Last month I did my first blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag’ where a theme is chosen each month and then people share, discuss, recommend and review the books that fit that theme.
For the July the theme was Dystopian Fiction which made me go all kinds of whoop because where dystopia goes, there go I.
The post is here if you would like a peek. You will find it is significantly more wordy than this months post on…
I don’t know.
Right, glad we got that out of the way. Let’s move on.
I didn’t know so I asked my partner and said, “I think it’s to do with spies,” and he basically said, “Yes. That’s exactly what it is.”
So why bother calling it espionage? Why not call it ‘spy thrillers?’ if that’s what it is?
I honestly think I am out of my depth with this particular theme because I don’t know if I’m being too basic and am missing some subtle nuances here. Wikipedia (I love you, Wikipedia) tells me that espionage – or spying (it’s what it says) – is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information without the permission of the holder of the information.
When I think Espionage I think of World War One and Two and all the code breakers and agents that were creeping around behind enemy lines. I also think of James Bond. I don’t think I’m too far off if what I’m reading is correct.
For me personally I don’t know if I see the appeal of Espionage Fiction. I see James Bond in his suits with his gadgets looking all suave and then I see gritty Bourne and then I think of how exciting it must be to be a spy and to make an impact for your country or your organisation and how the thrill of danger must make people feel alive when you must dice close to death so often. Then I think of what happens when you think people might catch you and the risks you take and then I start thinking of cyanide pills and toenails and realise that this genre of fiction is not so removed sometimes from real events and I get uncomfortable.
In short, this theme is not for me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t an interesting theme, it’s just not for me.
A glance at Wikipedia tells me that just because I’m not interested in this theme that it doesn’t mean others aren’t.
Again life and fiction are never too far apart. Espionage books seemed to really pick off around the events that surrounded the use of intelligence agencies. World War Two and the Cold War, fascism and communism, piracy, international criminal organisations and technology hackers seem to stoke its fires.
Early examples according to the Wiki belong to a novelist called James Fenimore Cooper back in 1821 and 1831. Rudyard Kipling got into it with a book called Kim (1901) and apparently Sherlock Holmes isn’t just considered a detective but was a spy in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain’ back in 1904.
It was in the period between the two World Wars that British writers dominated the world of spies -I wonder if this was because of any real-life British intelligence involvement acting as inspiration – before the boom of Espionage Fiction occurred again after World War Two and the Cold War.
The literary names that I do recognise in this theme are Ian Fleming (Mr. Bond’s creator), William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks, John le Carre (a former spy!) and Graham Green (also a former intelligence officer!) – write what you know ladies and gents. Write what you know. Apparently it’s not uncommon for authors of spy thrillers to have actually been spies. I suppose in such a secretive world they will be the ones to have true insight and be able to paint a particularly detailed word picture!
I wonder if anyone would want to read a desk job thriller written by someone in HR?! I can make it sexy.
It seems the Brits and Americans are the most prominent writers of Espionage and I wonder if this is a cultural thing. That somehow, in some way, we find it rather glamorous and exotic.
This is based off of the ‘Popular Espionage Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 725 entries. The top ten are: –
- The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (John le Carre)
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carre)
- I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Ally Carter)
- The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
- Casino Royale (James Bond)
- Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (Ally Carter)
- Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover (Ally Carter)
- Only the Good Spy Young (Ally Carter)
- Stormbreaker (Anthony Horowitz)
- The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)
What do I think?
I’ve read none of them. I’ve heard of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Bourne Identity, The Hunt for Red October and Casino Royale (of course!) but mainly as movies. I have no heckin’ clue who Ally Carter is but one look at her Goodreads page tells me she writes teen heist books which I pretty much guessed.
Will I read any of them? In a word – no. I’m just not that into Espionage.
Last time around when I did this post I chose my personal Top 3 but I’m going to struggle because I don’t read this genre and I can only remember one book that I read that I liked.
So I guess my personal Top 1 is:-
Restless – this is by William Boyd and is about a woman who thinks her mother is confused and paranoid because she is imaging that people are coming for her. The daughter thinks this is ridiculous but then her mother tells her a story about how she was a secret agent in the second world war. The story flashes back between the present time with mother and daughter and to when the main character was a spy. There’s double crossing and danger and while it’s not normally my think I did think this was quite interesting and surprisingly enjoyed it.
What do you think of Espionage Fiction? Any favourites? What are your thoughts on the top 10 most popular? Have you watched them as movies rather than read them as books?
Let me know your thoughts!