The Cutout

Title:                      The Cutout

Author:                 Francine Mathews

Mathews, Francine (2001). The Cutout. New York: Bantam Books

LCCN:    PS3563.A8357 C88 2001


Date Posted:      April 19, 2017


A near-miss thriller about spies coming in from the cold—le Carré American-style.

Eric Carmichael, one of the CIA’s brightest and best is, as everybody knows, dead. Wife Caroline, still a highly valued CIA analyst, has mourned him for two years, ever since Med Air 901 exploded in mid-flight, killing Eric and 257 others. A fanatical group of neo-Fascists named 30 April wasted no time claiming responsibility, and now this very same group has blown up Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, where American Vice President Sarah Payne was making a speech, and kidnapped the VP. Payne will be held hostage to forestall US interference with 30 April’s master plan to Nazify Central Europe. CIA analysts, studying videotape, note the ruthless efficiency of the bomb-and-kidnap operation; Caroline Carmichael notes something else entirely: Among the terrorists, seemingly directing them, is her far-from-dead husband. How? Why? If he’s not a mirage is he, perhaps, in deep cover? But that would mean her lover and best friend had knowingly doomed her to two grief-stricken years. True, Caroline is aware of how much Eric hated the monstrous Mlan Krucivik, founder and leader of 30 April, and how much her husband was prepared to risk to destroy him. While still racked by doubt and indecision, she becomes convinced that there’s a play within a play, that among her CIA colleagues a mole-like puppet-master has been secretly pulling strings. But before finding him, and Eric, Carline must strip Krucivick of his leverage by locating and saving the vice president—and that’s just for starters.

Mathews, a former CIA intelligence analyst and veteran mystery author (Death in a Cold Hard Light, 1998, etc.), writes well, and the story benefits from her savvy about spycraft. Her strong characters, though, ultimately get swamped by all the spook-y details.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded April 19, 2017

John Le Carré

Title:                      John Le Carré

Author:                Adam Sisman

Sisman, Adam (2015). John Le Carré: The Biography. New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

LCCN:    2015298854

PR6062.E33 Z87 2015b


  • “In this definitive biography Adam Sisman reveals the man behind the bestselling persona. In John le Carré, Sisman shines a spotlight on David Cornwell, an expert at hiding in plain sight. Of course, the pseudonym John le Carré has helped to keep the public at a distance. Sisman probes Cornwell’s unusual upbringing, abandoned by his mother at the age of only five and raised by his con man father (when not in prison), and explores his background in British intelligence, as well as his struggle to become a writer, and his personal life. Sisman has benefited from unfettered access to le Carré’s private archive, talked to the most important people in his life, and interviewed the man himself at length”– provided by publisher.


  • Millionaire paupers — ‘We seek higher things’ — God and Mammon — Wandering in the fog — Serving your country — ‘That little college in Turl’ — ‘This really is the end’ — Poor but happy — ‘Milk in first and then Indian’ — ‘A dead-end sort of place’ — A small town in Germany — Becoming John le Carré — Naïve and sentimental love — Caught in the machine — Rich but restless — Keeping the bitterness at bay — ‘You treated your father very badly’ — ‘Does anyone know what’s going on?’ — ‘The love thief’ — Moscow rules — ‘Whatever are you going to write now?’ — ‘He makes us look so good’ — The secret centre — ‘Mr angry’ — Beating the system.



  • First published in the United Kingdom in 2015 by Bloomsbury

Date Updated:  August 31, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The word “literature,” when not referring to the enduring quality of the narrative, denotes the books, writings, and media presentations devoted to a particular subject. In the case of espionage, the literature is of singular importance since, for most, knowledge of the subject is acquired vicariously through reading or viewing stories. Serious espionage literature leaves the reader feeling the story is closer to reality than fantasy. John le Carré is a master of this genre, and Adam Sisman’s biography of David Cornwell, le Carre’s birth name, conveys an elegant portrait of the author and his creations.[2]

Sisman was not the first to consider writing a biography of le Carré. Robert Harris, author of Enigma[3], had been commissioned to do so some 20 years earlier but for various reasons did not and encouraged Sisman to undertake the task. Sisman, already an accomplished biographer of historians A.J.P. Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper[4] among others, wrote to Cornwell suggesting that Cornwell be his next subject. After reading the Trevor-Roper book, Cornwell met with Sisman to discuss details.

Writing a biography of a living subject, especially one who has worked to “keep the public at a distance” (p. xiv) presents unusual challenges. Foremost among them is securing the subject’s cooperation, under conditions imposed by the biographer. Sisman asked for unrestricted access to Cornwell’s papers; interviews with him, his friends and colleagues; and freedom to write without censorship from the subject. Cornwell agreed, “without restraints” (p. xv), though he proved reluctant to discuss his service with MI5 and MI6 since he was “bound, legally and morally, not to reveal the nature of my work” in these areas. (p. xvii) Sisman includes these topics using other sources. This qualification aside, one might reasonably ask, why an already-famous author would consent to such scrutiny of his life? Sisman doesn’t answer that question directly, but he does imply Cornwell may have been motivated by concern that a fair hearing be accorded his views on the controversial matters which others have written about him over the course of his 50-year writing career.

While John le Carré: The Biography addresses the usual topics about David Cornwell’s life—family origins, education, military service, marriage, and career—Sisman shows how each influenced his writing and the le Carré image. Surprises emerge throughout. For example, Cornwell’s first book, Call For The Dead[5], was originally titled A Clear Case of Suicide. And since he was serving in MI6 at the time, it was submitted under the pseudonym “Jean Sanglas.” The publisher—less than enthusiastic—suggested instead either “Chuck Smith” or “Hank Brown,” (p. 217) but Cornwell settled on le Carré (literally, “the square”). Over the years, Cornwell would offer a variety of reasons for his choice but ultimately admitted to Sisman that “none of them was true.” (p. xiv) Call ForThe Dead also introduced Cornwell’s most famous character, George Smiley, based on his MI5 superior, John Bingham, according to Bingham’s wife and others.[6] “She was mistaken,” says Cornwell, as were the others. Like many of his characters, “he was no more than a component.” (p. 208)

Sisman’s account of Cornwell’s path to le Cane reveals many attributes ofa well-to-do young English man in search of a calling. Public school, study in Europe, national service, Oxford, and his recruitments, first by MI5 and then MI6, are the principal milestones. But this period of his life was anything but normal, and Sisman’s telling is at once stimulating and gloomily captivating. Cornwell’s mother deserted the family when he was five. During “the sixteen hugless years that followed” (p. 25) he and his brother Anthony endured life with his outrageously flamboyant, scheming, unashamed, and charming con man father, Ronnie. Sisman examines the curious relationship Cornwell worked to maintain with his parents even after both remarried. But it was his unrepentant father who would appear frequently in his life, unexpectedly asking for help, that created a constant dissonance. Ronnie pursued his investment schemes during trips to Ascot, dinners at the Savoy, gatherings at the home he couldn’t afford but somehow did, and unsuccessful attempts to become a member of Parliament. He associated with the aristocracy and those of potential influence in the business world, interrupted only by frequent arrests and occasional time in prison for fraud. An embarrassed Cornwell often encountered traces of his father’s unpaid obligations in Britain and Europe. Ronnie would become the central figure in le Carré’s autobiographical novel, A Perfect Spy[7].

Despite his stressful home life, Cornwell did well at prep school and then public school at Sherborne. Sisman notes that he was “successful in his academic work and on the sports field (he was captain of the junior cricket team), witty, popular with his schoolmates, a charismatic individual.” (p. 50) He also wrote poetry, acted in school plays, was an accomplished cartoonist, and made many friends he encountered later in life who would become models for characters in his novels (Sisman provides many examples). At the same time, his tutor realized at the end of the 1948 term that Cornwell was unhappy. Sisman mentions several reasons Cornwell gave. Corporeal punishment and daily regimentation were factors, but his home life, Sisman concludes with ample justification, was the major contributor: in addition to his father’s other parenting shortcomings, Ronnie enlisted his son’s help in schemes “to diddle widows out of their pensions.” (p. 66) Cornwell dropped out of Sherborne after his third year and went to Switzerland to improve his German, though the move didn’t entirely free him from his father’s schemes. Here and throughout the book, Sisman interrupts the fascinating chronology of Cornwell’s emerging talents with Ronnie’s escapades and the toxic influence they had on his son’s life.

Cornwell’s arrival in Switzerland began a seminal period in his life. It was while studying and skiing in Bern that Cornwell had his first contact with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). When asked by a diplomat from the embassy, he willingly agreed to report on any student or other contact who had communist views.

This was also the time when Cornwell began to write. On a visit home recuperating from the mumps, he showed a short story to a German friend who commented, “Promise me you will never write a book.” (p. 80) And it was in Bern that Cornwell met Ann. They would marry after Cornwell returned to do his military service. With his fluency in German and French, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and served in Germany, getting his first taste of clandestine operations. While there, he was again approached by an MI6 officer, who expressed interest in him, but only after he had obtained a degree.

Intrigued by the prospect, Cornwell entered Lincoln College, Oxford, in October 1952, reading modern languages—not law, as his father had wished. He was a popular student and made friends easily. One of them arranged an interview with George Leggett, a German linguist and senior MI5 counterespionage officer. Leggett recruited Cornwell to “adopt a left-wing persona … [and] infiltrate left-wing groups” and report back on the members’ activities. (p. 126) The recent defection of Burgess and Maclean had contributed to an increase in surveillance of communist organizations and Cornwell undertook his tasking with gusto, joining the Socialist Club at Oxford. Sisman notes the moral paradox associated with choosing “loyalty to his country over loyalty to his friends. The dilemma continued to trouble him; it was a theme that would recur repeatedly in his fiction.” (p. 135)

After two years at Oxford, his father’s behavior once again became too much of a burden, and Cornwell left to teach at a public school. But he was soon unhappy there and returned to Oxford, where he completed his degree and married Ann. When no offer from MI5 or MI6 materialized, Cornwell accepted a teaching position at Eton College in 1956. While there, latent thoughts of becoming a writer surfaced, but his first book submission was rejected. Once again, the Eton life proved unsatisfying and Cornwell wrote to MI5 about his desire “to come inside.” (p. 184) Officially, he left Eton in 1958 for the Foreign Office, though the rumor among the boys was that “Corny is going to be a spy.” (p. 185)

Cornwell’s MI5 service was transformative. Sisman reviews Cornwell’s training and early agent handling assignments, giving readers a glimpse into the professional background Cornwell used to convey the sense of reality common to the le Carré books. On one point, however, Sisman is mistaken: after noting Cornwell’s transfer to the MI5 section “responsible for agent-running,” he adds the clarification that the term “agent” as used in Britain differs from its use in the United States, where “in America an ‘agent’ is used to mean an intelligence officer,” (p. 199) while in Britain it refers to someone recruited to provide information. Of course, the terms are used in the same sense in both Britain and the United States, and most intelligence services use the term in that sense, as well.

During Cornwell’s two years in MI5, day-to-day challenges were less stimulating than anticipated. Originally tasked with vetting former communists, Cornwell eventually characterized MI5 as “a dead-end sort of place” (p. 209), and in the spring of 1960 he applied for a transfer to MI6. But his MI5 time had not been wasted and, in fact, launched his writing career. Sisman hints that his motivation may have come in part from one of his bosses, John Bingham, a superb case officer who also wrote espionage novels (though in his case, under his own name). By mid-year when he joined the sister service, Cornwell had completed his first two novels and begun his third, provisionally titled The Carcass of the Lion, which was published as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.[8]

After an account of Cornwell’s MI6 training and his assignment in Germany, the focus of John le Carré: The Biography shifts to Cornwell’s writings and the consequences of his rapid rise to fame, and its accompanying financial security. Foremost among these consequences—after the demands of Inland Revenue and the Foreign Office’s reluctant approval to publish—was the revelation in the Sunday Times of le Carré’s true identity, followed shortly by the MI6 decision that he must resign. (p. 254) Sisman describes how Cornwell’s newfound celebrity required dealing with literary agents and editors and meeting the publisher’s demands for more books. These topics become major issues in the book. Cornwell would ultimately write 23 novels. Sisman discusses the origins of each novel, its plot evolution, and the writing techniques Cornwell developed, all while he attempted to cope with persistent complications imposed on his life by extended family and by the self-inflicted difficulties that arose from repeated extramarital liaisons, which ultimately contributed to his divorce.

Sisman’s account of the events surrounding the publishing of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1963 illustrates how Cornwell achieved financial security. His parsimonious publisher, Victor Gollancz, paid an advance of £150, as he had for his two previous books. Public interest was spurred by the imprisonment of MI6 officer and KGB spy George Blake (1962), the Profumo Affair in London (1963), and the recent defection of Kim Philby (1963), and the book quickly became the most widely read and “most talked about book of the season.” (p. 248) By 1964, it had reached its 20th impression. Then an American publisher, Coward-McCann offered $4,500 for the US rights and Paramount Pictures bought the film rights for £7,500. Cornwell’s financial future was secured and he bought a new car. Paramount wanted Burt Lancaster to play Alec Leamas as a Canadian protagonist of the story. Cornwell preferred keeping it British with Trevor Howard or Peter Finch in the role. Richard Burton got the part.

Cornwell’s approach to writing began with research and handwritten drafts on legal pads. An example is Sisman’s account of one of le Carré’s best espionage books, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy[9]—originally entitled The Reluctant Autumn of George Smiley. It explores the moral ambiguities of counterespionage, and Cornwell considered it “the most difficult book I ever wrote.” (p. 315) And due to a contract stipulation that allowed Paramount to control use of the Smiley character, the first draft did not include Smiley at all. Legal action corrected the problem.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was originally conceived as the first of up to 15 books about the struggle between “the Circus (Cornwell’s term for MI6 London headquarters] and the KGB,” (p. 352) between Smiley and his KGB nemesis, Karla. Ultimately, Cornwell would settle for three rather than 15: two became TV miniseries (Tinker, Tailor and Smiley’s People), and Sisman tells how Alec Guinness became the epitome of Smiley and Cornwell’s friend. It was in these works that terms like “honeytrap” and “mole” became household words and were even “adopted by intelligence professionals.” (p. 357)

As befitting bestselling books—and le Carré novels met that test—reviewers found them fair game. Sis man includes illustrative quotes as he comments on the reviews of each book. Most were positive, but even The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had its negative critics. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer wrote, “The spy thriller in this case just does not seem the right vehicle for him, and his prose style is too thin as fuel.” (p. 294) “David was very hurt by the criticism,” writes Sisman. (p. 295) Even though positive reviews far outnumbered the negative, “they failed to soothe the wounds he received from the bad.” (p. 295) The wounds deepened when he moved from the espionage genre as in the semi-autobiographical The Naive and Sentimental Lover[10], which engendered comments like “a disastrous failure,” “the narrative limps along,” “sporadically dazzling, but running to fat.” American David Remnick found The Night Manager[11] “a Goldfinger[12] for grownups.” (496) Some who fancied themselves guardians of “authentic literature” were even more vindictive and suggested he “stick to the ‘genre’ novel and not aspire to ‘real’ literature,” a topic Sisman explores at some length. (p. 345)

Professional reviewers were not the only ones to comment on the le Carré novels. Some of his former intelligence service colleagues also expressed disparaging views, though not publicly. (p. 296) Official Soviet criticism, writes Sisman, with its distinctive political aroma, publicly “demonized him for ‘elevating the spy to the status of a hero in the Cold War.’“ (p. 452) The unofficial reality was selectively different. On a research trip to the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era, in preparation for his next book—tentatively entitled The Biggest Toys in the World and then Thinking Like a Hero, ultimately published as Russia House[13]—Cornwell attended a reception arranged by Sir Bryan Cartledge, the British ambassador to Moscow with whom Cornwell had once served as an officer cadet. Numerous KGB officers were invited and “they all came … (and] were all le Carré fans despite the difficulty of obtaining his books in Russia.” (p. 455) Years later Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov would admit he was also an admirer, adding that he identified “with George Smiley,” not Karla. (p. 505) It was during this trip that Cornwell pointedly declined an invitation to meet Kim Philby.

