Title:                      Topaz

Author:                 Leon Uris

Uris, Leon (1967). Topaz. New York, McGraw-Hill

LCCN:    67011336

PZ4.U76 To


Date Updated:  June 7, 2015

Leon Uris wrote this novel before the real story by De Vosjoli[1] was printed. While Lamia did give some insights to French intelligence. It is far more worthy than Uris’ novel.

Anthony Boucher, “Criminals at Large,” New York Times, Sunday, October 15, 1967, Book Review Section, p. 57, c. 1:

…[I]f you want reassurance as to the professional skill and art of suspense writers, even on off days, you have only to regard (I would not say “read”) the work of mass-market, best-selling authors who try to compete. …Leon Uris, whose tale of espionage, Topaz may rank with the ventures in suspense by Pearl Buck, Taylor Caldwell, and Frances Parkinson Keyes. Mr. Uris is flagrantly unable to construct a plot, a character, a novel, or a sentence in the English language—and he takes 130,000 words to display his incompetence. The editor has not bothered even to check the time of the action (the Cuban missile crisis in October, 1962), which keeps shifting between autumn and spring, and 1962 and 1963.

An Introduction to Intelligence Fiction

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[2]

A frequent inclination among intelligence professionals is to disregard the benefits and utility of intelligence fiction. The escapades of James Bond, his less glamorous predecessors, and his subsequent imitators, understandably stretch the credibility-of the genre and make it an easy matter to write off as shallow, escapist, and of little or no value.

While difficult to rationalize the poor writing and the distorted picture of intelligence which frequently characterize intelligence fiction, one should not be blinded to the potential benefits and pleasures which reside in a discriminating reading of this literature.

Why should the intelligence professional read and be concerned with intelligence fiction? First of all, the public image of the intelligence community is partially molded by the impressions conveyed in contemporary fiction. The readers see only the mystery, glamour, and allure of secret intelligence operations and are apparently willing to buy large numbers of books which describe these attributes. Thus, the fictional literature conveys an inaccurate image of the world of intelligence which the public does not disregard when issues of real-life intelligence operations are debated. While we cannot change the public’s image of the intelligence community, we can at least be aware of this perception. On a more personal basis, intelligence fiction can furnish ideas and interests which can be professionally rewarding —particularly when the fiction being read has a factual basis. Leon Uris’ Topaz, for instance, was a well-received novel and motion picture. It was not until after publication that it became known that the novel was based—to a great extent—on the activities of a real-life French intelligence officer; a reading of de Vosjoli’s Lamia [referenced above] would prove rather rapidly the validity of much of the Topaz story. Similarly, the real intelligence classic by Ewen Montagu, The Man Who Never Was[3], had its fictional predecessor in Alfred Duff Cooper’s Operation Heartbreak[4], another novel based on actual events. The interested reader can examine the connection between these two stories, one historical, the other supposedly fiction, and draw his own conclusion.

Not only will the reader find that intelligence fiction is sometimes based on actual events, or the author’s personal experiences, but also that it is excellent literature. Occasionally, as in the case of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden[5], a book will have both characteristics. This renowned novelist, a British intelligence official in Europe during WWI, wrote a thinly disguised fictionalized version of his experiences which would be considered an excellent novel by any standards. While such realism is not widespread in the world of intelligence fiction, it may be surprising to note the number of well-known authors who have operated in the murky world of espionage. Two of the better known are Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe fame, whose lengthy writings never revealed his extensive intelligence activities on behalf of the English Crown, and Christopher Marlowe, who may have lost his life, according to several scholars, while on an intelligence mission for Walsingham, although recent writings tend to deny this. In current times, Ian Fleming served as assistant to the Director of British Naval Intelligence in WWII, and John Le Carré was an intelligence professional.

For the reader interested in intelligence fiction, the writings of Graham Greene (who served in intelligence in WWII) and the anthology by Allen Dulles (Great Spy Stories from Fiction[6], would be a useful start. Dulles made an effort to include material not generally round in intelligence fiction anthologies. In the opinion of some writers, the genre starts with James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy[7]; others prefer Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands[8]. And of course there is the amusing Water on the Brain by Compton Mackenzie[9], originally suppressed by the British in 1933 but published twenty years later. Mackenzie had served in British intelligence in World War I. In any event, the reader will meet authors John Buchan[10], E. Phillips Oppenheim[11], Joseph Conrad[12], Eric Ambler[13], and many others. The reader can note the development of the genre from Childers’ first effort to the polished novels of  Eric Ambler, such as The Levanter[14]. Or he can go beyond the individual books and contrast the different worlds of intelligence as portrayed by Fleming and Le Carré. Or he can compare Conrad’s well-known The Secret Agent[15] with what many intelligence professionals consider Conrad’s better piece of intelligence fiction, Under Western Eyes[16]. Nor is combat intelligence neglected in books such as Wiliam W. Haines’ Command Decision[17]. Haines was a skilled air combat intelligence officer in Europe in World War II.

