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Darkness Visible 
by William Golding.
Faber, 256 pp., £4.95, January 1979, 0 571 11646 9
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... metaphysical, not homespun enough. Richard Hughes was one of our most effective local magicians; John Fowles has become one; William Golding has had the status a long time. His new novel confirms him as a master craftsman in his particular sort of magic. It is beautifully constructed, it grips the reader – so much so that its effectiveness gives it the ...

Snug

John Bayley, 9 September 1993

The Life of Ian Fleming 
by Donald McCormick.
Peter Owen, 231 pp., £18.50, July 1993, 0 7206 0888 0
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... espionage worlds, and subsequently in business journalism. Unlike Fleming’s previous biographer John Pearson, Donald McCormick makes no attempt to psychologise his subject – or to reproduce the fluency which made Pearson’s book read as easily as a James Bond thriller. His justification is to produce, among much that is already familiar, some new ...

Lucky Kim

Christopher Hitchens, 23 February 1995

The Philby Files. The Secret Life of the Master Spy: KGB Archives Revealed 
by Genrikh Borovik, edited by Phillip Knightley.
Little, Brown, 382 pp., £18.99, September 1994, 0 316 91015 5
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The Fifth Man 
by Roland Perry.
Sidgwick, 486 pp., £16.99, October 1994, 0 283 06216 9
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Treason in the Blood: H. St John Philby, Kim Philby and the Spy Case of the Century 
by Anthony Cave Brown.
Hale, 640 pp., £25, January 1995, 9780709055822
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My Five Cambridge Friends 
by Yuri Modin.
Headline, 328 pp., £17.99, October 1994, 0 7472 1280 5
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Looking for Mr Nobody: The Secret Life of Goronwy Rees 
by Jenny Rees.
Weidenfeld, 291 pp., £18.99, October 1994, 0 297 81430 3
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... bipolar Kulturkampf, it did leak out to a wide public through the fictions of Len Deighton and John Le Carré. Watching the shadow-play on the walls of the Cold War cave, and seeing the literal interpenetration of opposites as Karla penetrated ‘us’, and ‘we’ reciprocated, one could make the induction that the spy ...

Suspicious

Tariq Ali: Richard Sorge’s Fate, 21 November 2019

An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent 
by Owen Matthews.
Bloomsbury, 448 pp., £25, March 2019, 978 1 4088 5778 6
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... Ian Fleming called him the ‘most formidable spy in history’; other admirers included John le Carré, Tom Clancy and General MacArthur. Owen Matthews – whose new biography of Sorge is the fifth to appear in English – is well qualified to write this book: his Ukrainian maternal grandfather was Boris ...

Narco Polo

Iain Sinclair, 23 January 1997

Mr Nice: An Autobiography 
by Howard Marks.
Secker, 466 pp., £16.99, September 1996, 0 436 20305 7
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Pulp Election: The Booker Prize Fix 
by Carmen St Keeldare.
Bluedove, 225 pp., £12.99, September 1996, 0 9528298 0 0
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... Highgate.’ He adapts the tone and texture of other ex-spooks who ‘went over’: Ian Fleming, John le Carré. He admits that his dialogue is invented, all his East End villains are squeezed into one composite character, Mickey Williams. MI6 became nervous of the Marks connection in the wake of the Littlejohn affair, two ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: ‘The Constant Gardener’, 3 November 2005

... as winning the Cold War, or the ‘war on terror’. One of the things that’s so good about John le Carré’s Cold War thrillers is their moral murkiness, as they explore what happens when the people playing the game lose sight of its ultimate purpose, as they all inevitably do, and begin to play for the game’s own ...

Bond in Torment

John Lanchester: James Bond, 5 September 2002

From Russia with Love, Dr No and Goldfinger 
by Ian Fleming.
Penguin, 640 pp., £10.99, April 2002, 0 14 118680 1
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... palette of thrillers and mysteries is often distinctly dark. From, say, Conan Doyle to, say, Le Carré, the genuineness of the gloom provides a note of authenticity, a convincing bass line, to underpin the various implausibilities of the main plot. Fleming is in that tradition. Everyone knows about his pioneering use of brand names as a way of making ...

A Very Modern Man

Edmund Gordon: William Boyd, 8 March 2012

Waiting for Sunrise 
by William Boyd.
Bloomsbury, 368 pp., £18.99, February 2012, 978 1 4088 1774 2
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... faces and momentous events is a familiar move in Boyd’s fiction. In The New Confessions (1987), John James Todd, a Scottish filmmaker, fights in the trenches, is pauperised by the Wall Street crash, witnesses the rise of Nazism in Berlin (where he attends parties with Fritz Lang and Thomas Mann), and arrives in Hollywood just in time to fall foul of ...

