Title:                      Literary Agents

Author:                 Anthony Masters

Masters, Anthony (1987) Literary Agents: The Novelist as Spy. New York: B. Blackwell

OCLC:    16005922

PR888.S65 M37 1987



  • Not found in the Library of Congress

Date Posted:      March 12, 2015


A bloody good idea, maddeningly undercooked. Masters’ idea: to look into the real-life exploits of spies who spied for the US and British Secret Services and later became famous spy novelists. For that matter, Masters thinks that spies and novelists are emotional twins—both intelligence-gathers and tremendous liars. Graham Greene: “I suppose. . .that every novelist has something in common with a spy; he watches, he overhears, he seeks motives and analyzes character, and in his attempt to serve literature he is unscrupulous.” Fair enough! But unfortunately Greene—the spy who speaks most directly to us—doesn’t arrive until far into this book, and is preceded by lustreless essays on Erskine Childers (The Riddle of the Sands[1]), John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps[2]), Somerset Maugham (Ashenden[3]), Compton Mackenzie (Water on the Brain[4])—and Malcolm (The Infernal Grove[5]) Muggeridge, who used to accompany Greene to naughty girlie-shows and later delighted in cracking Greene’s knuckles: “I think The Human Factor[6] is a tenth-rate novel whose central character was based on Trevor Wilson [an MI6 case officer]. His best and most accurate spy novel was Our Man in Havana[7].” Muggeridge thought it “impossible to overestimate the stupidity of MI6.” If Greene steals the show, both Maugham and Mackenzie also have their warm, even hilarious moments, while Ian Fleming’s naval-intelligence background lends dash and flair to James Bond, and John Le Carré’s days in MI5 and then MI6—add a certain bitterness and passion to his vision of the Cold War. Also on hand are spymasters Howard Hunt, Dennis Wheatley, Tom Driberg, John Bingham, and—briefly—Len Deighton. This colorful bunch will undoubtedly attract readers—though this is not the lively show it could have been.

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

[2] Buchan, John (1915, 1935). The Thirty-Nine Steps. London: W. Blackwood & Sons

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

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

[5] Muggeridge, Malcolm (1973). The Infernal Grove. Chronicles Of Wasted Time, no. 2. London: Collins

[6] Greene, Graham (1978, 2008). The Human Factor. New York: Penguin Books

[7] Greene, Graham (1958, 2007). Our Man in Havana. New York: Penguin


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