The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage

The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage

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Overview

The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage by Anthony Burgess, John Steinbeck, John le Carré, Rebecca West

An anthology of the world’s best literary espionage, selected by a contemporary master of the genre, Alan Furst.

Here is an extraordinary collection of work from some of the finest novelists of the twentieth century. Inspired by the politics of tyranny or war, each of these writers chose the base elements of spy fiction—highly evolved spy fiction—as the framework for a literary novel. Thus Alan Furst offers a diverse array of selections that combine raw excitement and intellectual sophistication in an expertly guided tour of the dark world of clandestine conflict.

These are not just stories of professional intelligence officers. We meet diplomats, political police, agents provocateurs, secret operatives, resistance fighters, and assassins—players in the Great Game, or victims of the Cold War. The Book of Spies brings us the aristocratic intrigues of The Scarlet Pimpernel, in which French émigrés duel with Robespierre’s secret service; the savage political realities of the 1930s in Eric Ambler’s classic A Coffin for Dimitrios; the ordinary citizens (well, almost) of John le Carré’s The Russia House, who are drawn into Cold War spy games; and the 1950s Vietnam of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, with its portrait of American idealism and duplicity.

Drawing on acknowledged classics and rediscovered treasures, Alan Furst’s The Book of Spies delivers literate entertainment and excitement on every page.


From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588363428
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/13/2003
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 331,264
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Alan Furst is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. He is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, and Blood of Victory, all of which are available as Random House Trade Paperbacks. Born in New York, he has lived for long periods in France, especially Paris. He now lives on Long Island, New York.


From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

FROM A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS (1939)
 
Eric Ambler (1909–1998)
 
Where the line of geopolitical sophistication crosses the line of literary entertainment, there stands Eric Ambler. Born in London, Ambler wrote six novels of European intrigue—built on the politics of conflict that led up to World War II—before 1940. Ambler’s instinct for plot dynamics and character production is close to perfect—he is perhaps the most entertaining of all espionage novelists. Having grown up in a theatrical family, he wrote many screenplays, including training and propaganda films during the war, and his novels, sophisticated and authentic as they are, work hard at holding the audience. Along with A Coffin for Dimitrios, his best would include Journey into Fear, The Levanter, Judgment on Deltchev, and The Light of Day—which was made into the film Topkapi.
 
 
CHAPTER I
ORIGINS OF AN OBSESSION
 
A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.
 
It is one of those convenient, question-begging aphorisms coined to discredit the unpleasant truth that chance plays an important, if not predominant, part in human affairs. Yet it was not entirely inexcusable. Inevitably, chance does occasionally operate with a sort of fumbling coherence readily mistakable for the workings of a self-conscious Providence.
 
The story of Dimitrios Makropoulos is an example of this.
 
The fact that a man like Latimer should so much as learn of the existence of a man like Dimitrios is alone grotesque. That he should actually see the dead body of Dimitrios, that he should spend weeks that he could ill afford probing into the man’s shadowy history, and that he should ultimately find himself in the position of owing his life to a criminal’s odd taste in interior decoration are breath-taking in their absurdity.
 
Yet, when these facts are seen side by side with the other facts in the case, it is difficult not to become lost in superstitious awe. Their very absurdity seems to prohibit the use of the words “chance”and “coincidence.” For the sceptic there remains only one consolation: if there should be such a thing as a superhuman Law, it is administered with sub-human inefficiency. The choice of Latimer as its instrument could have been made only by an idiot.
 
During the first fifteen years of his adult life, Charles Latimer became a lecturer in political economy at a minor English university. By the time he was thirty-five he had, in addition, written three books. The first was a study of the influence of Proudhon on nineteenth-century Italian political thought. The second was entitled: The Gotha Programme of 1875. The third was an assessment of the economic implications of Rosenberg’s Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts.
 
It was soon after he had finished correcting the bulky proofs of the last work, and in the hope of dispelling the black depression which was the aftermath of his temporary association with the philosophy of National Socialism and its prophet, Dr. Rosenberg, that he wrote his first detective story.
 