Sisman’s analysis of the evolution of Russia House further illuminates Cornwell’s writing techniques. On his return from Moscow, Cornwell tore up his first draft and began again to produce the final version. It resulted in a first printing of 350,000 copies. (Initial printings of his first books had been only 3,000 copies.)

Despite a bout with prostate cancer, David Cornwell would go on to write 14 books after Russian House. The latest le Carré book, The Pigeon Tunnel[14]—a memoir with a title he had contemplated for Smiley’s People among others—was published in September 2016. Several novels were made into films in which Cornwell plays cameo roles. The stories they tell reflect Cornwell’s attempts to comment on the topics of the day—terrorism, corporate greed, the Mafia—though several have espionage-related themes. Sisman discusses them all, adding many anecdotes about the famous people with whom Cornwell came into contact.

By the 1980s Cornwell was one of Britain’s premier authors with comfortable homes in Cornwall and London, though still something of an iconoclast. He declined a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and a knighthood with the comment, “Titles do disagreeable things to people… I prefer to stay outside the tent.” (p. 587) He also asked that his name be withdrawn from the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize for fiction, noting, “I do not compete for literary prizes.” (p. 588) He did accept an honorary doctorate from Oxford.

Cornwell, who turns 85 in October [2016], is still writing, and Sisman asks, rhetorically, why he perseveres; John le Carré: The Biography itself strongly suggests the writing continues because of the personal satisfaction it provides. Thus, Sisman considers his book a work-in-progress, to be updated in future editions. For now, readers can enjoy his stimulating biography of an author with a gift for creating haunting phrases and enduring characters, whose subtle pen has contributed so much to literary world.

More about Le Carré[15]

Spies Like Us: A Conversation With John le Carré and Ben Macintyre[16]

BRISTOL, England—Their subject is spying. Their obsessions are secrecy and betrayal. They are Englishmen of a certain background, old friends and admirers of each other’s work. One writes novels; the other, nonfiction. They speak in practically perfect sentences.

Conversations between John le Carré and Ben Macintyre[17] are inevitably warm, interesting, witty, discursive, conspiratorial and gossipy, although their gossip is often espionage-related and more rarefied than yours or mine. They met for lunch recently, on a desultorily sunny weekday in a private dining room at a boutique hotel in Bristol. Le Carré, 85, had been driven from his home in Cornwall (he also lives in London) by his family’s “outdoor man,” responsible for yardwork and other outside-the-house tasks; Macintyre, 53, had come by train from Winchester, where he had been speaking at a literary festival.

As usual, they were in the midst of a flurry of projects, finishing things up and starting new ones. Le Carré, who over a 56-year career has virtually single-handedly elevated spy novels from genre fiction into works of high literature, has a new book, A Legacy of Spies,” coming out in September. Thrillingly for his admirers, it is a coda of sorts to The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963), the third of his two dozen novels and the one that for many readers serves as the gateway drug to full-blown le Carré addiction.

Macintyre, meanwhile, is a longtime columnist for The Times of London and the author of 11 elegant, authoritative and dryly humorous nonfiction works, focusing most recently on 20th-century British espionage. He has a deep appreciation for the amusing and the absurd. His most recent book is Rogue Heroes, about the origins of the British special forces unit; he is working on a new one, about a Cold War spy case.

Early in his writing, le Carré introduced the subversive hypothesis that the spies of East and West were two sides of the same tarnished coin, each as bad as the other. It was a stunning idea, espionage painted not in black and white but in shades of gray. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the author lost the scaffolding for his fiction. His later books are angrier, more polemical, their worldview darker, reflecting the chaotic morality of the post-Soviet era and often presenting the United States—with its exceptionalism, its flouting of international norms, as he sees it—as the villain in the post-Cold War era.

A Legacy of Spies returns to the past from the vantage point of the present. Elderly and retired to France, the ex-spy Peter Guillam, an old acquaintance of the attentive le Carré reader, is made to answer for long-buried sins when the adult children of the two principal casualties in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold suddenly bring a lawsuit against the security services. Guillam is forced to revisit the dubious setup and muddy justification for that operation, answering awkward questions from humorless young officials who have no patience for or understanding of how the agency operated in the old days. Even George Smiley himself makes an appearance.

The publication of the new work is being treated as a major literary occasion in Britain. A reading and Q. and A. at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Sept. 7 will be broadcast live in theaters in Britain and Europe.

In real life, le Carré is known as David Cornwell. He took his pen name to keep his day job—spying for Britain, which he did in the 1950s and early ‘60s—separate from his writing identity. Over a bottle of white wine and, among other things, smoked salmon served under a glass from which clouds of smoke actually billowed out, he and Macintyre needed little prompting to speak. They all but interviewed themselves.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

S.L. Let’s talk about the new book, David. It’s been a long time since you wrote about the Cold War. Why did you want to revisit it now?

J.L.C. Because it seems to me, as Smiley says at the end of the book, that what happened then turns out to have been futile. Spies did not win the Cold War. They made absolutely no difference in the long run.

I wanted to take the characters and apply the experience of my own life, and examine what happened to them from a human, humanitarian dimension. And then place the whole story in this vacuum in which we live at the moment, which is occupied by really threatening forces. What marks the Cold War period is that at least we had a defining mission. At the moment our mission is survival. The thing that joins the West is fear. And everything else is up for grabs.

S.L. Ben, you have said that David’s work had a big influence in your becoming interested in the world of espionage. Which of his novels did you read first?

B.M. Oh, I think it was The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. It had a profound impact on me. I always felt that the books were deeply based in experience. It’s no accident that some of our greatest writers have been spooks—Greene, Somerset Maugham, Ian Fleming, Priestley and you, David.

Spying and fiction are not entirely different processes. You try to create an artificial world. And the better and more realistic and more emotionally believable you can make that world, as either a spy or a novelist, the better you are going to be at it. These are characters who make up their past, who make up their present and who try to imagine a future.

J.L.C. And you must also contemplate all the varieties of a person’s character. Could she be this? Could he be that? Can I turn him or her into that other person? All of those are actually the serious preoccupations of a novelist. One of the fascinations of the intelligence world is that it’s such a reflection of the society it serves. If you really want to examine the national psychology, it’s locked in the secret world.

As it turns out, both le Carré and Macintyre were recruited by Britain’s intelligence services as young men. Their experiences were starkly different. Le Carré, whose childhood was awful and whose father was a notorious con man, signed up. Macintyre, approached by a professor in his final year at Cambridge and interviewed by someone called “Major Halliday,” demurred.

J.L.C. Ben came from a secure family, nice background, interesting father, all of that. [Macintyre’s father was a history professor at Oxford.] But I felt in a curious way that I needed a stable institution, and more than that, a kind of paternalistic institution. I mean, I was brought up middle class, but I came from the criminal class. And that made me enormously attractive to the spies, because larceny was built in.

B.M. It was the typical sort of tap on the shoulder. It was quite amusing, really. A don that I didn’t know terribly well came barreling up and he said, “What are you doing after university?” I said, “I don’t really know.” And he said, “Well, there are some parts of the Foreign Office that are different from other parts of the Foreign Office. In a sense, they are different from the Foreign Office itself.” He went on for about five minutes. Of course, I knew exactly what he was saying, although he never actually said it.

So I went along to Carlton House Terrace [where MI6 had an office]. And there was very clearly more than one Major Halliday, because other people I know were recruited by a completely different Major Halliday. Mine had on socks and sandals, which was quite upsetting at the time.

I was flattered and interested, and David was probably responsible for my interest. I just thought that the characters seemed so complicated and fascinating and corrupted. I mean, there’s something very louche about British intelligence, something very unmoored. I don’t know whether it creates people who go off the rails, or whether you have to be slightly off the rails to want to do it.

S.L. What happened then?

B.M. I had one other meeting.

J.L.C. And no lunch?

B.M. No, it never got to lunch. I was headed off to America, and it wasn’t going to be my scene. But I was very fascinated by it, for nonfiction purposes. There’s something about writing about this world that enables you to write about the sort of things that novelists usually write about—loyalty and love and betrayal and romance and adventure. And because spies invent their world, and often invent their pasts, they’re tremendously unreliable narrators. You have a wonderful backdrop of truth and nontruth to work against.

David’s novels are so brilliant because they’re emotionally and psychologically absolutely true, but of course they’re novels. And what I try to do in mine is write something that truly reads like a novel but nonetheless cleaves closely and absolutely to what happened.

S.L. Is there something about the British psyche that makes spying, or at least duplicity, an enticing prospect?

B.M. We Brits are particularly susceptible to the double life, aren’t we? Is it because we are a sort of theatrical, and sort of unfaithful, culture?

J.L.C. I think it’s because hypocrisy is the national sport. For our class in my era, public school was a deliberately brutalizing process that separated you from your parents, and your parents were parties to that. They integrated you with imperial ambitions and then let you loose into the world with a sense of elitism—but with your heart frozen.

B.M. There is no deceiver more effective than a public-school-educated Brit. He could be standing next to you in the bus queue, having a Force 12 nervous breakdown, and you’d never be any the wiser.

J.L.C. When you’ve become that frozen child, but you’re an outwardly functioning, charming chap, there is a lot of wasteland inside you that is waiting to be cultivated.

S.L. David, you’ve spoken about your childhood, your outrageously criminal father, how you were sent to boarding school when you were 5, the lies that permeated everything. How did all this come to play when you were recruited by MI5?

J.L.C. The truth, in my childhood, didn’t really exist. That is to say, we shared the lies. To run the household with no money required a lot of serious lying to the local garage man, the local butcher, the local everybody. And then there was the extra element of class. All my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles were entirely working class—laborers, builders, that sort of thing. One of them worked up telegraph poles. And so out of that to invent, as my father did, this socially adept, well-spoken, charming chap—that was an operation of great complicity. And I had to lie about my parental situation while I was at boarding school. I only mention these things because they’re the extremes of what can warp an Englishman.

B.M. What you’ve just described—is it the root of your fiction? Your ability to think yourself into someone else?

J.L.C. Absolutely. I mean childhood, at my age, is no excuse for anything. But it is a fact that my childhood was aberrant and peculiar and nomadic and absolutely unpredictable. So if I was in boarding school, I didn’t know where I would be spending the holidays. If my father said he was going to come and take me out, it was as likely as not that he wouldn’t show up. I would say to the other boys, I had a wonderful day out, when I had really been sitting in a field somewhere.

The mixture of solitude and uncertainty fertilized the situation enormously. To which you must add the amazing cast of crooked characters who passed through my father’s life. Inevitably I was making up stories to myself, retreating into myself. And then there was the genetic inheritance I got from my father. This was a man who, while still being pursued by the police, or bankrupt, or Christ knows what, who had done prison time, then boldly stands as a parliamentary candidate. He had a huge capacity for invention. He had absolutely no relationship to the truth. He would come talk to me in the morning and I would challenge him, and in the evening he would say, “That’s not what I said to you.”

S.L. Do you see parallels with President Trump’s view of the truth?

J.L.C. Exactly that. He is the most recent model. Before that it was Robert Maxwell. The parallels are extraordinary. My sister, too, we absolutely recognize the same syndrome. There is not a grain of truth there.

S.L. Do you think the Russians really have something on Trump?

B.M. I can tell you what the veterans of the S.I.S. [the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6] think, which is yes, kompromat was done on him. Of course, kompromat is done on everyone. So they end up, the theory goes, with this compromising bit of material and then they begin to release parts of it. They set up an ex-MI6 guy, Chris Steele, who is a patsy, effectively, and they feed him some stuff that’s true, and some stuff that isn’t true, and some stuff that is demonstrably wrong. Which means that Trump can then stand up and deny it, while knowing that the essence of it is true. And then he has a stone in his shoe for the rest of his administration.

It’s important to remember that Putin is a K.G.B.-trained officer, and he thinks in the traditional K.G.B. way.

J.L.C. The mentality that is operating in Russia now is absolutely, as far as Putin is concerned, no different to the mentality that drove the most exotic conspiracies during the Cold War. It worked then, it works now. As far as Trump, I would suspect they have it, because they’ve denied it. If they have it and they’ve set Trump up, they’d say, “Oh no, we haven’t got anything.” But to Trump they’re saying, “Aren’t we being kind to you?”

B.M. And today you get this wonderful Russian lawyer woman [Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was in the pre-election meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr.] who is straight out of one of our books, a character that is possibly connected to the Russian state. Who knows? They exist somewhere in that foggy, deniable hinterland. It’s called maskirovka—little masquerade—where you create so much confusion and uncertainty and mystery that no one knows what the truth is.

J.L.C. For Putin, it’s a kind of little piece of background music to keep things going. The smoking gun might or might not be the documents exchanged about the Trump Tower in Moscow [which Trump is said to have been planning to build]. Then there’s the really seedy stuff in the Caucasus. There are bits of scandal which, if added up, might suggest he went to Russia for money. And that would then fit in with the fact that he isn’t half as, a tenth as rich as he pretends to be.

Throughout the lunch, le Carré and Macintyre discussed spies they knew personally, or knew of: Russian spies, MI6 spies, double agents and old retired spies who have a habit of looking up le Carré when they visit Britain. Macintyre brought up Kim Philby, the subject of his 2014 book, A Spy Among Friends, and one of the notorious group of double agents in the 1950s known as the Cambridge Five. On his first trip to Russia, in the late 1980s, le Carré was told he could meet with Philby, who had defected and was living in Moscow. (Philby died in 1988.)

