Great Spy Stories From Fiction

Title:                      Great Spy Stories From Fiction

Author:                  Allen Dulles

Dulles, Allen (1969). Great Spy Stories from Fiction. New York: Harper & Row

LCCN:    69015272

PZ1.D655 Gr


Date Updated:  January 20, 2017

The excerpts here range from The Aeneid with its Trojan Horse to the live puppet of The Manchurian Candidate[1]. Authors include Leon Uris, Rebecca West, Joseph Conrad, Alexandre Dumas, Lawrence Durrell, Rudyard Kipling, Vladimir Nabokov, Eric Ambler, Helen MacInnes, Len Deighton, John Le Carré, Ian Fleming, W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene, and there are 32 pieces in all which have a strong popular potential.

[1] Condon, Richard (1959). The Manchurian Candidate. New York: McGraw-Hill


The Maestro

Title:                      The Maestro

Author:                John Gardner

Gardner, John (1993). The Maestro. New York: Otto Penzler Books

LCCN:    93019364

PR6057.A63 M3 1993


Date Updated:  June 26, 2015

This is ostensibly a novel about espionage, and it delivers in that department. It has, however, a number of qualities that make it interesting to readers who may not normally read spy thrillers. The main character is the greatest living conductor – supposedly on a par with Toscanini. The story of how he achieved prominence raises a number of questions that are interesting. I did not much like the book The main character, Big Herbie Kruger was just not interesting to me. The back story of his relationship with a coworker didn’t ring true to me. The foisting away of Maestro Passau seems counter to any experience I have had. I waded through the book but did not enjoy it all. The only thing that kept me reading it were the really interesting comments about music throughout the book.

Since we know that many great geniuses (Wagner is an example) led deplorable personal lives, the idea that this character would abandon and even kill some of the people who loved him and would live much of his life on the basis of lies and deceptions is quite credible. The method for telling the story is to have the Maestro deliver his autobiography as a full confession to a secret agent who must evaluate how he should be treated given that he betrayed his country as a spy for Hitler in World War II and also gave secrets to the Russians during the Cold War.

In the latter case, though, he believed he was actually serving his country. As the story progresses we get it from the point of view of the Maestro who is telling it, and of the agent who is listening to it. This causes us to see the same material from several different points of view, which makes it more challenging to determine our own judgment of the characters and events described. Thus we have a work of far greater complexity and literary interest than the normal spy novel.

As I indicated above, fortunately, for me, the author shows a decent knowledge of music and often refers to specific performances on recording, many of which are compared with the Maestro’s own fictitious recordings. This balance between history and fiction is interesting.

Clear and Present Danger

Title:                  Clear and Present Danger

Author:                 Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1989). Clear and Present Danger. New York: Putnam

LCCN:       89010287

PS3553.L245 C5 1989


Date Updated:  October 29, 2015

Tom Clancy is one of my favorite writers, and I read all of his major works. A recent book with a collaborator is Clancyesque but not to be compared with books such as Clear and Present Danger.

At the end of the prologue to Clear and Present Danger, Clancy writes, “And so began something that had not quite begun and would not soon end, with many people in many places moving off in directions and on missions which they all mistakenly thought they understood. That was just as well. The future was too fearful for contemplation, and beyond the expected, illusory finish lines were things fated by the decisions made this morning–and, once decided, best unseen.” In Clear and Present Danger nothing is as clear as it may seem.

The president, unsatisfied with the success of his “war on drugs,” decides he wants some immediate success. But after John Clark’s covert strike team is deployed to Colombia for Operation Showboat, the drug lords strike back taking several civilian casualties. The chief executive’s polls plummet. He orders Ritter (Deputy Director of Operations in the CIA) to terminate their unofficial plan and leave no traces. Jack Ryan, who has just been named CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence is enraged when he discovers that has been left out of the loop of Colombian operations. Several of America’s most highly trained soldiers are stranded in an unfinished mission that, according to all records, never existed. Ryan decides to get the men out.

Ultimately, Clear and Present Danger is about good conscience, law, and politics, with Jack Ryan and CIA agent John Clark as its dual heroes. Ryan relentlessly pursues what he knows is right and legal, even if it means confronting the president of the United States. Clark is the perfect soldier, but a man who finally holds his men higher than the orders of any careless commander.

