The Manchurian Candidate

Title:                      The Manchurian Candidate

Author:                  Richard Condon

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

LCCN:    59008533

PZ4.C746 Man


Date Posted:      January 20, 2017

Review by Louis Menand[1]

Most people know John Frankenheimer’s movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” which stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury in the story of an American soldier who is captured in Korea and programmed by Chinese Communists to kill on command. And most people probably think of the movie as a classic of Cold War culture, like “On the Beach” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”—a popular work articulating the anxieties of an era. In fact, “The Manchurian Candidate” was a flop. It was released in the fall of 1962, failed to recover its costs, and was pulled from distribution two years later, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It turned up a few times on television, but it was not shown in a movie theatre again until 1987, which—nearly the end of the Cold War—is the year its popularity dates from. The true artifact of Cold War culture is the novel, by Richard Condon, that the movie was based on.

Condon’s book came out in 1959 and was a best-seller. It was praised in the Times (“a wild, vigorous, curiously readable melange”) and The New Yorker (“a wild and exhilarating satire”); Time named it one of the Ten Best Bad Novels—which, from a publisher’s point of view, is far from the worst thing that might be said about a book. The novel’s success made Condon rich; he spent most of the rest of his life abroad, producing many more works in the genre that Time had identified, including Winter Kills, in 1974, and, in 1982, Prizzi’s Honor. His adaptation of that novel for the John Huston movie received an Academy Award nomination in 1986. He died in 1996.

Condon was a cynic of the upbeat type, not unlike Tom Wolfe: his belief that everything is basically shit did not get in the way of his pleasure in making fun of it. He learned that attitude in the finest school for it on earth, Hollywood. Before he was a novelist, Condon was a movie publicist. He began, in 1936, at Walt Disney Productions, where he promoted “Fantasia” and “Dumbo,” among other animated masterpieces, and moved on to a succession of studios, finishing up at United Artists, which he left in 1957. He didn’t know what he wanted to do next; he just wanted out. “The only thing I knew how to do was spell,” he later explained, so he did the logical thing and became a writer. Condon claimed that his work in Hollywood had given him three ulcers. He also claimed that he had seen, during his years there, ten thousand movies, an experience that he believed gave him (his words) “an unconscious grounding in storytelling.”

Frankenheimer called The Manchurian Candidate “one of the best books I ever read,” but admirers of Frankenheimer’s movie have not been so gracious. Greil Marcus, in a characteristically overheated appreciation of the movie in the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series, calls the novel a “cheaply paranoid fantasy,” and he goes on, “That the story would lodge in the nation’s psyche and stay there was the work of other hands.” The film historian David Thomson describes it as “a book written so that an idiot could film it.” No doubt Condon wrote The Manchurian Candidate with a movie deal in mind. It was his second novel; his first, called The Oldest Confession, was also made into a movie—“The Happy Thieves,” starring Rex Harrison (a flop that stayed a flop). But the claim that Condon’s Manchurian Candidate is not much more than a draft for the screenplay (which was written by George Axelrod, the author of “The Seven Year Itch”) is peculiar. Michael Crichton writes books that any idiot can film; he practically supplies camera angles. But Condon’s is not an easy book to film, in part because its tone is not readily imitated cinematically, and in part because much of it is, or was in 1962, virtually unfilmable. Strange as the movie is—a thriller teetering on the edge of camp—the book is stranger.

Time, a magazine whose editors, after all, have daily experience with overcooked prose, was not wrong in seeing something splendid in the badness of Condon’s book. The Manchurian Candidate may be pulp, but it is very tony pulp. It is a man in a tartan tuxedo, chicken à la king with shaved truffles, a signed LeRoy Neiman. It’s Mickey Spillane with an M.F.A., and a kind of summa of the styles of paperback fiction circa 1959. The writing is sometimes hardboiled:

The slightest touchy thing he said to her could knock the old cat over sideways with an off-key moan. But what could he do? He had elected himself Head Chump when he stepped down from Valhalla and telephoned this sweaty little advantage-taker.

