Espionage Is Not Whodunnit

As part of my research for the upcoming Airbnb Spies of London experience, I have been listening to the BBC Radio adaptations of the complete George Smiley novels, starring Simon Russell Beale as Smiley. The very first book, Call For The Dead, is actually a whodunnit. But true spy novels are not murder mysteries.

The Honourable Schoolboy is not a whodunnit, but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy happens largely in retrospect and has many hallmarks of a whodunnit.

This is not a bad thing. I enjoy all the Smiley works on their own merits. But for those wishing to find true espionage adventure stories, you need to be careful out there. Very often, spy books will not have their own section. We aim to change all that, one day. They are often lumped into Crime, or general fiction, or classic fiction for authors like Buchan. They are all of these things, and none of these things. This is not a criticism. But are you really a spy fan or a mystery fan? These stories are not equivalent.

I do like a nice gentle Agatha Christie. Some of the older spy novels are just as gentle. Buchan comes to mind. They are very entertaining, but they do not challenge the world we live in. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a genuine, gritty, political spy thriller. It is excellent. It documents Berlin during a particular phase of history. It is as much historical fiction as it is spy fiction. But it is not a whodunnit.

I am trying to create a new spy, Paul Locksley, fit for the New Cold War. He is flawed, but intelligent. He is a little traditional, sometimes, but he knows all about technology and science. He knows about PGP and Tor. But he also knows how to use a gun. He is not a superhero. Just like Smiley and all his predecessors, Locksley is an anti-hero. For someone engaged in writing spy fiction as well as presenting the history of espionage, it is crucial to make these distinctions.

Happy reading!