Spy vs. Spy

February 11, 2015 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I’ve already sung the praises of Ed Brubaker in this blog, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it again. Brubaker is writing a couple of books I’m reading right now: The Fade Out, a noir tale set in 50s Hollywood, and Velvet a spy story which starts from the premise imagine Miss Moneypenny was James Bond (oh, and looked a bit like Susan Sontag). Great story.

like Brubaker’s other books, Velvet has a related essay on sources in the back. A few issues ago, Jesse Nevins, the author of said essays wrote about the evolution of spy fiction. While most people associate spy fiction with Fleming’s James Bond stories, Irvins directed readers to  the work of Len Deighton and John Le Carre.

Deighton’s Harry Palmer, Nevins argued was essentially mystery fiction moved to a level of international intrigue. nothing wrong with that, but he also suggested Le Carre’s universe of George Smiley was fairly close to the mark. A little research and I checked The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

It’s really quite a fantastic book, and the level of cynicism is amazing. In the work, which revolves around a plot to kill a high-ranking security officer in East Germany, the communists are ruthless, cold-blooded killer, but the “heroes” are no better. Happy to cast aside those who could be sacrificed for those, however nasty, who could be useful.  I raced through the book, then read The Looking Glass War, and am now on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, the first of the Karla novels.

Grubby, compelling stuff.


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The Thrill of Bond

October 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

After the seeing the James Bond exhibit at TIFF earlier this year, I decided to work my way through the cinematic version of Bond (it’s not a super high priority though.  So I’ve so far only watch the first two).

Recently however, I also decided to have a stab at the original Bond novels. Casino Royale was out at my local public library, so I began with Quantum of Solace a collection of Bond short stories.

The title story “Quantum of Solace” has very little to do with the Bond movie of the same name, and it’s quite a departure from Flemming’s other Bond stories. Essentially, Bond is at a dinner party as government official tells a story. It’s the story of a middle level bureaucrat who marries a flight attendant (Bond had earlier suggested if he ever married, it would be to a flight attendant). After the honeymoon phase, the attendant grows restless eventually launching a scandalous affair which humiliates her husband. Yet, the husband resorts to a quite unimaginable cruelty himself. It’s a clever little story with a bit of a twist at the end, but it’s nothing like a spy story. Maybe that’s why it works.

“Quantum” follows “For Your Eyes Only” (although again, not much like the movie of the same name) which is a more typical Bond story, and which reveals the essence of the character. ” FYEO” is the story of a former Gestapo officer living in Cuba buying up property by any means necessary, including of course murder. A pair of his victims are friends of M, who essentially sends Bond to murder the German and his Cuban gangster friends. Quite unglamorous, but a genuinely exciting story. Bond catches up with them in Vermont, but first he spends some time in Canada. This part is memorable for its description of Canadian government buildings:

Like most Canadian public buildings, the Department of Justice is a massive block of grey masonry built to look stodgily important and to withstand the long and hard winters.

The best Bond stories, like the movies are not the ones with gadgets (remember Bond’s invisible car embarrassment?), but the ones that focus on espionage. On the fact that all governments are dirty and in many ways there’s very little to distinguish them. And of course we all like to root for the “hero.” It’s the thrill of Bond.

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