Remember when the “Iron Curtain” fell and book columnists wondered if that would mean the end of the line for great espionage writers like John LeCarre and Len Deighton?
Well, here we are 20 years later and not only is the spy novel back, it seems to be expanding. (The genre is hot in movies again, too, with recent announcements of Ron Howard adapting Robert Ludlum’s “The Parsifal Mosaic” and Steven Spielberg taking an option on the old Matt Helm novels of the 1950s and ’60s.) The failure of our own intelligence agencies to stop the 9/11 attacks demonstrated the fatal limits of organizations that had been built on an us-against-them pattern in which spies and counterspies focused almost entirely on the U.S.-Soviet conflict for a half century.
Americans were shocked to learn that the CIA had been unable to infiltrate Al Qaida because, we were told, the language and the culture were too complex. Of course, young American civilian John Walker Lindh (above) made hash of the CIA’s claim by getting within shooting distance of Osama bin Laden without any special training and on his own dime (I still think it might have been better to use Lindh to train agents instead of having him spend the next two decades in prison).
Now that it is clear we are in a very dangerous and ever-changing post-Iron Curtain world, the need for intelligence is greater than ever and readers are gobbling up terrific novels by contemporary writers such as Daniel Silva and Steve Martini (and old master LeCarre has found lots of things to write about over the past two decades as well).
I just added Christopher Reich (below) to my list of favorite espionage thriller writers after reading last year’s “Rules of Deception” and the new “Rules of Vengeance” to prepare for an interview earlier in the week (Reich will be featured in the “Winning Authors” series at Mohegan Sun on Aug. 5).
Reich has found a way to add romantic and sexual conflict to the genre through his husband-and-wife team of Jonathan and Emma Ransom. In the first book, they are happily vacationing from their work for Doctors Without Borders when Emma appears to die in a skiing accident.
Jonathan soon finds out that the woman he married and the “real” Emma are two entirely different creatures — Emma’s life with Jonathan is revealed to be an elaborate cover for her work as an agent for a top-secret U.S. intelligence group known as “Division.”
Reich mixes the political realism of LeCarre with the one-thing-after-another dizziness of a James Bond movie. The books also contain echoes of the great old British spy TV series “The Avengers” in which agent Emma Peel was constantly saving her male partner John Steed through a combination of superior intelligence and acute martial arts skills.
The first “Rules” deals with tensions in the Middle East and a plot to start a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran; the new book centers on the implications of the political instability in Russia with the planned assassination of a Russian politician in London serving as the story’s trigger mechanism.
But, the novels are built on the sexy, mysterious and dangerous relationship between Jonathan and Emma — Reich adds strong emotion to a genre that is often dominated by action and technology.