Sunday 18 October 2009

Spy Fiction and Spy Fact - the connections

Interesting article in The Times from May 2009 by friend of this blog Jeremy Duns, who has re-tweeted about it (?!). He demonstrates that the creation of the MI-5 service in the UK - about which I'm reading currently in the excellent Defence of the Realm book - was in part influenced by the mania before and during the First World War for spy fiction, particularly stories about the threat of German espionage. Colonel James Edmonds was friends with William Le Queux, a writer who'd written a novel about the existence of German spy rings in the UK in a novel called The Spies of the Kaiser.

Duns goes on to recount how the path of spy fiction's growth mirrored closely the real-life development of the secret service during the thirties, when Somerset Maugham (himself an agent) and Eric Ambler set the scene for the genre to develop further as a form of fiction. Bringing his review into the sixties, Duns writes about the twist in the genre, with the uncovering of the Cambridge spy ring leading to a trend for stories about 'moles' by Deighton and others in the sixties and seventies. Despite the ending of the Cold War leading to the 'retirement' of some spy fiction authors, Duns notes a renaissance in the genre with in particular the Bourne films and the books of both Alan Furst and, of course, his good self, with the great reception for his Free Agent book.

An excellent article by Jeremy. Hat-tip to him, as the custom is nowadays (though few bloggers, in my experience, actually wear hats).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for the hat tip, Rob. I sometimes have a browse through Twitter to see if I can find any spy news, and was interested to see the TimesVideo feed ask 'Are spy novels fictional?' Even more interested to click on the link and find my Sunday Times article from May. They've added an audio documentary to the top of the article about Bletchley Park, so I retweeted. Glad you enjoyed - keep up the great work with the site and the blog!

    Jeremy (in a fedora)