THE POLISH OFFICER, THE WORLD AT NIGHT, and KINGDOM OF SHADOWS.

Some that came close to making my list: John LeCarre (THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD is just brilliant), Donald Hamilton's great Matt Helm series, and Len Deighton (especially THE IPCRESS FILE and FUNERAL IN BERLIN). But I can't include everyone, can I?


  1. Charles McCarry is another good one.

  2. I like the Joe Gall series by Philip Atlee, but have read and enjoyed all the ones you mentioned. Especially Donald Hamilton. And IDO like the James Bond books.