Title: The Spy’s Bedside Book
Author: Graham Greene
Greene, Graham (1957, 2008) and Hugh Greene, eds. The Spy’s Bedside Book. New York : Bantam Books
PR1309.S7 S79 2008
- Originally published: London : Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957.
Date Posted: March 3, 2015
Review by Tim Rutten
Graham Greene divided his novels into serious works and “entertainments.”
They might just as easily have been categorized as stories about Catholicism and espionage, topics that actually were near neighbors in Greene’s labyrinthine but fertile inner geography.
Both categories will come to mind reading The Spy’s Bedside Book, a charming curiosity from 1957 now happily reissued by Random House’s Bantam imprint. Bedside miscellanies once were a mainstay of English publishing. There were popular collections of excerpts and quotations published for fox hunters, anglers, cricket aficionados and bird-watchers—to recall just a few. The Spy’s Bedside Book was shrewder, more pointed sort of work, deftly selected and edited by Greene and his brother Hugh, who probably was best known as director general of the BBC. Graham Greene, of course, had been actively employed by Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, and may have enjoyed an on-again-off-again relationship with the security services for much of his life. Hugh—a correspondent in prewar Berlin—served in the RAF during World War II as an interrogator of captured German airmen.
What they produced in this curious miscellany was a volume that serves not simply as a companion to espionage fiction, but as a kind of spy’s how-to, right down to tips on secreting messages in boiled eggs and how to disguise maps in diagrams of butterfly wings (thanks to Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who actually did that). Other writers and secret agents represented include John Buchan, W. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, William Le Queux, James Fenimore Cooper, Rudyard Kipling, W.H. Auden, Eric Ambler and Benedict Arnold’s confrere, the luckless Major Andre. (Erskine Childers, the author of the 20th century’s first and still classic spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands, is curiously absent.