Sometimes it adopts a police-blotter, “degree-zero” mode:

“Thank you, Major. Dismiss,” the general said. Marco left the office at four twenty-one in the afternoon. General Jorgenson shot himself to death at four fifty-five.

Occasionally, and usually in an inconvenient place, it drops a mot recherché:

Raymond’s mother came out of her chair, spitting langrel. [“Langrel”: irregular pieces of iron loaded into shell casings for the purpose of ripping the enemy’s sails in naval battles; obsolete.]

He clutched the telephone like an osculatorium and did not allow himself to think about what lay beyond that instant. [“Osculatorium”: medieval Latin, for a tablet that is kissed during the Mass. There appears to be no connotation involving clutching.]

It signals feeling by waxing poetic:

Such an instant ago he had paddled their wide canoe across that lake of purple wine toward a pin of light high in the sky which would widen and widen and widen while she slept until it had blanched the blackness.

It signals wisdom by waxing incomprehensible:

There is an immutable phrase at large in the languages of the world that places fabulous ransom on every word in it: The love of a good woman. It means what it says and no matter what the perspective or stains of the person who speaks it, the phrase defies devaluing. The bitter and the kind can chase each other around it, this mulberry bush of truth and consequence, and the kind may convert the bitter and the bitter may emasculate the kind but neither can change its meaning because the love of a good woman does not give way to arbitrage.

And, when appropriate, it salivates:

Her lithe, solid figure seemed even more superb because of her flawless carriage. She wore a Chinese dressing gown of a shade so light that it complemented the contrasting color of her eyes. Her long and extremely beautiful legs were stretched out before her on the chaise longue, and any man but her son or her husband, seeing what she had and yet knowing that this magnificent forty-nine-year-old body was only a wasted uniform covering blunted neural energy, might have wept over such a waste.

Some people like their bananas ripe to the point of blackness. The Manchurian Candidate is a very ripe banana, and, for those who have the taste for it, delectable.

The magnificent forty-nine-year-old body in the last passage belongs to the mother of Raymond, the assassin, who in Frankenheimer’s movie is played by Angela Lansbury as a proper and steely middle-aged matron. For Condon, though, Raymond’s mother is no matron. She is a sexually predatory heroin addict who commits double incest. She is the serpent in the suburban garden of Cold War domesticity, and, in imagining her and her history, Condon almost certainly had in the back of his mind the book that, three years earlier, had become the first blockbuster in American publishing, Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place—a story that also had to be sanitized for the movies. The plot of Peyton Place turns on incest (as, for that matter, does the plot of Lolita, a sensation when the American edition came out, in 1958). But the luridness of Condon’s novel did not make it to the screen. There is no equivalent in the movie, for example, of the proto-Pynchonesque sequence in which Raymond’s stepfather, Johnny Iselin, attempts to have sex with an Eskimo. Frankenheimer’s idea of satire was a lot more conventional than Condon’s. He was also a Hollywood filmmaker, of course, and obliged to observe a different decorum.

Counterintuitive as it sounds, the secret to making a successful thriller, as Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy have demonstrated, is to slow down the action occasionally with disquisitions on Stuff It Is Interesting to Know—how airplanes are made, how nuclear submarines work, how to build an atomic bomb. Ideally, this information is also topical, food for the national appetite of the day. In The Manchurian Candidate, the topic is brainwashing.

Fear of Communist brainwashing seems an example of Cold War hysteria, but in the nineteen-fifties the fear was not without basis. United Nations ground forces began military action in Korea on July 5, 1950. On July 9th, an American soldier who had been captured just two days earlier delivered a radio speech consisting of North Korean propaganda. Similar broadcasts by captured soldiers continued throughout the war. At the end of the war, the Army estimated that one out of every seven American prisoners of war had collaborated with the enemy. (The final, generally accepted estimate is one out of ten.) Twenty-one Americans refused to return to the United States; forty announced that they had become Communists; and fourteen were court-martialled, and eleven of those were convicted.