Back to the Ironing-Board

Theo Tait: Weber and Norman, 15 April 1999

The Music Lesson 
by Katharine Weber.
Phoenix House, 161 pp., £12.99, January 1999, 1 86159 118 7
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The Museum Guard 
by Howard Norman.
Picador, 310 pp., £12.99, February 1999, 9780330370097
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... In his unfortunate account of a Ter Borch brothel scene, Goethe earnestly identifies the leering john as a ‘noble, knightly father’ admonishing his wayward but honourable daughter (the prostitute). The pale mother, he explains, is sipping a glass of wine because she is delicate, and wishes to hide her slight embarrassment: she is, in fact, the procuress, depicted so as to suggest alcoholism and possibly a touch of syphilis ...

Ceaseless Anythings

James Wood: Robert Stone, 1 October 1998

Damascus Gate 
by Robert Stone.
Picador, 500 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 37058 8
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... American realism, once a belief, is now an idle liberty. Writers such as Robert Stone, Joan Didion, John Irving and even Don DeLillo, are praised for their ‘realism’, for the solidity of their plots, the patience of their characterisation, the capillary spread of their social portraits, the leverage of their political insight ...

Stuck on the Flypaper

Frances Stonor Saunders: The Hobsbawm File, 9 April 2015

... like the whiff of cordite long after the gun has been fired. When I mention this to David Cornwell/John le Carré, he says: ‘I can still feel it in my nostrils now.’ Historians, like spooks, need a sensitive nose, Orwell’s ‘Sniff, sniff’ for the detection of ‘all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now ...

Crow

Peter Campbell, 5 January 1989

The Letter of Marque 
by Patrick O’Brian.
Collins, 284 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 9780241125434
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Klara 
by Hugh Thomas.
Hamish Hamilton, 347 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 241 12527 8
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From Rockaway 
by Jill Eisenstadt.
Penguin, 214 pp., £3.99, September 1988, 0 14 010347 3
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The High Road 
by Edna O’Brien.
Weidenfeld, 180 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 297 79493 0
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Loving and Giving 
by Molly Keane.
Deutsch, 226 pp., £10.95, September 1988, 0 223 98346 2
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Tracks 
by Louise Erdrich.
Hamish Hamilton, 226 pp., £11.95, October 1988, 9780241125434
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... his reinstatement on the Navy List is promised. Despite such plots O’Brian’s Aubrey novels, as John Bayley has said in this paper, are ‘emphatically not adventure stories, or the sort of mechanical marine thrillers which sprang up in the wake of C.S. Forester’. For one thing, delicacy and generosity of feeling are constant themes in O’Brian’s ...

Everybody behaved perfectly

Eric Hobsbawm: Hilde’s Two Husbands, 25 August 2011

Scientist Spies: A Memoir of My Three Parents and the Atom Bomb 
by Paul Broda.
Troubador, 333 pp., £17.50, April 2011, 978 1 84876 607 5
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... Britain in the era of anti-Fascism. Broda’s protagonists do not belong in the shadowy world of John le Carré’s intelligence professionals or agents, or even the milieu of full-time Communist Party or Comintern functionaries, let alone the Party cadres trained into total identification with Moscow in institutions like ...

Dummy and Biffy

Noël Annan, 17 October 1985

Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community 
by Christopher Andrew.
Heinemann, 616 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 434 02110 5
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The Secret Generation 
by John Gardner.
Heinemann, 453 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 434 28250 2
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Two Thyrds 
by Bertie Denham.
Ross Anderson Publications, 292 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 86360 006 9
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The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933-1939 
by Wesley Wark.
Tauris, 304 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 1 85043 014 4
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... and Co are the modern equivalents of heroic Jesuit priests plotting against Elizabeth. In Le Carré’s world the dingy agents of the KGB and MI6 are interchangeable. Who can forget A.J.P. Taylor’s jibe that no spy ever told his masters anything of value they could not have gleaned from the press? Or Malcolm Muggeridge’s chronicles of his wasted time ...

Their Affair and Our Affair

R.W. Johnson, 23 April 1987

The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus 
by Jean-Denis Bredin, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman.
Sidgwick, 628 pp., £20, March 1987, 0 283 99443 6
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Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France 
by Zeev Sternhell, translated by David Maisel.
California, 416 pp., £38.25, December 1986, 0 520 05207 2
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... John Weightman, reviewing Jean-Denis Bredin’s monumental work in the Observer, wrote of the Dreyfus Affair that ‘it was perhaps a good thing for France that the abscess burst when it did, because this brought tensions out into the open and revealed the “undeclared civil war” which would need to be resolved in the 20th century ...

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