Thanks to the one-three punch of Casino Royale, MI-5/Spooks, and a re-read of Tim Powers' Declare, I am now obsessed with spies, secret agents, moles, and all things deceptive and paranoid. Recommend me some good books (fiction or non), movies, TV shows, or other media about spies.

I already have Sandbaggers in my Netflix queue, and have read (but not really understood) Stoppard's Hapgood. I have never read John LeCarre or any of the other spying classics (so recs of specific books rather than general recs of an author would be good.) I am particularly taken by the angst of spying, the paranoia, the confusion between persona and identity, and the possibility of agents becoming so doubled, tripled, or quadrupled that no one really knows what side they're on, including themselves.

I've read enough about the Enigma machine to be interested, but is there a book about it that isn't incomprehensibly technical?

Finally, is there any good history on early spying, like pre-twentieth century?

ETA: During a recent visit to Costco, during which Dad used his wife's card since he didn't have his own with him (which you're not supposed to do there), he confessed that while he was living at the ashram, a combination of boredom and LeCarre had gotten him so obsessed with spies that he used to pretend to be one and see how far he could sneak through low-level security without actually displaying his ID. Damn, I wish I'd known that two years ago; I would have definitely mentioned it in All the Fishes Come Home to Roost. My father, the secret agent, slipping undetected through life.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu

_The Bourne Identity_ (movie) is about an amnesiac special agent--not really a spy, but angst and confusion abound. I have not read the books, though I believe that [ profile] veejane thinks well of them.

I feel like there must be more, but I can't think of it now.

From: [identity profile]

Books are good, but very much a product of their era. Everyone smokes heavily, and the relationships are....dated.

The woman involved is a brilliant Canadian [economist?] as opposed to a bewildered Scandinavian hitchhiker. After the first one, the stories **really** diverge from the movies.

I quite liked both the books and the movies, though :)

From: [identity profile]

If you're going to read any of Le Carre (and I'd certainly suggest you do), you want The Spy Who Came In From the Cold first and foremost. It sounds like exactly what you're looking for.

Also excellent -- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is the first part of a loose trilogy, and also the best part. Second part is The Honourable Schoolboy, which bored me, and the third part is Smiley's People, which is weak in spots but has a great finish. Note: you don't need to read the second one in order to understand the third.

Nothing else Le Carre has written is anywhere close in quality to The Spy Who Came In ... and Tinker, Tailor ..., though many of the others are entertaining enough.

Alan Furst is greatly admired by many, but I'm sort of meh about him.

Some of Graham Greene's novels are very good on the spying and paranoia. The Human Factor is a personal favourite. The Third Man is way outside the normal conventions of the genre, but very good. The Quiet American is a must-read, and Our Man in Havana is a hilarious and apparently brutally accurate satire of cold war espionage.

From: [identity profile]

Thanks, that's exactly the sort of rec I was looking for.
ext_6428: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

Read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy first of LeCarre; or second, [ profile] em_h is probably right about The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, although I don't like it much. (Declare is the best LeCarre novel LeCarre never wrote.)

I do like Alan Furst, although I'd recommend NOT starting with the ones about the director in Occupied France, as they were weaker than the others I've tried. There's also Anthony Price; I recommend starting with Tomorrow's Ghost.

That may have used up my entire stock of thriller recs. Oh, wait, I've made you read Tracy Grant's Daughter of the Game already, right? Because if not, you should.

From: [identity profile]

Curiously enough, I just obtained Daughter from Book Munch, and was planning to start it today.

Do you have any particular recommendations on Furst?

From: [identity profile]

I believe I have the sequel to Daughter sitting around somewhere. If you like the first one, let me know and I'll go digging in the basement.
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Tom - No Fun)

From: [personal profile] cofax7

Alan Furst is your man, Rachel. He's awesome. Writes mostly WWII-era novels, a lot of them involving Russian or Soviet spies. Dark Voyage, one of his most recent, is about a Dutch merchant vessel that gets dragged into use for British intelligence purposes. Complex characterizations, good spycraft, believable people, gritty politics. Excellent stuff.
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)

From: [personal profile] cofax7

I thought Dark Voyage was a great read, and more accessible than some of his others. You should know that the women in his novels don't have as much to do as the male characters, but they act in believable ways.
the_rck: (Default)

From: [personal profile] the_rck

Most of the things I can think of are relatively old because I haven't read much in the way of spy related stuff since high school, but here goes--

As I recall, some of Helen MacInnes' books were good. It's been about twenty years since read one, however, so I can't remember which ones were good and which weren't.

I'm rather fond of the movie, Hopscotch. There's a book of the same name by Brian Garfield. As I recall, the movie has more humor and softer edges. Garfield's written several spy novels, including one called Paladin that's supposed to be at least quasi-historical (about an agent in WWII).

If you want a bit of a sampler and don't mind looking in the children's section at the library, you might be able to find a couple of anthologies by Robert Arthur that contain excerpts from longer works and short stories by people who wrote novels. Spies and More Spies is the title that's coming to mind. I'm nearly certain there was a companion volume.