The term “brainwashing” was coined by a journalist named Edward Hunter, who had served in the Morale Operations section of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War, which he spent mostly in Asia, and who became an outspoken anti-Communist. Hunter’s book Brainwashing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men’s Minds appeared in 1951. In it, he explained that “brainwashing” was his translation of the Chinese term hsi-nao, which means “cleansing of the mind,” and which he said he had heard frequently when speaking with Europeans who had been caught inside China in 1949, the year of Mao’s revolution.

In 1955, two years after the armistice ending the Korean War, the Army issued a huge report on the treatment of American prisoners called POW: The Fight Continues After the Battle. The Army had interviewed all surviving prisoners of war on the ships that brought them back across the Pacific—more than four thousand soldiers—and had learned that many of them underwent intensive indoctrination by Chinese Communists. The Chinese had carefully segregated the prisoners they had identified as incorrigibles, sometimes housing them in separate camps, and had subjected the prisoners they judged to be potential converts to five hours of indoctrination a day, in classes that combined propaganda by the instructors with “confessions” by the prisoners. In some cases, physical torture accompanied the indoctrination, but in general the Chinese used the traditional methods of psychological coercion: repetition and humiliation. The Army discovered that a shocking number of prisoners had, to one degree or another, succumbed. Some were persuaded to accuse the United States, in signed statements, of engaging in germ warfare—a charge that was untrue but was widely believed in many countries.

The Army report instigated a popular obsession with brainwashing that lasted well into 1957. Stories about the experiences of American prisoners appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Life, the Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. The term itself became a synonym for any sort of effective persuasion, and writers struggled with the question of whether aspects of contemporary American life, such as advertising and psychiatric therapy, might really be forms of brainwashing. Condon must have read much of this material; he did know Andrew Salter’s Conditioned Reflex Therapy (1949), a book he has the Chinese psychiatrist in his novel, Yen Lo, cite in the speech in which he announces his successful brainwashing of the American prisoners. Yen Lo names a number of other studies of hypnosis and conditioning, including “The Seduction of the Innocent,” by Frederic Wertham, an alarmist account of the way comic books corrupt the minds of American youth. (Yen Lo evidently has, in addition to his other exceptional powers, a crystal ball, since “Seduction of the Innocent” was not published until 1954, after the Korean War was over.) These books and articles apparently persuaded Condon that brainwashing, or psychological conditioning using a combination of hypnosis and Pavlovian methods, was a real possibility—as the recent experience of the Korean P.O.W.s had persuaded many other Americans that it was.

Condon’s book played on the fear that brainwashing could be permanent, that minds could be altered forever. By the time Frankenheimer’s movie came out, though, it had become clear that most conditioning is temporary. In 1961, in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China,” the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who had conducted some of the shipboard interviews with returning P.O.W.s, concluded that the indoctrination of prisoners was a long-term failure. All of the “converts” eventually returned to the United States, and the former prisoners who had come home praising the good life to be had in North Korea soon reverted to American views.

Still, conditioning is the theme (if “theme” is not too grand a term) of Condon’s novel. Even before Raymond falls into the hands of Yen Lo, he is psychologically conditioned, by his mother’s behavior, to despise everyone. His mother is conditioned, by her early incest, to betray everyone. And the American people are conditioned, by political propaganda, to believe her McCarthy-like husband’s baseless charges about Communists in the government. It is not, in Condon’s vision, the Communist world on one side and the free world on the other. It is just the manipulators and the manipulated, the conditioners and the conditioned, the publicists and the public. In such a world, it’s probably better to be the publicist, if you can deal with the ulcers.

Frank Sinatra, who plays Marco, the only friend Raymond has, is supposed to have asked his friend Jack Kennedy for his approval before Frankenheimer’s movie was released. United Artists was apparently afraid that the assassination scene might give some nut an idea. Kennedy, as it happened, loved the movie; he was, after all, the world’s most famous Ian Fleming fan. He was killed a year after The Manchurian Candidate came out. Did Lee Harvey Oswald see it? The problem has been examined in depth by John Loken, in a book called Oswald’s Trigger Films (2000). Loken concludes that although the evidence is not definitive, Oswald almost certainly did see it. “The Manchurian Candidate” opened in Dallas in November, 1962, and played there for several months; Oswald, who was living in Dallas at the time, had a habit of going to the movies by himself (he was in a movie theatre when he was arrested on November 22, 1963); and Loken has determined that the bus Oswald probably took to work passed within ten yards of a theatre where the movie was playing. (Loken is much struck by the fact that references to “The Manchurian Candidate” are almost nonexistent in the literature, official and otherwise, on the Kennedy assassination. He concludes, in the spirit of all scholars of that assassination, that “the probable Oswald connection, so utterly obvious if one but thinks about it, has been suppressed for decades by a powerful conglomerate that might aptly be called the ‘media-entertainment complex.’ “)