J.L.C. It was before the wall came down and our ambassador had interceded with Raisa Gorbachev. I met a lot of people like Kim Philby’s Russian minder and other spies. That was when I was offered the chance to go and meet Philby.

And I refused to do so. I felt a spurt of hatred. I felt, “If he wants me he can’t have me.” I didn’t want to give him comfort.

B.M. Do you regret it now, David? Do you wish you had?

J.L.C. Out of human curiosity. But I feel now, as I expect you do, that I have a very clear portrait of him. He was much more intelligent and charming than was reasonable, and also wicked. He loved what he was doing. Betrayal was his element.

S.L. And now, David, have you said goodbye to Smiley?

J.L.C. He’s steadied me through my writing life. He’s been a kindly hand and a wonderful writing companion. I think he holds the conventional key to me. I think all of us, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, have to identify with our central character, but with Smiley it seems like a dialogue. But he’s said all he has to say. Also, he’s about 120.

B.M. He’s earned his retirement.

S.L. You’re doing an interview with the German news media after the Royal Festival Hall event. What will you do after that?

J.L.C. I really think that it will be my last performance in public. And I will be 86 by that time, so I should look at reality. I may have one more novel in me. And if it’s not good, I have a whole team of unkind selectors who will tell me. I always thought that Graham Greene, for instance, went on for too long.

S.L. But it’s hard not to write, if you’re a writer, isn’t it?

J.L.C. It’s the only thing you can do, in a way. I cannot stand idleness. I cannot stand not writing.

S.L. Do you feel you’ve come full circle or closed the door on a part of your life?

J.L.C. I guess this is, for me, some sort of celebration. I feel that I’m just about grown up enough to face the truth about myself.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3, Winter 2016-17, pp. 113-116). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] For another consideration of Le Carré, see James Burridge, “SIGINT in the Novels of John le Carré,” in Studies in Intelligence (1994), pp. 125-132. This article has a list of references to le Carré’s books and articles about his writing.

[3] Harris, Robert (1995). Enigma. New York: Random House

[4] Sisman, Adam (1994). A.J.P. Taylor: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson

[5] Le Carré, John [pseud. for David John More Cornwall] (1962, 2102). Call for the Dead. New York : Penguin Books

[6] Jago, Michael (2013). The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham. London : Biteback Publishing

[7] Le Carrè, John (1986). A Perfect Spy. New York: Knopf

[8] Le Carré, John (1964). The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. New York, Coward-McCann

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

[10] Le Carré, John (1971, 1972). The Naive And Sentimental Lover. New York: Knopf [LCCN: 78163133]

[11] Le Carré, John (1993). The Night Manager. New York: Knopf

[12] Fleming, Ian (1981). Goldfinger. Geneva: Edito-Service

[13] Le Carré, John(1989).The Russia House. New York: Knopf

[14] Le Carré, John (2016). The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life. New York, New York: Viking

[15] John le Carré has a new novel, A Legacy of Spies, to be published in September, 2017. Le Carré, John (2017). A Legacy of Spies: A Novel. New York, New York: Viking [LOC 2017032695]. “The undisputed master returns with a riveting new book—his first Smiley novel in more than twenty-five years Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications. Interweaving past with present so that each may tell its own intense story, John le Carré has spun a single plot as ingenious and thrilling as the two predecessors on which it looks back: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In a story resonating with tension, humor and moral ambivalence, le Carré and his narrator Peter Guillam present the reader with a legacy of unforgettable characters old and new”– Provided by publisher.

[16] Sarah Lyall, “Spies Like Us: A Conversation With John le Carré and Ben Macintyre,” New York Times Book Review (August. 25, 2017) Sarah Lyall is a writer at large for The Times. A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2017, on Page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: “Spies Like Us”.

[17] Ben Macintyre. (born 25 December 1963) is a British author, historian, reviewer and columnist writing for The Times newspaper. His columns range from current affairs to historical controversies.


The Russian Bride

Title:                      The Russian Bride

Author:                 Ed Kovacs

Kovacs, Ed (2015). The Russian Bride. New York : Minotaur Books

LCCN:    2014040990

PS3611.O74943 R87 2015


  • “Major Kit Bennings is an elite military intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow. When he is blackmailed and compromised by a brutal mafia don and former KGB general, he knows that his military career, if not his life, will soon be over. With little to lose, he goes rogue in the hope of saving his kidnapped sister and stopping a deadly scheme directed against America. Yulana Petkova is a gorgeous woman, devoted mother, and Russian weapons engineer. And maybe more. Spy? Mob assassin? The shotgun marriage to stranger Kit Bennings takes her on a life-or-death hopscotch from Moscow to Los Angeles, from secret US military bases to Las Vegas, where she uses her wiles at every turn to carry out her own hidden agenda. Hunted by killers from both Russia and the United States, Bennings struggles to stop the mobster’s brilliant deception–a theft designed to go unnoticed that will make the mafia kingpin the richest man in the world, while decimating the very heart of America’s economic and intelligence institutions”– Provided by publisher.


Date Posted:      February 20, 2017

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[1]

Major Kit Bennings is an elite military intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow. When he is blackmailed and compromised by a brutal mafia don and former KGB general, he knows that his military career, if not his life, will soon be over. With little to lose, he goes rogue in the hope of saving his kidnapped sister and stopping a deadly scheme directed againstAmerica. Yulana Petkova is a gorgeous woman, devoted mother, and Russian weapons engineer. And maybe more. Spy? Mob assassin? The shotgun marriage to stranger Kit Bennings takes her on a life-or-death hopscotch from Moscow to Los Angeles, from secret US military bases to Las Vegas, where she uses her wiles at every turn to carry out her own hidden agenda. Hunted by killers from both Russia and the US, Bennings struggles to stop the mobster’s brilliant deception—a theft designed to go unnoticed—that will make the mafia kingpin the richest man in the world, while decimating the heart of America’s economic and intelligence institutions.

[1] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 141). This “review” is more of a rewrite of the summary provided by the publisher

The Eiger Sanction

Title:                      The Eiger Sanction

Author:                 Trevanian

Trevanian (1972) [pseud. Rodney William Whitaker]. The Eiger Sanction. New York: Crown Publishers

LCCN:    72084293

PZ4.T8135 Ei


Date Posted:      January 24, 2017

Review by Barron Laycock[1]

In the mid 1970s three back to back best sellers were provided by the reclusive and somewhat mysterious author who wrote under the pen name of Trevanian. The three novels were first, The Eiger Sanction, followed quickly by a sequel, The Loo Sanction[2], and finally, by a complete change of pace with Shibumi[3]. Of the three, The Eiger Sanction was easily the best novel. It is, in fact, a taut and thrilling tale of a once famous mountaineer and retired government assassin turned college art history professor who is forced back into the “sanction” business both by personal greed and crude manipulation by the spymaster of the clandestine government agency that requires his services.

An American courier has been killed in Copenhagen, and he happened to an old friend of Professor Jonathan Hemlock, who is seduced back into harm’s way by “Control”, an albino ex-Nazi who now heads one of our most clandestine federal agencies. Before long Hemlock is on his way to sanction one of the two assailants, and the chase is on. By dint of coincidence, Control discovers that the other assailant is included in an international mountaineering party, which will assault Switzerland’s Eiger the coming summer. Naturally, Hemlock is manipulated into preparing for the climb as a replacement climber.

Once we finally make it to the mountain, the action is literally non-stop, quite accurate technically, and absolutely riveting to read about. The author holds our rapt attention with a plot that unfolds in a quite plausible and inevitably tragic fashion with no one necessarily spared as the frenzy reaches its natural conclusion. This is a terrific spy thriller. This is great entertainment, and something I can heartily recommend as a great summer read. Enjoy!

[1] Barron Laycock, “Terrific Thriller by Trevanian!” at, downloaded January 23, 2017

[2] Trevanian (1973) [pseud. Rodney William Whitaker]. The Loo Sanction. New York: Crown Publishers

[3] Trevanian (1979, 2005). Shibumi: A Novel. New York: Three Rivers Press


Title:                      Maelstrom

Author:                  Howard Hunt

Hunt, E. Howard (1948). Maelstrom. New York: Farrar, Straus

LCCN:    48007665

PZ3.H9123 Mae

Date Updated:  February 28, 2017

Review of E. Howard Hunt’s work by Gore Vidal.[1]This book has faded into obscurity, not even seriously reviewed at the time of its publication. For a general discussion of Hunt’s books see below a review of Hunt’s work by Gore Vidal. Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[2]

From December 7, 1941, to August 15, 1973, the United Slate’ has been [“was”, although one can say that we have continued to be at war until the present day] continuously at war except for a brief, too little celebrated interregnum. Between 1945 and 1950 the empire turned its attention to peaceful pursuits and enjoyed something of a golden or at least for us not too brazen an age. The arts in particular nourished. Each week new genius was revealed by the press, and old genius decently buried. Among the new novelists of that far-off time were Truman Capote (today a much loved television performer) [Capote died August 25, 1984] and myself. Although we were coevals[3] (a word that the late William Faulkner thought meant evil at the same time as), we were unlike: Capote looked upon the gorgeous Speed Lamkin[4] as a true tiger in the Capotean garden where l saw mere lambkin astray in my devouring jungle.

The one thing that Capote end I did have in common was a need for money. And so each of us applied to the Guggenheim Foundation for a grant; and each was turned down. Shocked, we compared notes. Studied the list of those who had received grants. “Will you just look.” moaned Truman, “at those aah-full pee-pull they keep giving mun-nee to!” Except for the admirable Carson McCullers who got so many grants in her day that she was known as the conductress on the gravy train, the list of honored writers was not to our minds distinguished. Typical of the sort of novelist the Guggenheims preferred to Capote and me in 1946 was twenty-eight-year-old (practically middle-aged) Howard Hunt, author of East of Farewell[5], a novel described by the publishers as “probably the first novel about this war by an American who actually helped fight it.” The blurb is unusually excited. Apparently, H.H. “grew up like any other American boy” (no tap-dancing on a river boat for him) “going to public schools and to college (Brown University, where he studied under I. J. Kapstein).”

A clue. I slip into reverie. Kapstein will prove to be my Rosebud. The key to the Hunt mystery. But does Kapstein still live? WiII he talk? Or is he afraid? I daydream. “Hunt … E. Howard Hunt … ah, yes. Sit down, Mr…. uh, Bozell? Forgive me . . . this last stroke seems to have…. Where were we? Howie, Yes. I must tell you something of the Kapstein creative writing method. I require the tyro pen-man to copy out in long hand some acknowledged world masterpiece. Howie copied out—if memory serves—Of Human Bondage.

But until the Kapstein Connection is made, I must search the public record for clues. The dust jacket of H. H’s first novel tells us that he became a naval ensign in May, 1941. “There followed many  months of active duty at sea on a destroyer, on the North Atlantic patrol, protecting the life-line to embattled England. . . .” That’s more like it. My eyes shut: the sea. A cold foggy day. Slender, virile H. H. arrives (by kayak?) at a secret rendezvous with a British battleship. On the bridge is Admiral Sir Leslie Charteris, K. C. B. It’s Walter Pidgeon, of course. “Thank God, you got through. I never thought it possible. There’s someone particularly wants to thank you.” Then out of the swirling fog steps a short burly figure; the face is truculent yet somehow indomitable (no, it’s not Norman Mailer). In one powerful hand he holds a thick cigar. When He speaks, the voice is the very voice of human freedom and. yes, dignity. “Ensign Hunt, seldom in the annals of our island story has this our embattled yet still mightily sceptered realm owed to but one man. . . .”

  1. H. is a daydreamer and like all great dreamers (I think particularly of Edgar Rice Burroughs) he stirs one’s own inner theater into productions of the most lurid sort, serials from which dull fact must be rigorously excluded—like the Random House blurb? “In February, 1942, Howard Hunt was detached from has ship and sent to Boston.” Now if the dates given on the jacket are accurate, he served as an ensign for no more than nine months. So how many of those nine months could he have spent protecting England’s embattled life-line? H. H.’s naval career ends when he is “sent to Boston, to take treatment for an injury in a naval hospital.” This is worthy of the Great Anti-Semanticist Nixon himself. Did H. H. slip a disk while taking cholera shot down in the dispensary? Who’s Who merely records: “Served with USNR, 1940-42.”

I turn for Information to Mr. Tad Szulc, H.H.’s principal biographer and an invaluable source of reference. According to Mr. Szulc, H. H. worked for the next two years “as a movie script writer and, briefly, as a war correspondent in the Pacific.” Who’s, Who corroborates: “Movie script writer, editor March of Time (1942-43): war corr. Life mag. 1942.” Yet one wonders what movies he wrote and what stories he filed, and from where.

Limit of Darkness[6] was written during this period. H. H.’s second novel is concerned with a novel air squadron on Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Was H. H. actually on Guadalcanal or did he use as source book Ira Wolfert’s just published Battle for the Solomons[7]? Possible clue: the character of war correspondent Francis X. 0’Bannon . . . not at first glance a surrogate for H. H. who never casts himself In his books as anything but a Wasp. O’Bannon is everything H. H. detests—a low-class papist vulgarian who is also—what else?—”unhealthily fat and his jowls were pasty.” The author contrasts him most unfavorably with the gallant Wasps to whom he dedicates the novel: “The Men Who Flew from Henderson.”

They are incredibly fine, these young chaps. They ought to be with names like McRae, Cordell, Forsyth, Lambert, Lewis, Griffin, Sampson, Vaughan, Scott—not a nigger, faggot, kike, or wop in the outfit. Just reel guys who say real true simple things like “a guy who’s fighting just to get back to the States is only half fighting …” A love scene: “‘Oh, Ben, if it only would stop.’ She put her face into the hollow of his shoulder. ‘No,’ he said. . . . ‘We haven’t killed enough of them yet or burned their cities or bombed them to hell the way we must. When I put away my wings I want it to be for good—not just for a few years.’ “ A key motif in the H.H. oeuvre:  the enemy must be defeated once and for all so that man can live at peace with himself in a world where United Fruit and ITT know what’s best not only for their stockholders but for their customers as well.

An academic critic would doubtless make something of the fact that since the only had guy in the book is a fat, pasty Catholic newspaperman, H. H. might well be reproaching himself for not having flown with the golden gallant guys who gave so much of themselves for freedom, to get the job done. In their numinous company, H. H. may very well have fell like an overweight Catholic-and all because of that mysterious accident in the naval hospital; in its wry so like Henry James’ often alluded to but never precisely by the Master named disability which turned out to have been—after years of patient literary detective work—chronic constipation. Academic critics are not always wrong.