Along with the usual, stunning array of military hardware and the latest techno-gadgets, Clear and Present Danger further develops the relationships and characters that Clancy fans have grown to love. Admiral James Greer passes the CIA torch to his pupil, Ryan. Mr. Clark and Chavez meet for the first time. Other recurring characters like Robert Ritter and “the President” add continuity to Clancy’s believable, alternate reality. This is Clancy at his best.

The Fourth Protocol

Title:                      The Fourth Protocol

Author:                   Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth, Frederick (1985). The Fourth Protocol. New York: Viking

LCCN:    83040646

PR6056.O699 F6 1984

Date Updated:  October 14, 2015

The Cambridge Four continue today to stir conspiracy theories and inspire endless novels. I have read several books and seen many movies about those four. At the heart of most of the books is Kim Philby.

The Fourth Protocol is a cold war spy story. Kim Philby, a traitor to the UK and a deserter, lives in Russia. He and Russian officials hatch a plot to destabilize the West or even cause revolution. If the plot works, many will die and the alliance between the UK and the USA will be broken. Russia dispatches an agent to the UK, who can pass for an Englishman to work on the plan.

John Preston works with the intelligence agency of the UK government. He is very able, but not much appreciated by his superior. He becomes aware, by accident, that foreign agents are in the country, planning a big coup, but is not sure what it is. The plot consists mainly of his efforts to gather information and put all the pieces together. Not only does Preston have to deal with foreign agents, there are those in his own government whose motives he cannot be sure of and who seem to interfere with the plans to find out what is going on.

Forsyth does his research. He fills his novels with historically accurate details that give so much life to his writing. He is also master of the suspense novel. With spies as his main characters, and intelligence gathering guiding his plot, it is the perfect book for me. No wonder I loved the movie made of the book.

The New York Times (Michiko Kakutani, August 30, 1984) says of the book: “THEY would not really try it, would they?” thinks a senior British Intelligence officer. “Not breach the Fourth Protocol? Or would they? Desperate men sometimes take desperate measures.” Well, of course they’d try—this is a Frederick Forsyth novel, after all. And besides, who cares about probability, anyway?

In The Day of the Jackal, Mr. Forsyth wrote about a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle—even though de Gaulle had died peacefully a year before the book was published. And in The Odessa File, he wrote about a Nazi plan to liquidate Israel by using rockets filled with bubonic plague.

What, though, is the “Fourth Protocol,” and why do the Russians want to breach it? To begin with, the year is 1987, and technology has progressed to the point at which it’s possible to build a tiny atomic bomb—“small enough to go in a suitcase and simple enough to be assembled from a dozen prefabricated, milled and threaded components, like a child’s construction kit.” Apparently these things are just as bad as big atomic bombs, and in a way more dangerous, because you can destroy your enemy by planting one of them in a locker or an abandoned house—no need to use missiles that might trigger radar or a counterstrike.

Mr. Forsyth’s Russians, however, don’t simply want to bomb Britain. They are far more subtle than that: their plan is to set off a small nuclear explosion that will give credibility to the British antinuclear movement; that, in turn, will bring the Labor Party to power; that, in turn, will enable hard-core leftists to seize power; that, in turn, will make Britain a Marxist state.

Sound complicated? Most of The Fourth Protocol is pure unadulterated plot—unsullied by well-developed characters, moral insights or interesting prose. When the main story bogs down, Mr. Forsyth simply throws in a subplot about office politics inside British Intelligence, or summons an allusion to a real-life event such as the Falkland crisis, or a previous spy scandal. He even gives the traitor Kim Philby a supporting role in the novel—though his role, like that of many others, ends up being little more than a red herring.

The problem with The Fourth Protocol is not that its premise seems silly: Mr. Forsyth has such a knack for describing technical matters like cracking safes and building bombs, and such a deft ability to juggle the sort of little details spies specialize in, that his novel has a strong documentary sense. The problem with The Fourth Protocol is that—unlike some of the author’s earlier books—it becomes predictable, and so lacking in suspense. Halfway through, the reader knows exactly where it’s headed. In the end, in fact, the novel resembles one of Mr. Forsyth’s little atomic bombs—a kit “assembled from a dozen prefabricated, milled and threaded components.”