Immediately after Kennedy was shot, Condon got a call from a newspaper reporter asking if he felt responsible. Condon couldn’t see the relevance, and he was not being defensive. He had not introduced political assassination to popular American culture. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men was published in 1946 and was made into a movie in 1949; a version for television, directed by Sidney Lumet, was broadcast in 1958. Assassination is the subject of John Huston’s “We Were Strangers” (1949) and Lewis Allen’s “Suddenly” (1954), also starring Frank Sinatra. Oswald might easily have seen those movies as well. More to the point: The Manchurian Candidate is the story of a man programmed to kill at the command of other people. What self-respecting assassin would take such a character for his role model? Either Oswald acted according to his own wishes, in which case he wasn’t imitating Condon’s killer, or he really was programmed by the Communists, in which case the question isn’t whether Oswald saw Frankenheimer’s movie but whether his Communist masters did.

United Artists withdrew “The Manchurian Candidate” from theatres in 1964, although the movie could occasionally be seen on television and in art houses. In 1972, Sinatra bought the rights and, in 1975, removed it from circulation entirely. Whether or not he was motivated by guilt over Kennedy’s death is unclear. He did, however, give his daughter Tina permission to produce a remake, and it is being shot, this fall [2003], by Jonathan Demme. (Demme’s previous movie, “The Truth About Charlie,” was also a remake, of Stanley Donen’s “Charade,” of 1963. His method, judging from that effort, is to update the story and then salt it with allusions to the period of the original. “Charade” was filmed in Paris at the time of the French New Wave, and so in Demme’s version there are appearances by Charles Aznavour, Agnès Varda, and the grave of François Truffaut—none of which have anything to do with the story. Demme has reportedly set “The Manchurian Candidate” in the time of the Gulf War; Liev Schreiber plays Raymond, Meryl Streep is his dragon mother, and Marco is played by Denzel Washington. We can be fairly confident that at some point Denzel Washington will be seen listening to a Frank Sinatra song.)

The Kennedy assassination does not fulfill Condon and Frankenheimer’s prophecy. On the contrary, it buries it. If any assassin might plausibly have been a Communist puppet, it was Oswald, a man who had lived in the Soviet Union for three years, who had a Russian wife, and who once handed out leaflets for an outfit called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. These facts were widely known within hours of Oswald’s arrest, and yet the theory that he was an agent who was directed, wittingly or not, by Communist handlers has never been an important part of the folklore of the Kennedy assassination. Until the late nineteen-seventies, the official line (endorsed, incidentally, by Condon at the time) was that Oswald acted alone. Dissenters from that view have been drawn mainly to theories involving the Mafia and the Central Intelligence Agency, even though hooking Oswald up with those entities requires a far greater imaginative stretch than associating him with the Soviets. Almost no one thinks of Kennedy (except in some convoluted way) as a casualty of the Cold War, and his death does not represent the culmination of the national anxiety about Communist infiltration. It represents the end of that obsession, and of the panic that Condon’s novel and Frankenheimer’s movie both so happily exploit.