The actual limiting of Limit of Darkness is not at all bad; it Is not at all good either. H. H. demonstrates the way a whole generation of writers ordered words upon the page in imitation of what they took to be Hemingway’s technique. At best Hemingway was an artful, careful writer who took a good deal of trouble to master scenes of action—the hardest kind of writing to do, while his dialogue looks most attractive on the page. Yet unwary imitators are apt to find themselves (as in Limit of Darkness) slipping into aimless redundancies. Wanting to Hemingwaywize the actual cadences of Wasp speech as spoken by young fliers, H. H. so stylizes their voices that one character blends with another. Although Hemingway worked with pasteboard cutouts, too, he was cunning enough to set his dolls against most stylishly rendered landscapes; he also gave them vivid things to do: the duck that got shot was always a real duck that really got shot. Finally, the Hemingway trick of repeating key nouns and proper names is simply not possible for other writers—as ten thousand novels (including some of Hemingway’s own) testify.

In H.H.’s early books, which won for him a coveted (by Capote and me) Guggenheim grant, there is a certain amount of solemnity if not seriousness. The early H. H. liked to quote from high-toned writers like Pliny and Louis MacNeice as well as from that echt American Wasp Witham Cullen Bryant— whose radical politics would have shocked H. H. had he but known. But then I suspect the quotations are not from H. H.’s wide reading of world literature but from brief random inspection of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

H.H.’s fliers are conservative lads who don’t think much of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. They fight to get the job done. That’s all. Old Glory. H.H. is plainly dotty about the Wasp aristocracy. One of the characters in Limit of Darkness is almost unhinged when he learns that a girl he has met went to Ethel Walker. Had H. H. not chosen a life of adventure I think he might have made a good second string to O’Hara’s second string to Hemingway. H. H. has the O’Hara sense of irredeemable social Inferiority which takes the place for so many Irish-American writers of original sin; he also shares O’Hara’s pleasure in listing the better brand names of this world. Even on Guadalcanal we are told of a pipe tobacco from “a rather good hew Zealand leaf.”

By 1943 H. H. was a promising author. According to The New York Times, “East of Farewell was a fine realistic novel, without any doubt the best sea story of the wet.” Without any doubt it was probably the only sea story of the war at that point but the Times has a style to maintain. Now a momentous change in the daydreamer’s life. With Limit of Darkness in the works at Random House. H. H. (according to Who’s Who) joined the USAF (1943-1946); and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. It would mean that despite “the injury in a naval hospital” our hero was again able to fight for human dignity, this time in the skies.

But according to Mr. Szulc what H. H. really joined was not the Air Force bur the Office of Strategic Services, a cloak-and-dagger outfit whose clandestine activities probably did not appreciably lengthen the war. “As a cover, he was given the rank of Air Corps Lieutenant.” Mr. Szulc tells us that H. H. was sent to China to train guerrillas behind the Japanese lines. Curiously enough, I have not come across a Chinese setting in any of H. H.’s novels. Was he ever in China? One daydreams. “’Lieutenant Hunt reporting for duty, General.’ The haggard face with the luminous strange eyes stared at him through the tangled vines. ‘Lieutenant Hunt?’ Wingate’s voice was shrill with awe. ‘Until today, no man has ever hacked his way through that living wall of slant-eyed Japanese flesh….’ “

1946, In H.H. returned to civilian life and wrote what is probably his most self-revealing novel, Stranger in Town [See reference in Books Reviewed at the end of this article]. This must have been very nearly the first of the returned war veteran novels, a genre best exemplified by Merle Milter’s That Winter; reading it, I confess to a certain nostalgia.

Handsome, virile young Major Fleming returns to New York City, a glittering Babylon in those days before the writing appeared on Mayor Lindsay’s wall. Fleming has a sense of alienation (new word in 1947). He cannot bear the callous civilian world which he contrasts unfavorably with how it was for us back them in the Pacific in our cruddy foxholes with the frigging sound of mortal overhead and our buddies dying—for what? How could any black marketing civilian spiv know what war was really like?

Actually, none of us knew what it was like either since, as far as my investigations have taken me, no novelist of the Second World War or returned-veteran-from-the-war novelist ever took part in any action. Most were clerks in headquarter companies or with Yank or Stars and Stripes; the manlier was a cook. H. H. may have observed some of the war as a correspondent and, perhaps, from behind the lines in China, but no foxhole ever held him, no wolf ever fed him, no vastation overwhelmed him in the Galleria at Naples. But the daydreamer of course is always there. And how!

The book is dedicated to two dead officers (Wasp), as well as to “The other gallant young men who did not return.” Only a book reviewer whose dues were faithfully paid up to the Communist Party could keep a tear from his eye as he read that line. Then the story: it Is early 1946, Major Fleming checks into the elegant Manhattan flat of his noncombatant brother who is out of town but has given him the flat and the services of a worthy black retainer who could have played De Lawd in Green Pastures. A quick resumé of Fleming’s career follows.

Incidentally, each of H. H.’s narratives is periodically brought to a halt while he provides the reader with highly detailed capsule biographies written in Who’ Who style. H. H. plainly enjoys composing plausible (and implausible) biographies for his characters—not to mention for himself. In Contemporary Authors, H. H. composed a bio for his pseudonym Robert Dietrich, taking ten years off his age, putting himself in the infantry during Korea, awarding himself a Bronze Star and a degree from Georgetown. A quarter century later when the grandmother trampler and special councilor to the President Charles W. Colson wanted documents invented and history revised to the interest of Nixon’s re-election, he turned with confidence to H. H. He knew his man—and fellow Brown alumnus.

As Fleming orders himself champagne and a luxurious meal ending with Baked Alaska (for one!), we get the bio. He has been everywhere in the war from “Jugland” (Yugoslavia?) to the Far East. He remembers good meals in Shanghai and Johnny Walker Black Label. Steak. Yet his memories are bitter. He is bitter. He is also edgy. “I can’t go around for the rest of my life like somebody out of the Ministry of Fear.”

Fleming is an artist. A sculptor. H. H. conforms to that immutable rule of bad fiction which requires the sensitive hero to practice the one art his creator knows nothing about. We learn that Fleming’s old girl friend has married someone else. This is a recurrent theme in the early novels. Was H. H. jilted? Recipient of a Dear John letter? Get cracking, thesis-writers.

The civilian world of New York, 1946, annoys Fleming (“maybe the Far East has spoiled me for America”). He is particularly enraged by demobilization. “Oversees, the nineteen-year-old milksops were bleeding for their mothers, and their mothers were bleeding for them, and the army was being demobilized, stripped of its poems…. He had had faith in the war until they partitioned Poland again…. Wherever Russia moved in. that pert of the world was sealed off.” Fleming has a suspicion that he is not going to like what he calls “the Atomic Age.” But then, “They trained me to be a killer. . . . Now they’ll have to undo it.”

At a chic night club, Fleming meets the greasy Argentine husband of his old flame; he beats him up. It seems that Fleming has never been very keen about Latins. When he was a schoolboy at Choate (yes, Choate). he met an Italian girl in New York. She took him home and got his cherry. But “she smelled of girlie, and the sheets weren’t very clean, and after it was all over when I was down on the street again, walking home, I thought that I never wanted to see her again.” Ernest would have added rain to that sentence, if not to the scene.

The themes that are to run through H.H.’s work and life are all to be found in Stranger in Town. The sense that blacks and Latins are not quite human (Fleming is attracted to a “Negress,” but fears syphilis.) The interest in pre-war jazz: Biederbecke and Goodman. A love of fancy food, drink, decor; yet whenever the author tries to strike the elegant worldly note, drapes not curtains tend to obscur4e the view from his not so magic casements, looking out on tacky lands forlorn. Throughout his life’s work there is a constant wistful and, finally, rather touching identification with the old American patriciate.

There is a rather less touching enthusiasm for war: “An atom bomb is just a bigger and better bomb,” while “the only justification for killing in war is that evil must be destroyed.” Although evil is never exactly defined the killers for goodness ought to be left alone to kill in their own way because “if I hired a man to do a dirty job for me, I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to specify what weapons he was to use or at what hour. . . .” Toward the end of the book, H.H. strikes a minatory anticommunist note. Fleming denounces pacifists and “a new organization called the Veterans Action Council” whose “ideals had been a paraphrase of the Communist manifesto.” Apparently these veterans prefer to follow the party line which is to disarm the US while Russia arms. A few years later when Joe McCarthy got going, this was a stand line. But it was hot stuff in 1945, and had the bookchat writers of the day like Orville Prescott and Charles Poore not hewed so closely to the commie line Stranger in Town would have been much read. As it was, the book failed. Too avant-garde. Too patriotic.

The gullible Who’s Who now tells us that H.H. was a “screen writer, 1947-48; attaché Am Embassy, Parris, France, 1948-49.” But Mr. Szulc knows better. Apparently H.H. joined the CIA “early in 1949, and after a short period in Washington headquarters, he was sent to Paris for nearly two years. Now for a cover, he called himself a State Department reserve officer.” But the chronology seems a bit off.

According to the blurb of a John Baxter novel, the author (H. H.) “worked as a screen writer until Hollywood felt the impact of TV. ‘When unemployed screen writer colleagues began hanging themselves aboard their yachts,’ Baxter joined the Foreign Service.” I slip into reverie. I am with Leonard Spigelgass, the doyen of movie writers at MGM. “Lenny, do you remember E. Howard Hunt alias John Baxter alias Robert Dietrich alias …” Lenny nods: a small smile plays across his handsome mouth. “Howie never got credit on a moor picture. Used to try to peddle them foreign intrigue scripts. He was hipped on assassination, I recall. Poor Howie. Not even Universal would touch him.” But I fear that like Pontius Pilate in the Anatole France story, Lenny would merely say, “E. Howard Hunt? I do not recall the name. But let me tell you about Harry Essex. . . . If H. H. was in Hollywood then he is, as a writer, unique. Not one of his books that I have read uses Hollywood for background. This is superhuman continence considering how desperate for setting a man who writes nearly fifty books must be.

Who’s Who puts H. H. in Paris at the Embassy in 1948. Mr. Szulc puts him there (and in the CIA) early 1949. Actually H. H. was working for the Economic Cooperation Administration at Paris in 1948 where he may have been a “black operator” for the CIA. With H. H., the only facts we can rely on are those of publication. Maelstrom appeared in 1948 and Bimini Run in 1949. The Herald Tribune thought that Maelstrom was a standard thriller-romance while Bimini Run was dismissed as “cheap, tawdry.” (It is actually pretty good.) That was the end. H. H. had ceased to be a contender in the big literary sweepstake which currently features several young lions of that day grown mangy with time’s passage but no less noisy.

In 1949, at popular request, the novelist Howard Hunt hung up the jock until this year [1976] when he reappeared as E. Howard Hunt, author of The Berlin Ending. Simultaneous with the collapse of his career as a serious author, his attempts at movie writing came to nothing because of “the impact of ATV.” Too proud to become part of our Golden Age of television, H. H. joined the CIA in 1948 or 1949, a period in which his alias Robert Dietrich became an agent for the IRS in Washington.

In Paris, H. H. met Dorothy Wetzel, a pretty girl herself given to daydreaming: she claimed to be a full-blooded Cherokee Indian to the consternation of her family; she may or may not have been married to a Spanish Count before H. H. One reasonably hard fact (ritually denied) is that she was working as a secretary for the CIA in Paris where she met H. H. They were married in 1949 and had four children; their marriage appears to have been idyllically happy despite the fact that they were rather alike in temperament. A relative recalls that as a girl, Dorothy always had her nose in a book—a bad sign, as we know. She also believed in the war against evil, in the dubiousness of the battle which at the end of her life last December [1975] seemed to be going against the good.

From Paris the two CIA employees moved on to Vienna where they lived a romantic life doing whatever it is that CIA agents do as they defend the free world, presumably by confounding the commies. According to Who’s Who, H. H. was transferred to the American Embassy in Mexico City in 1950. Latin America was a natural field for H. H. (with the Guggenheim money he had gone for a year to Mexico to learn Spanish.) Also, in Latin America the struggle between good and evil might yet be resolved in good’s favor. Europe was old; perhaps lost. John Baxter’s A Foreign Affair (1954) describes H.H.’s literary career and the beginning of what one must regard as the major phase of his art. Between 1953 and 1973, H.H. was to write under four pseudonyms over forty books.

Three years in Mexico City. Two years in Tokyo. Three years at Montevideo (as consul, according to Who’s Who; actually he was CIA station chief). During this decade 1950-1960, H.H. created Gordon Davis who wrote I Came to Kill (Fawcett, 1954). In 1957 H.H. gave birth to Robert Dietrich who specialized in thrillers featuring Steve Bentley, formerly of the CID and now a tax consultant. Steve Bentley first appears in Be My Victim (1957). It is interesting that the Bentley stories are set in Washington, DC, a city which as far as I can judge H.H. could not have known at all well at the time. According to Mr. Szulc, H.H. was briefly at CIA headquarters in 1949: otherwise he was abroad until the 1960s. Presumably the city whose symbol was one day to be Watergate always had a symbiotic attraction for him.

From the number of books that H.H. began to turn out, one might suspect that he was not giving his full attention to the work of the CIA. Nevertheless, in 1954, H.H. found time to assist in the overthrow of the liberal government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatamala.

H.H. has now published Give Us This Day[8], his version of what really happened at the Bay of Pigs. He also tells us something about the Guatemala adventure where he had worked under a Mr. Tracy Barnes who was “suave and popular. . . . a product of Groton, Yale, and Harvard Law. Through marriage he was connected to Rockefeller class. . . .” Incidentally, both the OSS and its successor the CIA of the early Cold War were manned by fun-loving American nobles. Considering H.H.’s love of the partriciate, it is not impossible that his principal motive in getting into the cloak-and-dagger game was to keep the best company. The hick from western New York who had gone no0t to Harvard but to Brown, who had not fought in the Second War but had worked behind the lines, who had failed as a serious novelist found for himself in the CIA a marvelous sort of club where he could rub shoulders with those nobles whose savoir-faire enthralled him. After all social climbing is one of the most exciting games our classless society has to offer.

But as Fitzgerald suspected, the nobles are not like those who would serve them on the heights. They are tough eggs who like a good time whether it is playing polo or murdering enemies of the state. They take nothing seriously except their pleasures and themselves. Their admirers never understand this. Commie-hunting which is simply fun for the gamesters became for their plebeian friend a holy mission. And so it is the true believer HJ.H. who is in the clink today while his masters are still at large, having good times. Of course they make awful messes, as Fitzgerald noted; luckily the Howies of this world are there to clean up after them.

In recruiting H.H. for the Bay of Pigs, Barnes expected to use him as “on that prior operation—Chief of Political Action. . . .to assist Cuban exiles in overthrowing Castro.” This means that H.H. had worked with Guatemalan right-wingers in order to remove Arbenz. “The nucleus of the project was already in being—a cadre of officers I had worked with against Arbenz. This time, however, all trace of US official involvement must be avoided, and so I was to be located not in the Miami area, but in Costa Rica.” Later in the book we learn that “the scheduled arrival of Soviet arms in Guatemala had determined the date of our successful anti-Arbenz effort.” Arms which the American government had refused to supply.

