The modern spy thriller can be said to date from 1963. In that year John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was published to great acclaim. It was a world away from the glamorous Ian Fleming creation James Bond or Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer from The Ipcress File. The key differences are that the protagonist is not heroic and the line between right and wrong more blurred and nuanced.
We are blessed in 2020 with a number of novelists writing really good fiction in this genre. Charles Cumming is seen by many to be Le Carre’s heir apparent – A Foreign Country about a disgraced former agent bought back to sort out an internal crisis in MI6 has obvious resonance. Henry Porter has another former service man addressing 21st century problems in Firefly and the recently published White Hot Silence – cerebral but with more action. ITN newsreader Tom Bradby’ Secret Service is just out in paperback with what appears to be a very well informed view of that world. MI6 officer Kate Henderson believes that one of the Tory candidates to be PM is a foreign agent. Is this a Russian bluff to sow discord or is the country in imminent danger?
Meanwhile Le Carre’s latest but hopefully not last book Agent Running in the Field is out in paperback in the summer. It’s short but as questioning and entertaining as ever.