[1] Louis Menand, “A Critic At Large, ‘Brainwashed: Where the Manchurian Candidate’ Came From,” The New Yorker (September 15, 2003) Louis Menand has contributed to The New Yorker since 1991, and has been a staff writer since 2001.. Downloaded January 20, 2017

Requiem in Utopia

Title:                      Requiem in Utopia

Author:                 Richard Starnes

Starnes, Richard (1967). Requiem in Utopia. New York: Trident Press

LCCN:    67017362

PZ3.S79616 Re


Date Posted:      January 18, 2017


This bogus hocus pocus deals with Max Speed’s attempt to do some articles on Sweden where he is kept from reaching his old friend Nils Lund, now heading a peace congress, and brutalized not only by a gr-r-r-im Major Stig but by the C.I.A. A noisy newsstand item.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded January 18, 2017

Hazardous Duty

Title:                      Hazardous Duty

Author:                  W.E.B. Griffin

Griffin, W.E.B. (2013) William E. Butterworth IV Hazardous Duty. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2013029657

PS3557.R489137 H39 2013


  • “The Presidential Agent adventures return in the most harrowing novel yet in the #1 New York Times-bestselling series. Mexican drug cartels are shooting up the streets of Laredo and El Paso. Somali pirates are holding three U.S. tankers for ransom. The President is fed up and has what he thinks is a pretty bright idea-to get hold of Colonel Charley Castillo and his merry band and put them on the case. Unfortunately, that will be difficult. Everybody knows that the President hates Castillo’s guts, has just had him forcibly retired from the military, and now Castillo’s men are scattered far and wide, many of them in hiding. There are also whispers that the President himself is unstable-the word “nutcake” has been mentioned. How will it all play out? No one knows for sure, but for Castillo and company, only one thing is definite: It will be hazardous duty”– Provided by publisher.


Date Updated:  April 11, 2016

I finished reading this book on April 10, 2016. I read it all, even though I found it farcical and unworthy of the genre that Griffin/Butterworth have produced in the past. I don’t recommend it at all. However, see what Joe Hartlaub has to say.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub[1] on January 8, 2014

There comes a point when an author of a series must ask if that series is broken and needs to be fixed or is rolling along just fine, if somewhat predictably. This issue was seemingly broached by W.E.B. Griffin and co-author William E. Butterworth IV with respect to the Presidential Agent series, with the apparent conclusion that a change, however temporary, was necessary.

Griffin himself indicates in the Afterword to Hazardous Duty, the eighth and latest installment in the Charley Castillo canon, that he intended this book to be a “M*A*S*H Goes to the White House and Langley” of sorts. And yes, he and Butterworth succeed in that regard, to a certain extent. However, it is somewhat doubtful that most readers will be inclined to make the journey with him, at least on this trip.

There is no doubt that Hazardous Duty is funny. The elements are all there. The President of the United States, Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen, is erratic to the point of being deranged, and everyone around him knows it. The usual practice of the President’s cabinet and advisors is to listen to what he wants done and then circumvent his wishes in a manner that still results in a satisfactory conclusion. Clendennen faces problems on two fronts: Mexican cartels and Somali pirates. His solution is to recruit Charley Castillo, a Colonel who ran a special ops team. There’s only one problem: Clendennen fired Castillo and his team. Castillo has gone to ground in parts unknown (well, unknown to Clendennen, anyway), and his team has been scattered. Clendennen is convinced that he can tempt Castillo back, but the history of the two men is such that it is going to take some indirect persuasion from elsewhere if there is even a snowball’s chance of this happening.

The great difficulty with Hazardous Duty is that the narrative spends an inordinate amount of time chronicling the attempts of various individuals, official and otherwise, trying to recruit the more than reluctant Castillo back into the fold. Part of the reason for this is that the story jumps the track several times, with a character being introduced and then a backstory being interjected for anywhere from several paragraphs to a few pages. Some of these backstories are extremely interesting, and all are amusing to some degree or another. But they do little or nothing to advance the main plot, which seems to be resolved almost as an afterthought.

I appreciate the difficulties that Team Griffin faces with trying to bring new readers up to snuff with what has gone before, particularly in a series like this with its complex storylines and multiplicity of characters. Unfortunately, those who have been on the ride from the beginning may find themselves bored with some of the recounting as they wait for the plot to move along. Newcomers, on the other hand, may well be confounded by the characters and bloodlines and the like thrown at them from page to page. Furthermore, those who have come to expect their thrillers from Griffin to be served up with explosions, karate and high doses of political intrigue with occasional helpings of humor may be disappointed to find the proportions reversed here.

