It’s the weekend, so I’m publishing something about the British thriller. In fact, this is a short book over a decade in the making. Here’s the blurb:
During the Second World War, he worked in the upper echelons of Britain’s intelligence establishment, helping to plan ingenious operations against the Nazis. He was one of the most popular thriller-writers of the 20th century, but his literary reputation has faded in recent years, with critics lambasting his novels as xenophobic, sexist fantasies. And he created a suave but ruthless British secret agent who was orphaned at a young age, expelled from his public school, smoked exotic cigarettes, had a scar on his face, bedded beautiful women and repeatedly saved the world from the threats of megalomaniacal villains.
His name? Dennis Wheatley.
In A Spy Is Born, Jeremy Duns follows the trail of a largely forgotten writer through memoirs, newspaper archives, declassified M.I.5 files and dog-eared paperbacks to reveal the surprising literary roots of one of the most iconic characters in fiction: James Bond. In the process, he takes us on a journey through the history of the spy story, and back to a time when real espionage operations and their fictional counterparts fed off each other, and best-selling novelists lived out their fantasies against a backdrop of double agents and femme fatales.
An earlier version of this was published on the website Spywise.net in 2010, and you can still read a PDF of that for free here if the link works (it hasn’t for me today). But that’s a bit of a strain on the eye, with a near-10-year-old web layout, and since its publication I’ve done a lot more research and thinking: the version published today is more than double the length. So if you want the really deep dive, please buy the very reasonably priced paperback or ebook of A Spy Is Born (links below). In expanding it, I’ve tried to give a more detailed look at how these writers crafted their stories, but also more context and texture for the extraordinary times in which they lived, worked, and sometimes dined together. I hope you enjoy it and, if you do, please spread the word.