While there, you might also look for American Spies by Richard Deming. It's a collection of kid appropriate (sanitized and propagandized) spy stories from U.S. history that might give you some places to start looking for better history. I thought it was great when I was ten, but it doesn't hold up very well.

From: [identity profile]

Thanks! I have seen Hopscotch and remember liking it, but that was years ago; I know Brian Garfield slightly.

From: [identity profile]

The Conversation, with Gene Hackman, is not about spies, but has plenty of intrigue, deception, and paranoia.

From: [identity profile]

Have you seen Sneakers? It's a fun movie about cryptography.

It was a while back, so I'm not sure what I'd think of it now, but No Way Out (1987) with Kevin Costner was kind of fun. Here's the summary from
Tom Farrell is a navy officer who gets posted at the Pentagon and is to report to the secretary of defence David Brice. He starts an affair with Susan Atwell not knowing that she is Brice's mistress. When Susan is found dead, Tom is assigned to the case of finding the killer who is believed to be a KGB mole! Tom could soon become a suspect when a polaroid negative of him was found at Susan's place. He now has only a few hours to find the killer before the computer regenerates the photo.

Not a recommendation, but a question: Even longer ago, my first year in college, I watched the black and white movie La Guerre est Fini (1966, with Genevieve Bujold). I found it kind of boring. Do you know if I should give it another chance, and if so, what I should be on the lookout for?

From: [identity profile]

Never seen the Bujold, sorry; but I did like Sneakers, and the Costner movie sounds fun.

From: [identity profile]

Oh, I'll be following this. My problem is I like spy stuff with somewhat happy/hopeful endings where the good guys aren't completely broken (if not dead).

I am, of course, drawing a complete blank. I watched/skimmed the first season of 24 and there's some good stuff in there, but I found it just too heavy and long. It stopped being fun, despite a promising opening where I was totally taken by the Mia Kirshner character even though she was irredeemable.

I read Le Carré so long ago it's hard to know what I'd think of it now. At the time I loved the Tinker Tailer series.

From: [identity profile]

I liked 24 at first, but ended up feeling like it was pro-torture propaganda, so... couldn't go there.

I don't mind happy/hopeful endings as long as there is lots of angst along the way!
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter


It's not really on spying, but Simon Singh's The Code Book has a very readable and understandable on the history of the Enigma machine and assorted other feats of deciphering throughout history.

Other than that... I actually read very few spying/intrigue books. Though this may be a good time to rec King of Attolia again. There's no spying per se, but there's a lot of hiding of identities and plotting behind the scenes and intrigue and etc.

From: [identity profile]

Oh! [ profile] forodwaith recommended a very good amnesia spy novel. Flashback by Jenny Siler. And I'll second the Bourne movies.

I also thought Spy Game wasn't bad, though you have to enjoy Robert Redford.

From: [identity profile]

Thanks! Amnesia and spies, two great tastes that go great together.

From: [identity profile]

Haven't read them yet, but I just purchased the first two books in Greg Rucka's Queen and Country series (graphic novels), about spies in the U.K., for my library. I don't know much about them, but they were enthusiastically recommended by No Flying, No Tights; their review is here.

From: [identity profile]

Greg Rucka is apparently an uber-Sandbaggers geek, and applied those influences to Q&C. It's good stuff, though as always happens to me with multiple-penciller comics, I imprinted on the first arc's artist and got grumpy whenever they changed.

From: [identity profile]

Edited because I am forgetful...

Some of your criteria fit Len Deighton's Funeral in Berlin beautifully. That's the best book, for me, in a series featuring British spy Harry Palmer (although in this first book, he's never named). The book (and the movie, starring Michael Caine in a marvelous, deadpan performance) are very much of their time and place -- they have an early sixties British vibe, one that's deeply cynical about the Cold War and the motivations on both sides. Harry Palmer is as brilliant as George Smiley or James Bond, but he's also defiantly lower class, which adds a nice twist to the genre.

Just as fun and pulpish (though less stylish) is Six Days of the Condor by James Grady (the movie is Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, both v. sexy in this, as I recall). This is also of its time and place -- just barely post-Watergate D.C. and the protagonist is a spy in the middle of a very, very steep learning curve in the spy game.

Speaking of D.C., if you ever visit, I highly recommend the Spy Museum. Lots of exhibits on the history of spying in every era, real spy stories and gadgets, etc.

From: [identity profile]

My dad was a big spy buff. He had all the James Bonds in their pre-movie-tie-in paperbacks (albeit not the very earliest American editions, which referred to "tough Jimmy Bond" on their covers and gave CASINO ROYALE the presumably more commercial title TOO HOT TO HANDLE -- if he'd had THOSE, I'd be rich now), and he loved Deighton and Le Carre and Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novels (which are NOTHING like the Dean Martin films, but more like an even tougher Bourne or Daniel Craig's hard-as-nails Bond).