During a meeting with President Idigoras [General José Miguel Ramón Ydígoras Fuentes] (who was giving aid, comfort, and a military base to the anti-Castro forces) H.H. “thought back to the period before the overthrow of Colonel Arbenz when CIA was treating with three exiled leaders; Colonel Castillo Armas, Dr. Juan Cordova Cerna, and Colonel Miguel Idigoras Fuentes. As a distinguished and respect jurist, Cordova Cerna had my personal vote as provisional president . . . . “ But H.H. was not to be a kingmaker this time. Castillo Armas was chosen by the golden gamesters, only to be “assassinated by a member of the presidential bodyguard in whose pocket was found a card from Radio Moscow. . . . “ They always carry cards—thank God! Otherwise how can you tell the bad from the good guys?

One studies the books for clues to H.H.’s character and career; daydreams are always more revelatory than night dreams. As I have noted, H.H. chose Washington, DC, as setting for the Robert Dietrich thrillers starring Steve Bentley. Although he could not have known the city well in the Fifties, he writes knowledgeably of the broken-down bars, the seedy downtown area, the life along the wharfs—but of course low life scenes are the same everywhere and I can’t say that I really recognize my native city in his hardboiled pages.

Here is Georgetown. “In early Colonial times it was a center of periwigged fashion and Federalist snobbery that lasted a hundred years. For another eighty the close-built dwellings settled and tottered apart until only Negroes would live there, eight to a room. Then for the last twenty-five years, the process reversed. The New Deal’s flood of bureaucrats claimed Georgetown as its own. . . . On the fringes huddle morose colonies of dikes and nances, the shops and restaurants have names that are every so quaint, and sometimes it seemed a shame that the slaves had ever left.” The narrator, Steve Bentley, is a tough guy who takes pride in the fact that Washington has “per capita, more rape, more crimes of violence, more perversion, more politicians, more liquor, more good food, more bad food . . .  than any other city in the world. A fine place if you have enterprise, durability, money, and powerful friends.” It also helps to have a good lawyer.

The adventures of Steve Bentley are predictable: beautiful girl in trouble; a murder or two. There is a great deal of heavy drinking in H.H.’s novels; in fact, one can observe over the years a shift in the author’s attitude from a devil-may-care-let’s-get-drunk-and-have-a-good-time preppishness to an obsessive need for the juice to counteract the melancholy of middle age; the hangovers, as described, get a lot worse, too. Mr. Szulc tells us that in real life H.H. had been known to tipple, and on at least one occasion showed a delighted Washington party his CIA credentials. H.H.’s tasted in food moves from steak in the early books (a precious item in wartime so reminiscent of today’s peacetime arrangements) to French wind and lobster. As a student of H.H. I was pleased to learn that H.H. and his fellow burglars dined on lobster the night of the Watergate break-in. I think I know who did the ordering.

It is a curious fact that despite American right-wingers’ oft-declared passion for the American Constitution they seem always to dislike the people’s elected representatives. One would think that an enthusiasm for the original republic would put them squarely on the side of a legislature which represents not the dreaded people but those special and usually conservative interests who pay for elections. But there is something about a congressman—any congressman—that irritates the American right-winger and H.H. is no exception.

Angel Eyes (Dell, 1961) is typical. Beautiful blonde calls on Steve Bentley. Again we get his philosophy about Washington. “A great city.. . . All you need is money, endurance, and powerful friends.” The blonde has a powerful friend. She is the doxie of “Senator Tom Quinby, Sixty-four if he was a day, from a backwoods, hillbilly state that featured razorback hogs, turkeyneck sharecroppers, and contempt for Civil Rights. . .  A prohibitionist and a flag-waving moralizer.” One suspects a bit of deceit in the course of the Steve Bentley thrillers. They are not as heavily right-wing and commie-baiting as the Howard Hunt or John Baxter or Gordon Davis works, while some of the coloreds are actually OK guys in Steve Bentley’s book. All the more reason, however, to find odd the contempt for a tribune of the people whose political views  (except on prohibition) must be close to H.H.’s own.

The themes that are to run through H. H.’s work and life are all to be found in Stranger in Town [See link below in list of books reviewed]. The sense that Blacks and Latins are not quite human (Fleming is attracted to a “Negress” but fears syphilis). The interest in pre-war jazz: Beiderbecke and Goodman. A love of fancy food, drink, decor, yet whenever the author tries to strike the elegant worldly note, drapes not curtains tend to obscure the view from his not so magic casements, looking out on tacky lands forlorn. Throughout his life’s work there is a constant wistful and. finally, rather touching identification with the old American patriciate.

Them is a rather less touching enthusiasm for war: “An atom bomb is Just a bigger and better bomb,” while “the only justification for killing in war is that evil must be destroyed.” Although evil is never exactly defined, the killers for goodness ought to be left alone to kill in their own way because “If I hired a man to do a dirty job for me, I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to specify what weapons he was to use or at what hour….” Toward the end of the hook, H. H. strikes a minatory anticommunist note. Fleming denounces Pacifists and “a new organization called the Veterans Action Council” whose “ideals had been a paraphrase of the Communist manifesto.” Apparently these veterans prefer to follow the party line which is to disarm the US while Russia arms. A few years later when Joe McCarthy got going, this was a standard line. But it was hot stuff in 1945, and had the bookchat writers of the day like Orville Prescott and Charles Poore not hewed to closely to the commie line Stranger in Town would have been much read. As it was, the book failed. Too avant-garde. Too patriotic.


I suspect that the root of the problem is, simply, a basic loathing of democracy, even of the superficial American sort. The boobs will only send boobs to Congress unless a clever smooth operator like Representative Lansdale in End of a Stipper manages to buy an election in order to drive the country, wittingly or unwittingly, further along the road to collectivism. It would be much simpler in the world of Steve Bentley not to have elections of any kind.

Steve doesn’t much cotton to lady publishers either. “Mrs. Jay Redpath, otherwise known as Alma Ward” (or Mr. Philip Graham, otherwise known as Kay Meyer) makes an appearance in Angel Eyes, and hard as nails she is. Steve masters the pinko spitfire. He masters  everything, in fact, but Washington itself with its “muggers and heroin pushers and the white-slavers and the faggotry . . . .  This town needs  a purifying rain!” Amen to that, Howie.

In 1960 H. H. published three Dietrich thrillers. In 1961 H. H. published two Dietrich thrillers. In 1962 there was no Dietrich thriller. But as John Baxter H. H. published Gift for Gomala (Lippincott, 1962). The dates are significant. In 1961 H. H. was involved in the Bay of Pigs and so, presumably, too busy to write books After the Bay of Pigs, he dropped Robert Dietrich and revived John Baxter, a straight if rather light novelist who deals with the not-so-high comedy of Kennedy Washington.

H.H. begins his apologia for his part in the Bay of Pigs with the statement that “No event since the communization of China In 1949 has had such a profound effect on the United States and its allies as the defeat of the US-trained Cuban invasion brigade at the Bay of Pigs in April, 1961. Out of that humiliation grew the Berlin Wall, the missile crisis, guerrilla warfare throughout Latin America and Africa, and our Dominican Republic intervention. Castro’s beachhead triumph opened a bottomless Pandora’s box of difficulties….”

“This is the classic reactionary’s view of the world, unoompnonLved by mete fact. How does one lose China if ono did not possess Chino in the first place? And what on earth did Johnson’s loony intervention is the Dominican Republic really have to do with out unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro?

  1. H. deplores the shortness of the national memory for America’s disgrace twelve years ago. He denounces the media’s effort to make JFK seem a hero foe having pulled back from the brink of World War Ill. Oddly, he remarks that “The death of Jack Ruby and worldwide controversy over William Manchester’s book for a time focused public attention on events surrounding the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Once again it became fashionable to hold the city of Dallas collectively responsible for his murder. Still, and let this not be forgotten, Lee Harvey Oswald was a partisan of Fidel Castro, and an admitted Marxist who made desperate efforts to loin the Red Revolution in Havana. In the end he was an activist for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.” Well, this is what H. H. and a good many like-minded people want us to believe. But is it true? Or special pleading? Ora cover story? A pattern emerges.
  2. H.’s memoir is chatty. He tells how in 1926 his father traced an absconding partner to Havana and with an Army Colt .45 got back his money. “Father’s intervention was direct, illegal, and effective.” Years later his son’s Cuban work proved to be indirect and ineffective; but at least it was every bit as illegal as Dad’s. Again one comes up against the paradox of the right-wing American who swears by law and order yet never hesitates to break the law for his own benefit. Either law and order is simply a code phrase meaning get the commie-weirdo-fag-nigger-lovers or H.H.’s Nixonian concept of law and order is not due process but vigilante.

As H.H. tells as how he is brought into the Cuban adventure, the narrative reads just like one of his thrillers with the same capsule biographies, the same tight-lipped asides. “I’m a career officer. I take orders and carry them out.” It appears that ex-President Figueres offered to provide the anti-Castro Cubans with a base in Costa Rico (the same Figueres sheltered Mr. Vesco), But the Costs Rican government decided not to be host to the patriots so H.H. set up his Cuban government-in-exile in Mexico City, resigning from the Foreign Service (his cover). He told everyone he had come into some money and planned to live in Mexico. Privately, he tells us he was dedicated to getting rid of the “blood-soaked gang” in Havana by shedding more blood.

This was the spring and summer of 1960 and Kennedy and Nixon were running for president. Since Kennedy’s denunciations of the commie regime ninety miles off the coast of Florida were more bellicose than Nixon’s, the exiled Cubans tended to be pro-Kennedy in the election. But not H. H. He must have known even then that JFK was a communist at heart because his chief support came from the pinko elements in the land. H.H. also had a certain insight into the new President’s character because “JFK and I were college contemporaries” (what he meant is that when lack was at Harvard Howie was at Brown) “and I had met him at a Boston debut” (of whet!) “where he was pointed out to me . . . . I freely confess not having discerned in his relaxed lineaments the future naval hero, Pulitzer laureate, Senator, and President.”

Meanwhile H.H. is stuck with his provisional government in Mexico and he was “disappointed. For Latin American males their caliber was about .average; they displayed most Latin faults and few Latin virtues.” In other words, shiftless but not musical. What can an associate member of the Wasp patriciate and would-be killer of commies do but grin and hear it and try to make a silk-purse or two of his Latin pigs’ ears?

In 1960 Allen Dulles received the top team for a briefing on the proposed liberation of Cuba. H. H. was there and tells us of the plan to drop paratroopers at “Santa Clara, located almost in Cuba’s geographic center while “reinforcing troops would land by plane at Santa Clare and Trinidad . . . on the southern coast.” Assuming that Castro’s troops would be in the Havana area, the Brigade would “march east and west, picking up strength as they went.” There would also be, simultaneously, a fifth column to “blow up bridges and cut communications.” But “let me underscore that neither during this nor other meetings was it asserted that the underground or the populace was to play a decisive role in the campaign.” H. H. goes on to explain that the CIA operation was to be essentially military and he admits, tacitly, that there would probably be no great uprising against Castro. This is candid but then H.H. wants no part of any revolution. At one point he explains to us that the American revolution was not a class revolution but a successful seperation of a colony from an empire. “Clan warfare, therefore, is of foreign origin.

The Kennedy administration did not inspire H. H. with confidence. Richard Goodwin, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Chesler Bowles “all had a common background in Americans for Democratic Action—the ADA.” In H. H.’s world to belong to ADA is tantamount to membership in the Communist party. True to form, the White House lefties started saying that the Castro revolution had been a good thing until betrayed by Castro. This Trotskyite variation was also played by Manolo Ray, a liberal Cuban leader H.H. found as eminently shallow and opportunistic as the White House found noble, H. H. had his hands full with the Consejo or government-to-be of Cuba.

Meanwhile, troops were being trained in Guatemala, H. H. made a visit to their secret camp and took a number of photographs of the Brigade. Proud of his snaps he thought they should be published in order to “stimulate recruiting; also, to show the world that members of the Consejo were getting on well with the Brigade, which they were not.

At this point in time (as opposed to fictional point, out of time), aristo ratic Tracy Barnes suggested that H.H. meet Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. at the White House where Camelot’s historian was currently “pounding out” the White Paper on Cuba for Arthur the King. Arthur the historian “was seated at his desk typing furiously, a cigarette clinging to his half-open mouth, looking as disorderly as when we had first met In Paris, a decade before.” Although H. H.’s style Is not elegant he seldom comes up with an entirely wrong word; it is particularly nice that in the monster-ridden cellar of his brain the word “disorderly” should have surfaced instead of “disheveled” for are not all ADA’ers enemies of law’n’order and so dis-orderly?

During this meeting. H. H. learns that Dean Rusk has vetoed the seizure from the air of Trinidad because the world would then know that the US was deeply implicated in the invasion. (The word incursion had not yet been minted by the empire’s hardworking euphemists.) Then the supreme master of disorder appeared in the historian’s  office. Said Adlai Stevenson to aristocratic Tracy Barnes “‘Everything going well, Tracy?’ and Barnes gave a positive response. This exchange is important for it was later alleged that Stevenson had been kept in the dark about invasion preparations.”

Later, waiting in the press secretary’s office, “I sat on Pamela Turnure’s desk until the getaway signal came and we could leave the White House unobserved, much like President Harding’s mistress” Bull’s eye, Howie! Worthy of Saint-Simon, of Harold Robbins!?

D-Day. “I was not on the beachhead, but I have talked with many Cubans who were.” Shades of the war novelists of a quarter century before! “Rather than attempt to write what has been written before, It is enough to say that there were no cowards on the beach, aboard the assault ships or in the air.” But the Bay of Pigs was a disaster for the free world and H. H. uses the word “betrayal.” As the sun set on the beachhead which he never saw, “only vultures moved.” Although safe in Washington, “I was sick of lying and deception, heartsick over political compromise and military defeat.” Fortunately, H. H.’s sickness with lying and deception was only temporary. Ten years later Camelot would be replaced by Watergate and H.H. would at last be able to hit the beach in freedom’s name.

Al least two other Watergate burglars were involved with the Bay of Pigs caper. “Co-pilot [of plane that dropped leaflets over Havana] was an ex-Marine named Frank Fiorini,” who is identified in a footnote: “Later, as Frank Sturgis, a Watergate defendant.”

That is H.H.’s only reference to Sturgis/Fiorini. On the other hand, he tells us a good deal about Bernard “Bernie” L. Barker, “Cuban-born US citizen. First man in Cuba to volunteer after Pearl Harbor. Served as USAF Captain /Bombardier. Shot down and spent eighteen months in a German prison camp,” H. H. tells us how Bernie was used by the CIA to infiltrate the Havana police so “that the CIA could have an inside view of Cuban anti-subversive  operations.” Whatever that means Bernie was H. H.’s assistant in Miami during the pre-invasion period, He was “eager, efficient, and completely dedicated.” It was Bernie who brought Dr. José Miró Cardona into H. H.’s life. Miró is a right-wing “former president of the Cuban bar” and later head of the Cuban revolutionary council. He had also been, briefly. Castro’, prime minister.