Is Hazardous Duty entertaining? Yes. But it requires a bit of an effort to get through it (which Griffin, to his credit, seems to acknowledge tacitly in his Afterword). I certainly would not give up on the Griffin/Butterworth team just yet—consider the balance of their work, which far outweighs the rare disappointment—and will keep giving their books a look for the foreseeable future. Still, their latest will probably be of primary interest only to completists and diehard Griffin fans.

[1] Hartlaub, Joe at Downloaded April 11, 2016


The Defection of A. J. Lewinter

Title:                      The Defection of A. J. Lewinter

Author:                 Robert Littell

Littell, Robert (1973). The Defection of A. J. Lewinter. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin

LCCN:    72005220

PZ4.L772 De

Date Updated:  January 11, 2016


  1. J. Lewinter, a balding (in spite of the twelve bottles of Head & Shoulders he takes with him) ceramics engineer (nose cones), crosses over to Russia and it seems impossible to believe the USSR would take him in—he hasn’t that much to offer. Nor does his explanation, fear or a preemptive nuclear war on the part of the U.S., seem very urgent. His older and newer compatriots attempt to process the either/or, true/false/positive/negative factors via all kinds of dossier data, transcripts and checks and among them you’ll find a KGB representative, a grandmaster, the CIA’s Leo Diamond who’s as adamantine as his name, and his Sarah, a “glutton for experience” but not the kind she’s going to get. Littell’s first in this category is politically sophisticated, literate and versatile in its range and you’ll want to authorize it instantly as bright entertainment.


Robert Littell (born January 8, 1935) is an American novelist and journalist who resides in France. He specializes in spy novels that often concern the CIA and the Soviet Union.

Littell was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family, of Russian Jewish origin. He is a 1956 graduate of Alfred University in western New York. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy and served at times as his ship’s navigator, antisubmarine warfare officer, communications officer, and deck watch officer.

Later Littell became a journalist and worked many years for Newsweek during the Cold War. He was a foreign correspondent for the magazine from 1965 to 1970. His spy novels are:


  • The Defection of A. J. Lewinter (1973)
  • Littell, Robert (1974). Sweet Reason. Boston, Houghton Mifflin
  • Littell, Robert (1975). The October Circle. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Mother Russia (1978)
  • Littell, Robert (1978). Mother Russia. London: Hutchinson
  • Littell, Robert (1979). The Debriefing. New York: Harper & Row
  • Littell, Robert (1981, 2003). The Amateur. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press
  • Littell, Robert (1986). The Sisters. New York: Bantam Books
  • Littell, Robert (1988). The Revolutionist. New York : Bantam Books
  • The Once and Future Spy (1990)
  • An Agent in Place (1991)
  • The Visiting Professor (1994)
  • Walking Back the Cat (1997)
  • Littell, Robert (2002). The Company: A Novel of the CIA. New York: Overlook Press.
  • Legends (2005)
  • Vicious Circle (2006)
  • Littell, Robert (2009). The Stalin Epigram. New York: Simon & Schuster
  • Young Philby (2012)


Without Remorse

Title:                      Without Remorse

Author:                Tom Clancy.

Clancy, Tom (1993). Without Remorse. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    93013940

PS3553.L245 W57 1993


Date Posted:      June 7, 2015


Superultramegatechnothriller bestseller Clancy drops the technobits for a story about a beached SEAL who—with nothing but low-tech knives and home-modified artillery—takes on the drug traders of Baltimore and the North Vietnamese Army at the same time. During the first Nixon term, recently widowed Vietnam vet and underwater-demolition expert John Kelly picks up a pretty pedestrian named Pam on his way to the diesel-powered yacht where he’s been licking his wounds since the accidental death of his pregnant wife. Pam, a prostitute, is on the lam from her sadistic pimp Henry, an ambitious and rising drug-dealer. Even as Kelly is feeding a grateful Pam, Henry’s henchmen are just down the Chesapeake Bay feeding an associate to the crabs.