A Bloody Shovel was an immediate success. It was followed by “I,” said the Fly and Murder’s Arms. From the great army of university professors who write detective stories in their spare time, Latimer soon emerged as one of the shamefaced few who could make money at the sport. It was, perhaps, inevitable that, sooner or later, he would become a professional writer in name as well as in fact. Three things hastened the transition. The first was a disagreement with the university authorities over what he held to be a matter of principle. The second was an illness. The third was the fact that he happened to be unmarried. Not long after the publication of No Doornail This and following the illness, which had made inroads on his constitutional reserves, he wrote, with only mild reluctance, a letter of resignation and went abroad to complete his fifth detective story in the sun.
 
It was the week after he had finished that book’s successor that he went to Turkey. He had spent a year in and near Athens and was longing for a change of scene. His health was much improved but the prospect of an English autumn was uninviting. At the suggestion of a Greek friend he took the steamer from the Piræus to Istanbul.
 
It was in Istanbul and from Colonel Haki that he first heard of Dimitrios.
 
A letter of introduction is an uneasy document. More often than not, the bearer of it is only casually acquainted with the giver who, in turn, may know the person to whom it is addressed even less well. The chances of its presentation having a satisfactory outcome for all three are slender.
 
Among the letters of introduction which Latimer carried with him to Istanbul was one to a Madame Chávez, who lived, he had been told, in a villa on the Bosphorus. Three days after he arrived, he wrote to her and received in reply an invitation to join a four-day party at the villa. A trifle apprehensively, he accepted.
 
For Madame Chávez, the road from Buenos Ayres had been as liberally paved with gold as the road to it. A very handsome Turkish woman, she had successfully married and divorced a wealthy Argentine meat broker and, with a fraction of her gains from these transactions, had purchased a small palace which had once housed a minor Turkish royalty. It stood, remote and inconvenient of access, overlooking a bay of fantastic beauty and, apart from the fact that the supplies of fresh water were insufficient to serve even one of its nine bathrooms, was exquisitely appointed. But for the other guests and his hostess’s Turkish habit of striking her servants violently in the face when they displeased her (which was often), Latimer, for whom such grandiose discomfort was a novelty, would have enjoyed himself.
 
The other guests were a very noisy pair of Marseillais, three Italians, two young Turkish naval officers and their “fiancées” of the moment and an assortment of Istanbul business men with their wives. The greater part of the time they spent in drinking Madame Chávez’s seemingly inexhaustible supplies of Dutch gin and dancing to a gramophone attended by a servant who went on steadily playing records whether the guests happened to be dancing at the moment or not. On the pretext of ill-health, Latimer excused himself from much of the drinking and most of the dancing. He was generally ignored.
 
It was in the late afternoon of his last day there and he was sitting at the end of the vine-covered terrace out of earshot of the gramophone, when he saw a large chauffeur-driven touring car lurching up the long, dusty road to the villa. As it roared into the courtyard below, the occupant of the rear seat flung the door open and vaulted out before the car came to a standstill.
 
He was a tall man with lean, muscular cheeks whose pale tan contrasted well with a head of grey hair cropped Prussian fashion. A narrow frontal bone, a long beak of a nose and thin lips gave him a somewhat predatory air. He could not be less than fifty, Latimer thought, and studied the waist below the beautifully cut officer’s uniform in the hope of detecting the corsets.
 
He watched the tall officer whip a silk handkerchief from his sleeve, flick some invisible dust from his immaculate patent-leather riding boots, tilt his cap raffishly and stride out of sight. Somewhere in the villa, a bell pealed.
 
Colonel Haki, for this was the officer’s name, was an immediate success with the party. A quarter of an hour after his arrival, Madame Chávez, with an air of shy confusion clearly intended to inform her guests that she regarded herself as hopelessly compromised by the Colonel’s unexpected appearance, led him on to the terrace and introduced him. All smiles and gallantry, he clicked heels, kissed hands, bowed, acknowledged the salutes of the naval officers and ogled the business men’s wives. The performance so fascinated Latimer that, when his turn came to be introduced, the sound of his own name made him jump. The Colonel pump-handled his arm warmly.
 