Bernie later became a real estate agent in Miami. Later still he was to recruit two of his employees, Felipe de Diego and Eugenio, P. Martinez, for duty as White House burglars. According to Barker, de Diego had conducted “a successful raid to capture Castro government documents,” while Martinez made over “300 infiltrations into Castro Cuba.” At the time of Watergate Martinez was still on the CIA payroll.

Give Us This Day is dedicated “To the Men of Brigade 2506.” The hero of the book is a very handsome young Cuban leader named Artime. H. H. offers us t photograph of this glamorous youth with one arm circling the haunted-eyed author-conspirator. It is a touching picture. No arm, however, figuratively speaking, ever encircles the equally handsome Augustus of the West. H. H. is particularly exercised by what he believes to have been Kennedy’s tactic “to whitewash the New Frontier by heaping pall on the CIA.” H. H. is bitter at the way the media played along with this “unparalleled campaign of vilification and obloquy that must have made the Kremlin mad with Joy.” To H. H., the real enemy is anyone who affects “to see communism springing from poverty” rather than from the machinations of the men in the Kremlin.

“On December 29, 1962, President Kennedy reviewed the survivors of the Brigade in Miami’s Orange Bowl. Watching the televised ceremony, I saw Pepe San Román give JFK the Brglade’s flag” (Footnote: “Artime told me the flag was a replica, and that the Brigade feeling against Kennedy was so great that the presentation nearly did not take place”) “for temporary safekeeping. In response the President said, ‘I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this Brigade in a free Havana.’” H.H. adds sourly, “One wonders what time period he had in mind.”

Who’s Who tells us that H. H. was a consultant with the Defense Department 1960-1965. Mr. Szulc finds this period of H.H.’s saga entirety murky. Apparently H. H. became personal assistant to Allen Dulles after the Bay of Pig,. Mr. Szulc also tells us that in 1963 the American ambassador to Spain refused to accept H. H. as deputy chief of the local CIA station because of H. H.’s peculiar activities as station chief for Uruguay in 1959. After persuading President Nardone to ask Eisenhower to keep him en poste in Uruguay, H. H. then tried to overthrow the same President Nardone without telling the American ambassador. It was this tactless treatment of the ambassador this cost H.H. the Spanish post.

One of H. H.’s friends told Mr. Szulc, “This is when Howard really began losing touch with reality.”[9] In Give Us This Day H.H. tells how he tried to sell Tracy Barnes on having Castro murdered. Although H. H. gives the impression that he failed to persuade the CIA to have a goat killing the Antichrist, columnist Jack Anderson has a different story to tell about the CIA. In a column for January 25, 1971, he tells us that an attempt was made to kill Castro in March, 1961, a month before the invasion.

to be poisoned with a capsule in his food. Capsule to be supplied by one John Roselli—a Las Vega, mobster who was eager to overthrow Castro and re-open the mob’s casinos. Also involved in the project was a former FBI agent Robert Maheu, later to be Howard Hughes’ viceroy at Las Vegas.

It is known that Castro did become ill in March. In February-March, 1963, the CIA again tried to kill Castro. Anderson wonders, not illogically, if Castro might have been sufficiently piqued by these attempts on his life to want to knock off Kennedy. This was Lyndon Johnson’s theory. He thought the Castroites had hired Oswald. The Scourge of Asia was also distressed to learn upon taking office that “We had been operating a damned Murder, Inc., in the Caribbean.” Since it is now clear to everyone except perhaps Earl Warren that Oswald was part of a conspiracy, who were his fellow conspirators? Considering Oswald’s strenuous attempts to identify himself with Castro, it is logical to assume that his associates had Cuban interests. But which Cubans? Pro-Castro or anti-Castro?

I think back on the evidence Sylvia Odio gave the FBI and the Warren Commission’s investigators.[10] Odin war an anti-Castro, pro-Manolo Ray Cuban exile who two months before the assassination of President Kennedy was visited in her Dallas apartment by three men. Two were Latins (Mexican, she thought, they weren’t the right color for Cubans). The third, she maintained, was Oswald. They said they were member, of her friend Manolo Ray’s organization and one of them said that their companion Oswald thought Kennedy should have been shot after the Bay of Pigs. If Mrs. Odin is telling the truth, then whoever was about to murder Kennedy may have wanted the left-wing anti-Castro group of Manolo Ray to get the credit.[11]

During this period Oswald’s behavior was odd but not, necessarily, as official chroniclers maintain, mad. Oswald was doing his best to become Identified publicly with the Fair Play for Cubs Committee as well as setting himself up privately as a sort of Soviet spy by writing a mysterious “fact”-filled letter to the Soviet Embassy. That the Russians were genuinely mystified by his letter was proved when they turned it over to the American government after the assassination. Also, most. Intriguingly, Oswald visited Mexico City In September, 1963, when, according to Mr. Szulc, H.H. was acting chief of the CIA station there. Finally, Oswald’s widow tells us that he took a pot-shot at the reactionary General Walker, the sort of thing a deranged commie would do. Was he then simply a deranged commie? The right-wing Cubans and their American admirers certainly want us to think so.

After the murder of the President, one of those heard from was Frank Fiorini/Sturgis, who was quoted in the Pompano Beach, Florida, Sun-Sentinel to the effect that Oswald had been In touch with Cuban Intelligence the previous year, as well as with pro-Castroites in Miami, Mexico City, New Orleans. A Mrs. Marjorie Brazil reported that she had beard that Oswald had been in Miami demonstrating in front of the office of the Cuban Revolutionary Council headed by our old friend Dr. Miró Cardona. A sister of one Miguel Suarez told nurse Marjorie Heimbecker who told the FBI that JFK would be killed by Castroites. The FBI seems eventually to have decided that they were dealing with lot of wishful thinkers.

Finally, Fiorini/Sturgis denied the story in the Sun-Sentinel; he said that he had merely speculated with the writer on some of the gossip that was making the rounds in Miami’s anti-Castro Cuban community. The gossip, however, tended to be the same: Oswald had killed Kennedy, on orders from Castro or from those of his admirers who thought that the murder of an American president might in some way save the life of a Cuban president.

Yet the only Cuban group that would be entirely satisfied by Kennedy’s death would be the right-wing enemies of Castro who held Kennedy responsible for their humiliation at the Bay of Pigs. To kill him would avenge their honor. Best of all, setting up Oswald as a pro-Castro, pro-Moscow agent, they might be able to precipitate some desperate international crisis that would serve their cause. Certainly Castro at this date had no motive for killing Kennedy, who had ordered a crack-down on clandestine Cuban raids from the United States—of the sort that Eugenio Martinez is alleged so often to have made.

I suspect that whoever planned the murder must have been astonished at the reaction of the American establishment. The most vengeful of all the Kennedy, made no move to discover who really killed his brother. In this, Bobby was a true American: close ranks, pretend there was no conspiracy, do not rock the boat—particularly when both Moscow and Havana seemed close to nervous breakdowns at the thought that they might be implicated in the death of the Great Prince. The Warren Report then assured the nation that the lone killer who haunts the American psyche had struck again. The fact that Bobby Kennedy accepted the Warren Report was proof to most people (myself among them) that Oswald acted alone. It was not until several years later that I learned from a member of the family that although Bobby was head of the Department of Justice at the time, he refused to look at any of the FBI reports or even speculate on what might have happened at Dallas, Too shaken up, I was told.

Fortunately, others have tried to unravel the tangle. Most intriguing is Richard H. Popkin’s theory that there were two Oswalds.[12] One was a bad shot; did not drive a car; wanted the world to know that he was pro-Castro. This Oswald was caught by the Dallas policed and murdered on television. The other Oswald was seen driving a car, firing at a rifle range, perhaps talking to Mrs. Odio; he was hired by… ? I suspect we may find out one of these days.

In 1962 H.H. published A Gift for Gomala as John Baxter. This was an attempt to satirize the age of Camelot. Lippincott suggests that it is “must reading for followers of Reston, Alsop and Lippmann, who are looking for comic relief.” One would think that anyone who tried to follow all three of those magi would he beyond comic relief. The tale is clumsy: a black opportunist dreams up as a representative from a new African nation and tries to get a loan from Congress; on the verge of success, Gomala ceases to exist. Like Evelyn Waugh, H.H. thinks African republics are pretty joky affairs but he gives us no jokes.

For about a year during this period (1965-1966) H. H. was living in Spain. Whether or not he was working for the CIA is moot. We do know that he was creating a new literary persona: David St. John, whose speciality is thrusting a CIA man named Paler Ward into exotic backgrounds with a bit of diabolism thrown in.

As Gordon Davis H. H. also wrote Where Murder Waits, a book similar in spirit to Limit of Darkness. In the nark work H.H. daydreams about the brave lads who flew out of Henderson, often to death against the foe. In Where Minder Waits H.H.’s dream self hits the beach at the Bay of Pigs, that beach where, finally, only vultures stirred. Captured, the hero spends nine months in the prisons of the archfiend Castro. Once again: Expiation for H.H.—in dreams begins self-love.

It Is curious that as H. H. moves out of the shadows and into the glare of Watergate his books are more and more open about his political obsessions. The Coven, by David SL John, is copyrighted 1972. In July of 1971, on the recommendation of Charles W. (“If you have them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow”) Colston, H. H. was hired by the White House and became a part-time criminal at $100 a day. Zeal for his new masters informs every page of The Coven. The villain is the hustling handsome rich young Senator Vane with “a big appeal to the young and disadvantaged” (i.e., commies)just like Jack-Bobby-Teddy. The description of Mrs. Vane makes one think irresistibly (and intentionally) of Madame Onassis-not to mention Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, and the horde of other writers who take such people and put them in books thinly revealed rather than disguised.

“The Vanes are legally married to each other and that’s about all. Their private lives are separate. He’s a terror among the chicks, and she gets her jollies from the artists, writers and beach boy types Vane gets public grants for.” She also seduces her narrator. “I had seen a hundred magazine and newspaper photographs of her cutting ribbons, first-nighting, foxhunting at Warrenton, and empathizing with palsied kids. But, as H. H. reminds us, “only a fool thinks there’s any resemblance between a public figure’s public image and reality.” Fortunately the narrator is able to drive the Vane family out of public life (they are prone to taking off their clothes at orgies where the devil is invoked). H. H. believes quite rightly that the presidency must never go to devil-worshipers who appeal to the young and disadvantaged.

The chronology of H.H.’s life is a tangle until 1968 when he buys Witches Island, a hour at Potomac, Maryland (his wife went in for horses).

April 30, 1970, the new squire left from the CIA under a cloud—he failed too often. But H. H. had a lively new pseudonym David St. John; his wife Dorothy had a job at the Spanish embasy. But H. H. has always needed money so he went to work for Robert Mullen and Company, a PR firm with links to the Republican party and offices not only a block from the White House but across Ike street from The Committee to Re-Elect the President.

Mullen represented Howard Hughes n Washington. H. H. knew his way around the Hughes operation—after all, Hughes’s man in Las Vegas was Robert Maheu, whose contribution to Cuban affairs, according to Jack Anderson,[13]was to “set up the Castro assassination” plot in 1961, and whose contribution to Nixon was to funnel $100,000 to Bebe Rebozo in 1970. But Hughes sacked Maheu late in 1970. In 1971 H.H. found a second home at the White House, assigned with G. Gordon Liddy to “the Room 16 project” where the Administration prepared its crimes.

Room 16 marks the high point of H. H.’s career; his art and arts were now perfected. Masterfully, he forged, he burglarized; he conspired. The Shakespeare of the CIA had found, as it were, his Globe Theatre. Nothing was beyond him—including tragedy. According to Newsweek, John Dean told Senate investigators that H. H. “had a contract” from “low-level White Mows officials” to murder the President of Panama for not obeying with sufficient zeal the American Bureau of Narcotics directives. “Hunt. according to Dean, had his team in Mexico before the mission we, aborted.”[14]

As the world now knows, on the evening of lune 16, 1972, H. H. gave a splendid lobster dinner to the Watergate burglars and then lent Bernie Barker end his Cuban, into battle to bug the offices of the Democratic party because H. H. had been told by G. Gordon Liddy “that Castro funds were going to the Democrats in hopes that a rapprochement with Cuba would be effected by a successful Democratic presidential candidate.” H. H. has also said (Time, August 27, 1973) that his own break-in of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist was an attempt to find out whether Ellsberg “might be a controlled agent for the Sovs.”

One daydreams: “Doctor Fielding, I have these terrible headaches. They started just after I met my control Ivan and he said, ‘Well, boychick, it’s been five years now since you signed on at a controlled agent. Now I guess you know that if there’s one thing we Sovs hate it’s a non-producer so….’ Doctor Fielding, I hope you’re writing all this down and not just staring out the window like last time.”

Now for the shooting of George Wallace. It is not unnatural to suspect the White House burglars of having a hand in the shooting. But suspicion is not evidence and there is no evidence that H. H. was Involved. Besides, a good CIA man would no doubt have preferred the poison capsule to a gunshot—slipping ole George this sort of slow but lethal dose that Castro’s powerful gut rejected. In an AP story this summer[15], former CIA official Miles Copeland is reported to have laid that “senior agency officials are convinced Senator Edward Muskie’s damaging breakdown during the presidential campaign last year [1972] was caused by convicted Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt or his henchman spiking his drink with a sophisticated form of LSD.”

When Wallace ran for president in 1968, he got 13 percent of the vote; and Nixon nearly lost to Humphrey. In May, 1972, 17 percent favored Wallace for president in the Harris Poll. Wallace had walked off with the Michigan Democratic primary. Were he to continue his campaign for president as an independent or as a Democrat in states where he was not filed under his own party, he could have swung the ele tion to the Democrats, or at least denied Nixon a majority and sent the election to the House.

“This entire strategy of ours,” Robert Finch said in March, 1972, “depends on whether George Wallace makes a run on his own.” For four years Nixon had done everything possible to keep Wallace from running; and failed. “With Wallace apparently stronger in the primaries in 1972 than he had been before,” Theodore White observed, “with the needle sticking at 43 percent of the vote for Nixon, the President was still vulnerable-until, of course, May 15 and the shooting. Then it was all over.”[16]

Wallace was shot by the now familiar lone as assassin—a demented (as usual) busboy named Arthur Bremer. Then on June 21, 1973, the headline to the New York Paid was “Hunt Tells of Orders to Raid Bremer’, Flat.”