Deighton's AN EXPENSIVE PLACE TO DIE apparently came accompanied by a "For Your Eyes Only" special promotional dossier that, to my eleven-year-old eyes, looked like a Real Secret Document (I don't know whether this was something that accompanied all hardback copies of the book or if it was some sort of promotional piece sent to the radio station where dad worked). When I opened it, I found it full of charts and graphs about the potential fallout from a limited nuclear strike on China! I asked my dad what it was, and he responded by snatching it away from me and saying "Son, there are parts of my life I can't tell you about." He also, when we engaging in mock combat, karate chopped the broom handle I was holding in half. Again, when I asked him how he did that, he said "I've already told you there are some things I do that I can't talk about."

So yeah, I went through a year or so of thinking my dad might be a spy.

Is it true that 007 was really Christopher Marlowe's "code" number when he worked for Elizabeth's spy master, or is that wikipedia bullshit?

From: [identity profile]

I see you've already had Graham Greene rec'd above; I'm also a big fan of "Little America" by Henry Bromell, which is about a man trying to reconstruct his father's roll, as a CIA agent, in a Middle Eastern coup.

From: [identity profile]

I just finished a reread of Declare, which I have unexpectedly discovered to be the Tim Powers I reread the most often.

I'll second the two Bourne movies, both of which are fantastic (although I think the first one is slightly better, mostly because the shaky camera trick went a bit overboard in the second one). However, I absolutely couldn't get into the Bourne books. I read Helen MacInnes ages ago and remember liking the books a lot. It's been so long that I have no memory of titles, unfortunatly.

From: [identity profile]

surfing through friends flists.
Spy novels. I enjoyed Adam Hall's Quiller novels. (
A "shadow executive" working for an unnamed British agency that officially doesn't exist, the novels follow his missions, cold war era.

From: [identity profile]

Hi. Hope you don't mind me commenting.

I don't know if you've been following it at all, but there's some real life spy action going on with a former KGB agent Litvinenko who was poisoned using polonium-210 (radioactive material). Apparently, he and an Italian colleague (who was contaminated but has not yet fallen ill) discovered that there was a possible death list at the Kremlin, which a recently assassinated Russian journalist was on. On his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Putin. They've found traces of the polonium at a British football field, on three planes, in a hotel, etc.

Another man, Gaider, was also supposedly poisoned by another substance, but has recovered.

Latest is that another spy has come forward and said that Litvinenko compiled a dossier and was killed for that.

From: [identity profile]

Yes, I have been following it with great fascination and horror. Makes a hell of a statement to poison someone with such an incredibly dangerous substance that the merest trace can get carried all over the place and easily kill you too... and just to give someone a nasty lingering death.

From: [identity profile]

I figured you probably had been, if you're currently into spy stuff, but I thought I would mention it just in case. I think it's very scary, but I also seem to have train wreck syndrome with this story (can't stop watching it).

From: [identity profile]

John M. Ford's The Scholars of Night is an improbable but wonderful combination of Christopher Marlowe scholarship and spies.

It's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what's happening until you've read it twice through, but it does reward your effort (as does all of Ford's work.)

It came out in 1988 to not much fanfare, but I've seen it in libraries. (I bought it in hardcover when it came out, because I'm a huge fan of his.)

From: [identity profile]

I have read that, but on interlibrary loan years ago. I have never seen a copy for sale, though I'd buy it in an instant if I did. I remember enjoying it very much and feeling that I understood what was going on while I read it, but five minutes after I closed it I was utterly unable to reconstruct what had happened and why.
ext_12785: A woman in a white dress, facing the camera, while the sunlight reflects off of the lens (Default)

From: [identity profile]

I really enjoyed Robert Harris' Enigma, but the subsequent movie was, um, bad. Stick with the book, in my opinion. It has a very, very nice period feel and a protagonist who is both brilliant and fragile. Also, it contains a lot of people with unclear motives and a sea battle experienced through codes. It shouldn't work, but it does.

From: [identity profile]

SANDBAGGERS is the ultimate spy show.

Of course, there are the classic 60s spy shows: MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., I SPY, SECRET AGENT, THE PRISONER (well, that one's post-spying but very paranoid).

From: [identity profile]

And the early episodes of Secret Agent are decidedly non-60s-campy. Much ambiguity of motives and ethics and, well, you know, it's espionage.

If you don't go giantPanamanianbananas over Sandbaggers, I will seriously consider taking you off my Christmas card list. Oh, wait, I don't send Christmas cards.

From: [identity profile]

And spies don't keep Christmas card lists. They know where you live.

From: [identity profile]

The Hapgood comment cracked me up with its universal truth when I first read this, so today when I got to Wim's sister's apartment I asked her, intimidatingly intellectual person that she is, if she had understood Hapgood. Nope. She had a fairly credible theory that everyone in the play is totally unreliable, so it makes sense on a meta-level that the play is unknowable. (Or maybe Stoppard is just messing with all of us. Same thing?)

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