Out fishing the next day, Pam and Kelly have a cute-meet with physicians Sam and Sarah Rosen, who kindly clean up Pam’s sexually transmitted diseases and drug addiction after Kelly fixes their corroded screws. Meanwhile, in North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s fiends have locked up 20 downed and reportedly dead American flyers in a secret prison to be interrogated by a Soviet colonel about American air strategy. The US government knows about the prisoners but is willing to sacrifice them for the good of the Paris peace talks.

Back in Baltimore, Kelly takes the rebuilt Pam back to her old haunts so he can punish her wrongdoers, but they themselves are the victims. Pam dies a cruel death, and Kelly takes a shotgun blast in the neck. Weeks later, a brokenhearted Kelly resolves to wipe out the drug-dealing dirt who did in his sweetheart, accepting at the same time a commission to rescue the flyers. He’ll have to hurry. Henry has linked up with the mob, and it won’t be long before the pilots outlive their usefulness. Among the countless complications: a pair of dope-smoking Ivy League draft evaders, and some commendably persistent detectives from the Baltimore police force. Twice as long as the two rather creaky storylines can bear, but the millions of midlevel, desk-bound, action-loving bureaucrats whose adventurous wishes Clancy so faithfully fulfills are unlikely to complain.

Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence

Title:                      Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence

Author:                 Nigel West

West, Nigel (2009). Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence: Fact and Fiction. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press

LCCN:    2009011491

PR6056.L4 Z89 2009


Date Updated:  April 23, 2015

In 2013 I did a tour in Britain of Ian Fleming key locations, including one of the houses in which he lived and one of the pubs in which he did a lot of writing. The tour was led by Nigel West, and he has always seemed on point and tenacious for accuracy in his writing. I have listed many of his books in my Intelligence Blog.

The Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence includes hundreds of dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, and KGB, as well as on the short stories and novels that define one of the most extraordinary fictional characters of all time.

Twelve novels and nine short stories define one of the most extraordinary fictional characters of all time, creating the basis for the most successful movie series in cinematographic history, watched by more than half the world’s population. The single person probably more responsible than any other for glamorizing the murky world of espionage is Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, who himself lived a remarkable double life of spy and writer. Everyone has an opinion on why 007 became so successful, but one possible explanation is the ingenious formula of fact, fiction, and sheer fantasy. Certainly the author drew on friends and places he knew well to provide the backdrop for his drama, but what proportion of his output is authentic, and what comes directly from the author’s imagination?

These questions and more are examined in the Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. This is done through a chronology, an introduction, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, KGB, and others. It also contains entries on Ian Fleming’s novels and short stories, family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters.

Nigel West is currently the European Editor of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence and teaches the history of postwar intelligence at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Alexandria, VA. He is the author of many books, including the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence, Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence, and Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage. In October 2003 he was awarded the U.S. Association of Former Intelligence Officers’ first Lifetime Literature Achievement Award.

Nigel West examines the fascinating double life of spy and writer Ian Fleming, who will forever be known for creating James Bond, one of the most intriguing fictional spies in modern history—as well as the most lucrative; the Bond movies have been seen by more than half of the world’s population. The volume consists of a chronology, an introduction, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced entries on actual cases of espionage and real-life spies, along with entries on Fleming’s novels, his family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters from his work.

A few readers note that there are mistakes in the book, notably the year of death of Hugh Gaitskell (actually January 18, 1963).

Words from Roy Berkeley about Ian Fleming[1]

In London, near Buckingham Palace and Lower Grosvenor Place is Victoria Square. Just before the tiny paved square is Victoria Square. From 1953 until 1964, when he died at age 56, Ian Fleming lived here with his wife Anne and their young son Caspar. The first of the Bond books, Casino Royale[2], was published a month after the move here from Carlyle Mansions. The last of Fleming’s Bond books, The Man with the Golden Gun, was published after his death. More than 20 million of his books sold during this time.