According to the story by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, H. H. told the Senate investigators that an hour after Wallace was shot, Colson ordered him to fly to Milwaukee and burglarize the flat of Arthur H. Bremer, the would-be assassin—in order to connect Bremer somehow with the commies? Characteristically, the television senators let that one slip by them. As one might expect, Colson denied ordering H. H. to Milwaukee for any purpose. Colson did say that he had talked to H. H. about the shooting. Colson also said that he had been having dinner with the President that evening. Woodward’s and Bernstein’s “White House source” said, “The President became deeply upset and voiced concern that the attempt on Wallace’s life might have been made by someone with ties to the Republican Party or the Nixon campaign.” This, Nixon intuited, might cost him the election.[17]

May 15, 1972, Arthur H. Bremer shot George Wallace, governor of Alabama, at Laurel, Maryland, and was easily identified as the gunman and taken into custody. Nearby in a rented car, the police found Bremer’s diary (odd that in the post-Gutenberg age Oswald, Sirhan, and Bremer should have all committed to paper their pensées).

According to the diary, Bremer had tried to kill Nixon in Canada but failed to get close enough. He then decided to kill George Wallace. The absence of any logical motive is now familiar to most Americans, who are quite at home with the batty killer who acts alone in order to be on television, to be forever entwined with the golden legend of the hero he has gunned down. In a nation that worships psychopaths, the Ostwald-Bremer-Sirhan-Ray figure is to the general illness what Robin Hood was to a greener, saner world.

Bremer’s diary is a fascinating work-of art? From what we know of the twenty-two-years-old author he did not have a literary turn of mind (among his affects were comic books, some porno). He was a television baby, and a dull one. Politics had no interest for him. Yet suddenly—for reasons he never gives us—he decides to kill the President and starts to keep a diary on April 4, 1972.

According to Mr. Szulc, in March, 1972, H. H. visited Dita (“call me Mother?”) Beard in Denver. Wearing a red wig and a voice modulator, H. H. persuaded Dita to denounce as a forgery the memo she had written linking ITT’s pay-off to the Republican party with the government’s subsequent dropping of the best part of its antitrust suit against the conglomerate. In May, H.H. was installing the first set of bugs at the Democratic headquarters. His movements between April 4 and May 15 might be usefully examined—not to mention those of G. Gordon Liddy, et al.

For someone who is supposed to be neatly illiterate there are startling literary references and flourishes in the Bremer diary. The second entry contains. “You heard of ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Dynisveich’? Yesterday was my day.” The misspelling of Denisovich is not bad at all. Considering the fact that the name is a hard one for English-speaking people to get straight, it is something of a miracle that Bremer could sound the four syllables of the name correctly in his head. Perhaps he had the book in front of him but if he had, he would not have got the one letter wrong.

The same entry produces more mysteries. “Wallace got his big votes from Republicans who didn’t have any choice of candidates on their own ballot. Had only about $1055 when I left.” This is the first and only mention of politics until page 45 where he describes his square clothes and haircut as “just a disguise to get close to Nixon.”

One reference tie Wallace it the beginning, then another one to Nixon a dozen pages later. Also, where did the $1,055 come from? Finally, a minor psychological point Bremer refers to some weeds as “taller than me 5’6.” I doubt if a neurotic twenty-two-year-old would want to remind himself on the page that he is only 5’6” tall. When people talk to themselves they seldom say anything so obvious. On the other hand, authors like this sort or detail. Popular paperback fiction requires a fuck scene no later than a dozen pages into the narrative, The author of the diary gives us a good one. Bremer goes to a massage parlor in New York (he has told the diary that he is a virgin—would he’? Perhaps.) where he given an unsatisfying hand-job. The scene is nicely done and the author writes correctly and lucidly until, suddenly, a block occurs and he can’t spell anything right—as if the author suddenly remembers that he is meant to be illiterate.

One of these blocks occurs toward the end of the massage scene when the girl tells Bremer that she likes to go to “wo-gees.” This is too cute to be believed. Every red-blooded American boy, virgin or not, knows the word “orgy.” Furthermore, Bremer has been wandering around porno bookstores on 42nd Street and the word “orgy” occurs almost as often in his favored  texts as “turgid.” More to the point, when an illiterate is forced to guess at the spelling of a word he will render it phonetically. I cannot imagine that the girl said anything that sounded like “wo-gee.” It is as if the author had suddenly recalled the eponymous hard-life hero of the film Joe (1970) where all the hippies  go shot so satisfyingly and the “g” in orgy was pronounced hard. On this page, as though to emphasize Bremer’s illiteracy, we got “spair” for “spare,” “enphasis for “emphasis,” and “rememmber.” Yet on the same page the diarist has no trouble spelling “anticipation,” “response,” advances”.

The author of the diary gives us good many random little facts-seat numbers of airplanes, prices of meals. He does not like “hairy hippies.” A dislike he shares with H. H. He also strikes oddly jarring literary notes. On his arrival in New York, he tells us that he forgot his guns which the captain then turned over to him, causing the diarist to remark “Irony abounds.” A phrase one doubts that the actual Arthur Bremer would have used. As word and quality, irony is not a part of America’s demotic speech or style. Later, crossing the Great Lakes, he declarer “Call me Ismal.” Had he read Moby Dick? Unlikely. Had he seen the movie on the Late Show? Possibly, But I doubt that the phrase on the sound track would have hung in his head.

The diary tells us how Bremer plans to kill Nixon. The spelling gets worse and worse as Bremer becomes “thruorly pissed off.” Yet suddenly he writes, “This will be one of the most closely read pages since the Scrolls in those caves.” A late April entry records. “Had bad pain in my left ten*** & just in front & about it.” He is not going mad as all the lone killers do and refers to “writting a War and Peace.”

More sinister: “saw ‘Clockwork Orange’ and thought about getting Wallace all thru the picture—fantasing my self as the Alek on the screen….” This is a low blow at highbrow sex’n’violence books and flicks. It is also—again—avant- garde. Only recently has a debate begun in England whether or not the film Clockwork Orange may have caused unbalanced youths to commit crimes (clever youths now tell the Court with tears in their eyes that it was the movie that made them bash the nice old man and the Court is thrilled). The author anticipated that ploy all right—and no matter who wrote the diary we are dealing with a true author. One who writes, “Like a novelist who knows not how his hook will end—I have written this journal—what a shocking surprise that my inner character shall steal the climax and destroy the author and save the antihero from assassination!” Only one misspelling in that purple patch. But “as I said befor, I Am A Hamlet.” It is not irony that abounds so much in these pages as literature.

May 8, Bremer is reading R.F.K. Must Die! by Robert Blair Kaiser. Like his predecessor he wants to he noticed and then die because “suicide is a birth right.” But Wallace did not die and Bremer did not die. He is now at a prison in Baltimore, awaiting a second trial.[18] If he lives to be re-examined, one wonders If he will tell us what company he kept during the spring of 1972, and whether or not a nice man helped him to write his diary, as a document for the ages like the scrolls in those caves. (Although H. H. is a self-admitted forger of state papers I do not think that he actually had a hand in writing Bremer’s diary on the ground that the journal is a brilliant if flawed job of work, and beyond H. H.’s known literary competence.)

Lack of originality has marked the current Administration’s general style (as opposed to the vivid originality of its substance: witness, the first magistrate’s relentless attempts to subvert the Constitution.) Whatever PR has worked in the past is tried again. Goof? Then take the blame yourself—just like JFK after the Bay of Pigs. Caught with your hand in the till? Checker’s time on the tube and the pulling of heart strings.

Want to assassinate a rival? Then how about the Dallas scenario? One slips into reverie. Why not set up Bremer as a crazy who wants to shoot Nixon (that will avert suspicion)? But have him fail to kill Nixon just as Oswald was said to have failed to kill his first target General Walker. In mid-stream have Bremer- like Oswald shift to a different quarry To the real quarry, Make Bremer, unlike Oswald, apolitical. Too heavy an identification with the Democrats might backfire. Then—oh, genius!—let’s help him to write a diary to get the story across. (Incidentally, the creation of phony documents and memoirs is a major industry of our secret police forces. When the one-man terror of the Southeast Asian seas Lieutenant Commander Marcus Aurelius Arnheiter was relieved of his command, the Pentagon put him to work writing the “memoirs” of a fictitious Soviet submarine commander who had defected to the Free World.)[19]

The White House’s reaction to the Watergate burglary was the first clue that something terrible has gone wrong with us. The elaborate and disastrous cover-up was out of all proportion to what was, in effect, a small crime the Administration could have lived with. I suspect that our rulers’ state of panic came from the fear that other horrors would come to light—as indeed they have. But have the horrors ceased? Is there something that our rulers know that we don’t? Is it possible that during the dark night of our empire’s defeat in Cuba and Asia the American story shifted from cheerful familiar farce to Jacobean tragedy—to murder, chaos?


BOOKS REVIEWED in this article:

Hunt, Howard (1973). Give Us This Day. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House

Hunt , E. Howard (1973). The Berlin Ending; A Novel of Discovery. New York: Putnam

Hunt, E. Howard (1942). East of Farewell. New York: A. A. Knopf

Hunt, E. Howard (1944). Limit of Darkness. New York: Random House Stranger in MINI

Hunt, E. Howard (1947). Stranger in Town. New York, Random house

Hunt, E. Howard (1948). Maelstrom. New York: Farrar, Straus

Hunt, E. Howard (1949). Bimini Run. New York: Farrar, Straus

Baxter, John (E. Howard Hunt, pseud) (1954). A Foreign Affair. New York: Avon Publications

Davis, Gordon (E. Howard Hunt pseud.) (1953). I Came to Kill. New York: Fawcett Publications [LCCN: 54000407]

Dietrich, Robert [Howard Hunt, pseud.] (1956). Be My Victim. New York: Dell Pub. Co. [LCCN: 56009450]

Dietrich, Robert [Howard Hunt, pseud.] (1960). End of a Stripper. New York: Dell [OCLC: 14997980]

Dietrich, Robert  [Howard Hunt, pseud.] (1961). Angel Eyes. New York: Dell [OCLC: 10215182]

Baxter, John [Howard Hunt, pseud.] (1962). A Gift for Gomala. Philadelphia, PA:  Lippincott [LCCN: 62009341]

Davis, Gordon [Howard Hunt, pseud.] (1965). Where Murder Waits. South Yarmouth, MA: Curley Pub. [OCLC: 20993622]

St. John, David [Howard Hunt, pseud.] (1972). The Coven. New York : Weybright and Talley. [LCCN: 75186562]

Szulc, Tad (1974). Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt. New York: Viking Press

Bremer, Arthur H. (1973). An Assassin’s Diary. New York: Harper’s Magazine Press [LCCN: 72012101]

[1] Vidal, Gore (December 19, 1973). “The Art and Arts of E. Howard Hunt”, The New York Review. New York. Downloaded December 9, 2016. See Hunt, E. Howard

[2] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[3] “a person of roughly the same age as oneself; a contemporary.”

[4] An American novelist and playwright. He is best known for his first novel Tiger in the Garden (1950) and was called “the poor man’s Truman Capote” by the composer Ned Rorem.[3] He was a recipient of a 1950 O. Henry Award for his short story Comes a Day.

[5] Hunt, E. Howard (1942). East of Farewell. New York: A. A. Knopf

[6] Hunt, E. Howard (1944). Limit of Darkness. New York: Random House

[7] Wolfert, Ira (1943). Battle for the Solomons. London, New York: Jarrold, Limited. [LCCN: a 44000486]

[8] Hunt, E. Howard (1973). Give Us This Day. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House

[9] The New York Times Sunday Magazine, June 3, 1973, p. 11

[10] Warren Commission Hearings, Vote XI: 369-381 and XXVI: 834-838; see also National Archives: Commission Document No. 1553.

[11] The Warren Commission and the FBI never satisfactorily identified Mrs. Odio’s visitors. Just before the Report was finished the FBI reported to the Warren Commission that one Loran Eugene Hall, “a participant in numerous anti-Castro activities,” had recalled visiting her with two other men, one of them, William Seymour, resembling Oswald. But after the Report appeared the FBI sent the Commission a report that Hall had retracted his story and that Mot Odio could not identify Hall or Seymour as the men she had seen, (Sea Richard H. Popkin, The Second Oswald, Avon, 19671, pp. 75-80.) Hall had already been brought to the Commission’s attention In June, 1964, under the names of “Lorenzo Hall, alias Lorenzo Pascillio.” The FBI heard in Los Angeles that Hall and a man called Jerry Patrick Hemming had pawned a 30.06 rifle, which Hall redeemed shortly before the assassination with a check drawn on the account of the “Committee to Free Cuba.” Hemming was Identified In 1962 as one of the leaders of Frank Sturgis’s anti-Castro brigade. (See Warren Commission Document 1179: 296-298 and, Hans Tanner, Counter Revolutionary Brigade [London, 1962], p. 127.)

[12] Popkin, Richard H. (1966). The Second Oswald. New York: Avon Books [LCCN: 66028677]

[13] Japan Times (January 23, 1971).

[14] Newsweek (June 18, 1973, p. 22).

[15] AP Dispatch, London (August 17. 1973)

[16] The Making of the President, 1972 (Athenaeum, 1973), p. 238

[17] New York Post (June 21, 1973) reprinting a Washington Post Story

[18] Bremer was found guilty and sentenced to 63 years (53 years after an appeal) in a Maryland prison for shooting Wallace. After 35 years of incarceration, Bremer was released from prison on November 9,k2007

[19] See The Arnheiter Affair, by Neal Sheehan. Random House, 1971


The Spymaster

Title:                      The Spymaster

Author:                 E. Phillips Oppenheim

Oppenheim, E. Phillips (1938, 1940). The Spymaster. New York: The Sun Dial Press

LCCN:    40007423

PZ3.O62 Sps3

Date Posted:      January 12, 2017

  1. Phillips Oppenheim wrote more than 100 novels between 1887 and 1943, of which was 7th from last (first published in 1938, and again in 1940). He was on the cover of Time magazine in 1927 and was often called “The Prince of Story Tellers.”

The following is taken from a review of The Spy Paramount, by Michael Dirda[1]

The young Ian Fleming read E. Phillips Oppenheim’s upper-crust thrillers, and their amalgam of opulence, cosmopolitan suavity and global intrigue almost certainly influenced the save-the-world adventures of 007. In The Spy Paramount (1935)—one of two Oppenheim reissues that kick off the British Library’s Spy Classics series—Fawley travels first class around Europe, zipping from Nice to Rome to Monte Carlo to Berlin to London to Paris and finally to a small island in the Mediterranean. He penetrates a clandestine military base and then fights his way out after discovering the secret of the “hellnotter,” a laserlike disintegrating ray worthy of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Later, on the Riviera, he plays golf with rosy, plump German industrialist Adolf Krust, who is closely attended by his two alluring “nieces,” Gretel and Nina (the former appears in Fawley’s hotel room late one night with an offer few men would refuse). Back in London, Fawley finds himself stalked by an assassin with a shaved head and skin that was “almost ivory white, unrelieved by the slightest tinge of colour.” Before the novel reaches its spectacular close, this ultra-sophisticated agent—whose motives have long been withheld from the reader—confronts the Mussolini-like Gen. Berati and the Hitler-like Heinrich Behrling and actually . . . well, I shouldn’t say more.

