Friday, March 04, 2016

I'm Sure You'll All Agree

Top Five Secret Agent Novels 

19 comments:

August West said...

I'm a bit partial to the first Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton, "Death of a Citizen."

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I don't read Clancy.

Bill Crider said...

I don't read Clancy, either, and I'd put Hamilton in there somewhere, too.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Definitely. I'd put him ahead of Fleming for sure.

Fred Blosser said...

RED OCTOBER is military tech, not espionage. I'd put Adam Hall's QUILLER MEMORANDUM on the list instead.

Don Coffin said...

I don't think of either The Day of the Jackal (which is a very good book) or The Hunt For Red October as a "secret agent" novel. So they are out for me. Somerset Maugham's Ashenden, or the British Agent (which is still in print!) would be on my list, as would Len Deighton's The Ipcress File. Death of a Citizen knocked me out when I read it, and I might replace Tinker, Tailor with it. Or in place of From Russia With Love. The Quiller Memorandum is another good one (I thought the later books in the series got a lot weird, though).

Don Coffin said...

Incidentally, Amazon will sell you all 20 Matt Helm books (as ebooks) in a package price of $148.80. (And I a, strangely enough, considering it.)

Bill Crider said...

I liked the early Quiller books. Also Deighton's books. And Ashenden. All good stuff. It's hard to pick just five, but I thought the list as given wasn't a very good one.

Randy Clark said...

Mr. Crider, this reminds me of a scene in one of your novels--sorry that I cannot remember which one--in which a character is making a list of "The Worst Movies Made from Good Books" and is tempted to put "anything by Donald Hamilton" on the list. Those horrible movies, coupled with the fact that the Matt Helm novels were paperback originals, have kept the Helm series from receiving the recognition it deserves as a fine, complex Cold War spy series. Death of a Citizen definitely belongs on this list.

Bill Crider said...

I hadn't thought about the paperback original aspect, but that's probably a big part of it. Those movies were bad by any standard. They had a great property and went the wrong way with it.

Randy Clark said...

It's a funny thing. Mystery novelists don't seem to be hurt by publishing paperback originals--John D. MacDonald certainly wasn't--but spy novelists seem to be. I dont think that Philip Atlee or Edward Aarons were as talented as Hamilton but Atleee in particular has been overlooked. And Stephen Marlowes Chester Drum books, which often were espionage novels, would be very well regarded had they been published in hardback, I suspect.

Bill Crider said...

I'm a fan of Atlee, Aarons and Marlowe. Guys like that are why I started collecting paperbacks.

Randy Clark said...

For reasons I never could quite pin down, I always liked the books that Aarons wrote as Edward Ronns more than I liked the ones he wrote as Aarons. Stephen Marlowe had a lot to do with my collecting paperbacks, Dan Marlowe had more to do with it, but I think the writer who really inspired my interest in paperback originals was Charles Williams. That man could write!

Bill Crider said...

Williams was one of the very best.

Don Coffin said...

As I was trying (somewhat vainly) to fall asleep last night, I recalled a few more books/authors I though worth mentioning here...although I think I'm heading for a top 10 list. Manning Coles (two people, as you all know) wrote one real classic, A Toast To Yesterday (original Brit title, Pray Silence) and one more almost great book, The Fifth Man. Alan Furst's entire series is worth reading. And Eric Ambler deserves to be mentioned, even if I can't pick one specific title. Ted Allebury wrote one teriffic book--The other Side of Silence (Philby and all that)--in a long string of books. And Brian Freemantle it pretty good, too, although not great.

Bill Crider said...

All names well worth mentioning, Don.

Todd Mason said...

I think part of the confusion of the lister (he lists in at least two manners) is that tecnothrillers and spy novels both often dance at the borders of crime and speculative fiction...

No love for Joseph Conrad? (Though I still need to read THE SECRET AGENT...) Donald Westlake? Watergate criminal E. H. Hunt? Brian Garfield? (Even given how most of his work was western fiction) --though I haven't read Hunt yet. Suppose it would also be pushing it to include Ross Thomas...

Randy Clark said...

I think one of the things that happens often when people discuss spy fiction is that they become almost overwhelmed by that period in the 1960s when spies were everywhere in the popular culture, so they write about Fleming and the more literary Le Carre and Deighton, sometimes mention other British authors from that period, and because it seemed to be such a British genre, readers sometimes forget Americans like Hamilton almost entirely. They also ignore earlier authors like Ambler, John Buchan, and Erskine Childers. Then they often move to the post-Soviet Union era and that period gets dominated by Tom Clancy and techno-thrillers, with some pretty good contemporary authors being overlooked. Add to that the authors like Ross Thomas who can be hard to categorize and it really does become difficult to come up with a good, solid list of the best spy novels, no matter how long the list is.

Bill Crider said...

You're right, and even if the list had 100 books on it, some of us would find plenty to disagree with.