“Damned pleased indeed to meet you, old boy,” he said.
 
“Monsieur le Colonel parle bien anglais,” explained Madame Chávez.
 
“Quelques mots,” said Colonel Haki.
 
Latimer looked amiably into a pair of pale grey eyes. “How do you do?”
 
“Cheerio—all—the—best,” replied the Colonel with grave courtesy, and passed on to kiss the hand of, and to run an appraising eye over, a stout girl in a bathing costume.
 
It was not until late in the evening that Latimer spoke to the Colonel again. The Colonel had injected a good deal of boisterous vitality into the party; cracking jokes, laughing loudly, making humorously brazen advances to the wives and rather more surreptitious ones to the unmarried women. From time to time his eye caught Latimer’s and he grinned deprecatingly. “I’ve got to play the fool like this—it’s expected of me,” said the grin; “but don’t think I like it. ”Then, long after dinner, when the guests had begun to take less interest in the dancing and more in the progress of a game of mixed strip poker, the Colonel took him by the arm and walked him on to the terrace.
 
“You must excuse me, Mr. Latimer,” he said in French, “but I should very much like to talk with you. Those women—phew! ”He slid a cigarette case under Latimer’s nose. “A cigarette?”
 
“Thank you.”
 
Colonel Haki glanced over his shoulder. “The other end of the terrace is more secluded,” he said; and then, as they began to walk: “you know, I came up here to-day specially to see you. Madame told me you were here and really I could not resist the temptation of talking with the writer whose works I so much admire.”
 
Latimer murmured a non-committal appreciation of the compliment. He was in a difficulty, for he had no means of knowing whether the Colonel was thinking in terms of political economy or detection. He had once startled and irritated a kindly old don who had professed interest in his “last book,” by asking the old man whether he preferred his corpses shot or bludgeoned. It sounded affected to ask which set of books was under discussion.
 

Interviews

Alan Furst describes the area of his interest as “near history.” His novels are set between 1933–the date of Adolf Hitler’s ascent, with the first Stalinist purges in Moscow coming a year later–and 1945, which saw the end of the war in Europe. The history of this period is well documented. Furst uses books by journalists of the time, personal memoirs–some privately published–autobiographies (many of the prominent individuals of the period wrote them), war and political histories, and characteristic novels written during those years.

“But,” he says, “there is a lot more”–for example, period newsreels, magazines, and newspapers, as well as films and music, especially swing and jazz. “I buy old books,” Furst says, “and old maps, and I once bought, while living in Paris, the photo archive of a French stock house that served newspapers of Paris during the Occupation, all the prints marked as cleared by the German censorship.” In addition, Furst uses intelligence histories of the time, many of them by British writers.

Alan Furst has lived for long periods in Paris and in the south of France. “In Europe,” he says, “the past is still available. I remember a blue neon sign, in the Eleventh Arrondissement in Paris, that had possibly been there since the 1930s.” He recalls that on the French holiday le jour des morts (All Saints’ Day, November 1) it is customary for Parisians to go to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. “Before the collapse of Polish communism, the Polish émigrés used to gather at the tomb of Maria Walewska. They would burn rowsof votive candles and play Chopin on a portable stereo. It was always raining on that day, and a dozen or so Poles would stand there, under black umbrellas, with the music playing, as a kind of silent protest against the communist regime. The spirit of this action was history alive–as though the entire past of that country, conquered again and again, was being brought back to life.”

The heroes of Alan Furst’s novels include a Bulgarian defector from the Soviet intelligence service, a foreign correspondent for Pravda, a Polish cartographer who works for the army general staff, a French producer of gangster films, and a Hungarian émigré who works with a diplomat at the Hungarian legation in Paris. “These are characters in novels,” Furst says, “but people like them existed; people like them were courageous people with ordinary lives and, when the moment came, they acted with bravery and determination. I simply make it possible for them to tell their stories.”

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Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
sportswriter1 More than 1 year ago
If John LeCarre owns the spy world as it is today. Furst illuminates the past with equal mastery.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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