Today Oppenheim is remembered, if at all, as a commercial writer of no significant literary merit. And yet that most refined of British publishers, Rupert Hart-Davis, collected nearly every one of his 116 novels and 37 volumes of short stories. In their magisterial Catalogue of Crime (1971), Jacques Barzun and Wendell Taylor wrote warmly of “the old magician” and his triumphs “in the mode of high make-believe.” As early as 1915, Wodehouse, no less, noted that Oppenheim’s “easy, distinguished style, the naturalness of his dialogue, and the wonderfully expert story construction in them made his novels unique.”

His novels do, in fact, lull the reader with a breezy nonchalance and old-slipper comfortableness. Consider the opening sentence of Nicholas Goade, Detective (1929): “By the side of one of those winding byways which connect a few scattered hamlets upon the lower fringe of Exmoor with the important town of Market Bridgeford, a man stood painting an execrable water colour.” An even more lighthearted tone marks The Amazing Partnership (1914), in which a penniless young man—resigned to suicide—is unexpectedly hired to kidnap a mysterious veiled woman named Rita. The novel’s opening pages are almost worthy of G.K. Chesterton. In Curious Happenings to the Rooke Legatees (1937), a group of five people, all with the last name Rooke, are left small fortunes by an unknown benefactor. Their subsequent adventures—one involves a priceless emerald ring attached to a severed finger—prove very much in the Baghdad-on-the-Thames vein of Robert Louis Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights (1882).

And therein lies the explanation for Oppenheim’s success during his lifetime and his nostalgic appeal even now. His stories are fairy tales, glorious wish-fulfillments, soap operas set in a Mediterranean lotus-land where, in critic Colin Watson’s disapproving words, “wealthy men and exquisite women enjoyed eternally the ministrations of omniscient maîtres d’hotel and suave croupiers.” Even Martin Fawley is a millionaire who would never accept pay for his undercover work. Unlike the tawdry spies and assassins of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden[2] (1928) or Eric Ambler’s 1930s thrillers, Oppenheim’s heroes risk their lives for a higher purpose than money. In particular, his fiction returns again and again to the dream of securing peace in our time, even if it requires blackmailing the great European powers.

Yet of all the titles in Oppenheim’s vast oeuvre, The Great Impersonation alone has solidly entered the canon of espionage fiction. Set in the run-up to World War I, it takes The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), Anthony Hope’s still-celebrated Ruritanian romance, and gives it a spy-novel twist. Two men in their late 30s meet in Africa—one is an alcoholic, down-at-heels English nobleman who has been in self-imposed exile for the past 11 years, the other a correct and deeply patriotic Prussian relegated to German East Africa because of a duel over a Hungarian princess. Though significantly different in character, the two men look physically very much alike.

By the end of chapter two, Baron Leopold von Ragastein has decided that he will impersonate Sir Everard Dominey, travel to Britain and gradually charm his way into the corridors of power. Can he pull off this improbable mummery? Can he fool Dominey’s banker, his flirtatious cousin, the old family retainers and—most important of all—Dominey’s estranged wife, Rosamund? To complicate matters further, the Hungarian princess, Stephanie Eiderstrom, is in London and almost immediately recognizes her former lover in a crowded restaurant, despite his tenacious insistence that he is Sir Everard Dominey.

Oppenheim also inserted a secondary story line straight out of Victorian sensation novels. Years earlier, Dominey reputedly killed a former rival, and this bloody deed caused Rosamund, crazed with horror, to try to murder him. An evil, hag-like servant named Mrs. Unthank—almost a prototype for Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca—continues to fan the young woman’s hysteria to a fever pitch. What’s more, at night some spectral creature crawls from the Black Wood to howl beneath Lady Dominey’s window.

When the now rich, confident and distinctly courteous Dominey returns to his ancestral home, suspicions about his identity surface. Fragile, childlike Rosamund cannot believe he is her husband: The man hardly drinks at all. At the same time, the Princess Eiderstrom feels increasingly troubled because Dominey refuses, even when they are alone together, to drop his mask. “Perhaps,” she wonders, “you are an impostor.” Is she right? Gradually, The Great Impersonation thickens into a novel about the difficulty of knowing the truth, of distinguishing playacting from reality. But then this is a central obsession of all spy fiction.

Showing quite remarkable evenhandedness, Oppenheim portrays virtually all the book’s characters, except for the double-dealing German Kaiser, with considerable sympathy. One otherwise ruthless spymaster frets that the putative Dominey will take sexual advantage of Rosamund, while the peace-loving German ambassador comports himself throughout with unimpeachable honor and nobility. There is even a suggestion that the English could benefit by adopting some Teutonic qualities, such as soldierly self-discipline and a greater willingness to sacrifice personal happiness for a higher cause.

  1. Phillips Oppenheim was an essentially Edwardian writer: formal and restrained in his diction; patronizing to the lower orders and minorities; simplistic in his fantasies concerning politics, diplomacy and world affairs. Yet his books can even now deliver pleasures. If only one could still exchange a smile with a sloe-eyed countess over baccarat at Monte Carlo, shoot grouse and pheasant with cabinet ministers, thwart single-handedly the insidious plans of dictators, and actually say with a straight face, as one lecherous stockbroker does to an attractive typist: “Come and see my French water-colours.” Ah, those were the days—and in the clubland thrillers of E. Phillips Oppenheim, they live on.

[1] Michael Dirda in The Wall Street Journal (October 3, 2014), downloaded January 12, 2017

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

American Assassin

Title:                      American Assassin

Author:                Vince Flynn

Flynn, Vince (2011). American Assassin: A Thriller. New York: Pocket Books

LCCN:    2012462355

PS3556.L94 A47 2013


Date Posted:      January 1, 2017

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub[1]

It would not be an exaggeration to say that American Assassin is the book that Vince Flynn fans have been waiting for. This 11th thriller starring Mitch Rapp pulls back the veil to reveal what might be called his hidden years, before he became a CIA super-agent.

The pivotal event for Rapp, the motivational force that started him down the path he chose to tread and the one that drives him to this day, was the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing in December 1988. Those five words have become a tragic shorthand for one of the most dastardly terrorist attacks in modern history. Rapp lost someone dear to him in the carnage that occurred, so when he is recruited in the early 1990s by an enigmatic woman named Irene Kennedy with the promise of getting some payback, he is more than ready to do so. Rapp seems an unlikely recruit for what we learn is a group of clandestine operatives who, for all intents and purposes, will not exist, a team that will work outside of normal operations. The creative force behind the team is a cold warrior named Thomas Stansfield, the CIA’s Operations Director and Kennedy’s immediate superior.

Rapp is brought to a deceptively peaceful estate in Virginia, where he is to be trained in the ways of spy craft by Stan Hurley, a legendary espionage agent whose name alone is enough to elicit fear in terrorists of every stripe. Hurley has no desire to have Rapp as part of the team, given that Rapp has no military background and only the most rudimentary training in hand-to-hand combat. But Hurley is in for a surprise. Rapp, as is quickly and effectively demonstrated to Hurley, is a world-class athlete with the ability to learn and react quickly and effectively. He soaks up everything that Hurley and his staff teaches him and can show them a few things as well. Still, Hurley is not entirely sold on Rapp, particularly when Rapp shows a tendency to deviate from operational plans and wing it, albeit successfully, in the field. As someone Points out to Hurley fairly early on in American Assassin, part of the reason that Hurley doesn’t care for Rapp is because he reminds Hurley of a younger version of himself.

After proving his worth in a couple of operations and earning Hurley’s grudging but honest respect, Rapp is given an assignment in Beirut that he may not walk away from. An important CIA asset has been kidnapped and is being tortured by terrorists, with the potential result being that American intelligence in that very dangerous part of the world may be effectively compromised. Rapp and Hurley are charged with bringing the man home and, in the process, teaching terrorists a very painful and instructive lesson in what happens when you attack agents of the United States.

Flynn takes a bit of a chance with American Assassin. Given that the story takes place in the past, it is obvious that Rapp is going to complete his mission, successfully or otherwise, and do so more or less unscathed. Flynn responds to the challenge, and then some, creating an intricate plot for the second half of the book that is both plausible and fascinating while giving over the first half to the combative and occasionally explosive chemistry between Rapp and Hurley, who work through their differences to form a rough bond forged in uneasy mutual respect by book’s end. Hurley is a basket case, but he’s our basket case, and worth any gross of patched-elbow denizens that one could randomly produce. Never one to flinch from his steely-eyed and accurate view of how the world truly works, Flynn has given us the latest in a long and memorable line of stirring and must-read thrillers.

[1] Joe Hartlaub, in Book Reporter (December 22, 2010). Downloaded January 1, 2017

Mortal Consequences

Title:                      Mortal Consequences

Author:                  Julian Symons

Symons, Julian (1972). Mortal Consequences: A History From The Detective Story to The Crime Novel. New York: Harper & Row

LCCN:    72138767

PN3448.D4 S9 1972


Date Posted:      November 15, 2016


Julian Symons is a longstanding British critic of the genre in which he is also a practitioner (he finds most other reviewers too permissive) and this is a survey of the detective story which has become the crime novel—the closest to categorizing (a foolish enterprise) that he attempts. Nor does he advance his own personal predilections as did Barzun & Taylor in their more stylishly written Catalogue of Crime (1971). Symons goes back to some of the earliest beginnings (Godwin, Vidocq, Collins, Dostoevsky, Holmes, et al.) in the early sections; follows the rise and fall and rise again of the short story; witnesses the weakening of the detective story as it parallels our slackening sense of sin and makes the point throughout that this kind of entertainment—the best of which has been written by “artists not artisans”—“reflects and is reenforced by whatever social structure prevails.” Thus the former success of Dorothy Sayers however “longwinded and ludicrously snobbish.” Whom does he admire? Stanley Ellin in the shorter form with Sherlock Holmes and Chesterton; Simenon (a whole chapter); Hammett and Chandler; Patricia Highsmith (more appreciated over there). He agrees with Chandler that “To accept a mediocre form and make something like literature out of it is in itself rather an accomplishment” and that too rarely does that form achieve something which is not strictly temporal. From the past, he makes a few very tentative extrapolations about the future but perhaps does not fully explain where have all the flowers gone (into science fiction rather than the “adventure” novel?) All in all, sweet quiet reason prevails.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded November 15, 2016

The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction

Title:                   The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction

Author:                Robert Lance Snyder

Snyder, Robert Lance (2011).The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction: A Critical Study of Six Novelists. Jefferson, NC : McFarland & Co.

LCCN:    2011016259

PR830.S65 S69 2011


  • “In contrast to the classical detective story, the spy novel tends to be considered a suspect, less literary genre. While previous studies have focused on its historical, thematic and ideological dimensions, this critical work seeks to distinguish British espionage fiction based on its unique narrative form, which is typically elliptical, oblique and recursive”—Provided by publisher.


  • Introduction: Reconnoitering a Disreputable Genre — Eric Ambler’s revisionist thrillers — Graham Greene’s world of loyalty and betrayal — Len Deighton’s cold war triptych — John Le Carre’s post-Cold War labyrinths — Stella Rimington’s feminist espionage fiction — Charles Cumming’s contemporary vision.


Date Posted:      October 22, 2016

Review by Robert W. Hill[1] on June 5, 2011

It would be easy to puff the new book by Rob Snyder and call it a “must read” for readers who “just love” spy novels, but that would be facile and silly. The Art of Indirection is, however, a “must read” for people who want to think—with joy—about how good novels, in many genres, tell good stories but also tell about themselves as works of art.

The brief introductory history of detective vs. spy stories is informative, yes, but the crux of Snyder’s study is found in his learnedly pursued idea that detective stories are linear, rationalized, clue-driven plots that seek and find resolution (Whodunit? S/he done it!); while the best espionage narratives are recursive as life, coded and cross-coded like existential mystery, unsatisfying as when all the good guys and the bad guys die, or when they all live. While detective stories lead us to satisfaction in what we think are our orderly minds, these finest spy stories probe the truly endless motivations of individuals and their all-encompassing institutions.

Reading this body of perhaps “indeterminate” plottings, Snyder reminds us that literature at its best never gives us simple, quotable answers (although we often try to use it thus, as with “I took the one less travelled by” or “Good fences make good neighbors,” and miss the real “world” of a poem). What it does is prepare us to meet more thoughtfully and affectively the infinitely complex world we inhabit: “If nothing else, modern British espionage fiction hones our ability to decipher and question all those forces that conspire to shape our lives” (p. 11).

Great poems are about poetry; great movies, about movies; great literary analyses, about how literary analysis works to our human advantage. Very nice work here, Rob!

[1] Hill, Robert W. (posted June 5, 2011). “Espionage Fiction NOT Just Another Detective Story,” on Amazon. Downloaded October 22, 2016. Hill awards the book 5 stars.

Yesterday’s Spy

Title:                      Yesterday’s Spy

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1975). Yesterday’s Spy. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

LCCN:    75012609

PZ4.D324 Ye3

Date Posted:      September 29, 2015


Yesterday’s spies, a lot more recognizable than today’s acronym ciphers, neither die nor fade away; often they’re just too hard to kill. Even if they’re as flagrant as Steve Champion, who thirty years ago had been a legendary part of a Resistance reseau[2] and lost three fingers, one by one, to the Germans. Now, having converted guns into cash, Steve is said to be living in a fortified villa in Nice surrounded by quietly footpadding Arabs; he wears a fez. . . he’s selling a nuclear device to the Middle East? Charlie Bonnard, a former confederate whose life he once saved, is recruited by British Intelligence where Dawlish still presides. Charlie is supposed to flush him out and bring him in after a pretty young British operative is killed. But Champion has enemies all over: the old Jew from the reseau who deals in stamps and other kinds of cancellations; Steve’s ex-wife’s sister who hates him or loves him or more probably both. Only Charlie manages to retain a certain loyalty toward Champion compounded with a kind of disbelief, because of the man that he once was. This is a much better justification for the book than the hyped-up action and sophisticated automated equipment. It also lends an aura of acrid romanticism to Deighton’s impregnable loner in a devalued modern world. Yesterday’s spy is more of an agent for all seasons than any Deighton has used in recent years, adding a certain dimension to the form-fitting genre.

[1] KIRKUS  reviews, downloaded September 24, 2015

[2] Réseau is French for a network or grid, thus a spy or intelligence network, especially in the French resistance movement during the German occupation in World War II.