The Spike[18], a fascinating novel on Soviet journalistic disinformation by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert-Moss, was high on the best seller lists. It is unique in this field and many readers have attempted to connect it with real-life events. Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy[19], has been a best seller as well as being a block-buster on TV.

The discriminating and discerning reader will find considerable value in the world of intelligence fiction. While the professional benefits cannot be disregarded neither should the many hours of pure pleasure and relaxation which such reading affords.

Books by and inspired by Tom Clancy’s novels are included because of their readability and intelligence components, particularly field ops. They include The Sum of All Fears[20]

Bio Strike is one of a series, “Powerplays”[21], developed by Tom Clancy and Martin Greenberg. The plot centers on the criminal mastermind Harlan DeVane, who has developed a biological disease capable of wiping out selected groups or individuals–depending on the trigger used. The whole world has been infected without knowing it and considerable space is given to explaining how this is done.

The dramatic conflict in this novel is between DeVane who holds a grudge against Roger Gordian, head of UpLink Technologies. UpLink is a thread in all of the Powerplays novels. Gordian a highly successful businessman but is also on a mission to improve the world in general. DeVane does a trial run of the virus, triggering it Gordian. It’s up to his team of agents to battle frantically to save him.

The author obviously did a great deal of research to make the biology and technology sound realistic. Aware that many readers know nothing about biotechnology, the author burdens the reader with overkill of explanation. For nerds like me, I like his terminology. Some may be bored at the level to which he goes, for example, to explain how an e-mail server works.

Techno-freaks will like the series, as it is quite imaginative about cyberproblems we may encounter. Undoubtedly business and governments will be attacked in unexpected cyberterrorism and fantasizing about it may help develop countermeasures even before the threat is real. For that reason I like the series. The characters, too, are believable, not always the case in novels with a lot of science and technology.

[1] De Vosjoli, P. L. Thyraud (1970). Lamia. Boston: Little, Brown

[2] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, pp. 77-78

[3] Montagu, Ewen (1953). The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counter-Intelligence Operation. London, Evans Bros

[4] Cooper, Duff (1950). Operation Heartbreak. London, Hart-Davis

[5] Maugham, W. Somerset (1941). Ashenden: The British Agent. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.

[6] Dulles, Allen (1969). Great Spy Stories From Fiction. New York, Harper & Row

[7] The Spy (1821, 1936). The Spy. New York, Saalfield Pub. Co.

[8] Childers, Erskine (1903, 2005). The Riddle of The Sands: A Record of Secret Service. New York : Barnes & Noble Books

[9] Mackenzie, Compton (1933). Water on the Brain. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Doran & Company

[10] See, for example: Buchan, John (1915, 1935). The Thirty-Nine Steps. London: W. Blackwood & sons

[11] See, for example: Oppenheim, E. Phillips (1908). The Avenger. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company

[12] See, for example: Conrad, Joseph (1907, 2007). The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale. New York: New American Library

[13] See, e.g., Ambler, Eric (1939, 1996). A Coffin for Dimitrios. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers

[14] Ambler, Eric (1972, 2012). The Levanter. New York, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

[15] Conrad, Joseph (1907, 2007). The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale. New York: New American Library

[16] Conrad, Joseph (1911, 1025). Under Western Eyes. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & Co.

[17] Haines, William Wister (1947). Command Decision. Boston, Little, Brown

[18] de Borchgrave, Arnaud (1980) and Robert Moss. The Spike. New York : Crown Publishers

[19] Le Carré, John (1974). Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. London: Hodder and Stoughton

[20] Clancy, Tom (1991). The Sum of All Fears. New York: Putnam. Tom Clancy was prolific an: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1988). Cardinal of the Kremlin. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1989). Clear and Present Dangerd his 18 books include (as well as The Sum of All Fears): Clancy, Tom (1984). The Hunt for Red October. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press; Clancy, Tom (1986). Red Storm Rising. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1988). Patriot Games. New York. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1993). Without Remorse. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1994). Debt of Honor. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1996). Executive Orders. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (1998). Rainbow Six. New York: Putnam; Clancy, Tom (2000). The Bear and the Dragon. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Clancy, Tom (2002). Red Rabbit. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Clancy, Tom (2003). The Teeth of the Tiger. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Clancy, Tom (2010) with Grant Blackwood. Dead or Alive. New York: Berkley Books; Clancy, Tom (2011) with Peter Telep. Against All Enemies. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Clancy, Tom (2011) with Mark Greaney. Locked On. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Clancy, Tom (2012) with Mark Greaney. Threat Vector. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Clancy, Tom (2013). Command Authority. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Clancy died on October 1, 2013, of an undisclosed illness at Johns Hopkins Hospital, near his Baltimore home.

[21] Clancy did not write any of these books which include: Politika,, Shadow Watch, Preisler, Jerome (2000). Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Bio-Strike. New York: Berkley Publishing, Cold War,Cutting Edge. Zero Hour, and Wild Card. Many are written by Jerome Preisler



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One Response to Topaz

  1. Pingback: Lamia | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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