But, throughout these years, Fleming was often depressed, chasing an elusive happiness. Anne was witty and charmingly outrageous but essentially unsupportive (‘those dreadful Bond books,’ she called them). In this house she gave frequent dinner parties for people with possibly more literary pretensions, and certainly more literary achievements, than Fleming. He often spent those evenings hiding out at his club. ‘The marriage survived one of its rockier moments,’ Henry A. Zieger tells us in Ian Fleming: The Spy Who Came in with the Gold, ‘when Fleming came home one night to find Cyril Connolly reading page proofs of the first Bond book aloud to the assembled multitude with heavily theatrical emphasis which the guests evidently found amusing.’ Fleming’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge would occasionally be included in Anne’s gatherings and, finding them as distasteful as Fleming did, would retreat with him to what Muggeridge calls ‘a sort of private apartment at the top of the house’ where Fleming kept his ‘masculine bric-a-brac.’ Here the two would exchange Fleet Street gossip and sip highballs, writes Muggeridge, ‘like climbers taking a breather above a mountain torrent whose roar could still faintly be heard in the ravine below.’

Fleming’s was a flawed personality. Reviewers have noted the strong connection, in his books, between sex and cruelty. His attitude may have been formed at Eton; the British public school atmosphere is said to consist equally of sadism, snobbery and sodomy. For all that, Fleming seems to have grown up enthusiastically heterosexual—not always the case among fellow alumni. (He attended Sandhurst too, graduating from neither institution, although encouraging people to believe otherwise.)

Very ambitious, he was fortunately very skilled at self-promotion. He made a special effort to get into President Kennedy’s good graces and the Bond books only sold well in America after Kennedy included one in a list of books he had enjoyed. Kennedy would obviously have relished these books. Like his father he was a great admirer of arrogant phallicism. Unlike his father he was a great Anglophile.

Fleming was an extraordinary story-teller, his talent more than compensating for his ignorance on many subjects. Whenever he discussed a subject I knew anything about, he was either partially or totally wrong. Like most British writers he was abysmally ignorant about firearms (undoubtedly a consequence of Britain’s restrictive laws on firearms). He was also wildly ignorant about American speech. And I’ve been told by people close to British intelligence operations that he was no more accurate in that area. One can only admire the self-confidence that enabled Fleming to write so blithely those compellingly well-written stories that are no less compelling for being chock-full of howlers. My favourite of his short stories is ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (which has nothing to do with the film of the same name), probably because it is set in Vermont and because Bond uses a Savage 99, for years my primary deer-hunting rifle. Fleming acquired his knowledge of Vermont by visiting the Vermont home pf his friend Ivar Bryce a few miles from my own home. But Fleming knew nothing about Vermont in the late autumn, just before deer season, and seems never to have fired ( or even loaded) a Savage 99.

Fleming was driven by complicated love-hate feelings towards America. Undeniably, he felt uneasy about America’s wealth and power. In From Russia with Love[3], he has the Russians say that America’s bloated intelligence effort is ineffectual while Britain’s low-profile service is as successful as it is small—surely a distorted picture of both services. (In 1992 a former head of KGB intelligence listed the top Western intelligence services and didn’t even mention MI6. Customary disinformation? Or rare candour?)

[1] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 37-39

[2] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

[3] Fleming, Ian (1957, 1981). From Russia with Love. Geneva : Edito-Service

The Silent Game

Title:                      The Silent Game

Author:                  David Stafford

Stafford, David (1988, 1989). The Silent Game: The Real World of Imaginary Spies. New York: Viking

LCCN:    89185340

PR888.S65 S83 1989


Date Posted:      March 3, 2015

The Silent Game traces the history of spy writers and their fiction from creator William Le Queux, of the Edwardian age, to John le Carré, of the Cold War era. David Stafford reveals the connections between fact and fiction as seen in the lives of writers with experience in intelligence, including John Buchan, Compton Mackenzie, Somerset Maugham, Ian Fleming, and Graham Greene. Le Queux used his spy fiction as xenophobic propaganda before and after World War I, and le Carré’s novels have provided reflections on the Cold War and the decline of Britain’s influence. Anxieties about the decline of the American “empire” have helped stimulate a more vigorous American literature of espionage, providing an index of contemporary American concerns about power relations. As Stafford suggests, the genre of espionage fiction rarely intends to document the real world of intelligence. Rather, it provides a popular vehicle for exploring themes of imperial decline, international crisis, and impending war.