From time to time, I’m asked which authors have influenced my writing. I invariably reply none have. I make no conscious decision to imitate for why would a reader buy a second rate copy, when he could get the real thing? However, there are writers who I enjoy reading, and I enjoy for two reasons. First, they were there; they served in intelligence agencies and therefore probably know the workings of the spy world and the human heart better than most. Secondly, because they were there, they’re interested in conveying (my assumption, I admit) what that world’s like. They’re not crowd pleasers. They’re not primarily businessmen, interested in making a buck. They seem to be interested in only one thing, the truth. And they’re damn good at conveying that through atmosphere, dialogue, tension, the loneliness and fear. Nothing James Bondish about them.

Witness, for instance, John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. From the moment I read the opening lines to that gritty novel—“The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, ‘Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.'”?I was hooked. So engrossed that I missed my flight out of Heathrow Airport. “The best spy story I have read,” according to Graham Greene.

He should know; he, like le Carre, served in MI6, the British CIA. And he used that experience to write novel after novel that rings true. Like The Human Factor, filled with violence, true, but of a psychological sort, about conflicting loyalties of an aging English civil servant bureaucrat/spy.

Who might be the American equivalent of the two above, equal in terms of experience and grace of language? My vote goes to Charles McCarry, who for years before turning to writing, was an intelligence officer under deep cover in among other places, Europe. “The streets, even this broad main thoroughfare, were virtually empty at this hour and the city was so quiet that he could hear the bike’s tires humming on the pavement.” Who else, but someone who had been in East Berlin during the Cold War, could include that atmospheric detail, as this ex-spy did in Christopher’s Ghosts.

John le CarreGraham GreeneCharles McCarry, you can’t go wrong.

About Steve Haberman

A University of Texas graduate, Steve Haberman pursued legal studies at UCLA before embarking on a career as a legal assistant. Stock market investments made travel abroad possible, and he has since visited Europe extensively, including London, Paris, Prague, Berlin, as well as Milan. Many of these feature as settings in his two ebook novels. Murder Without Pity, a murder mystery, occurs in Paris. The Killing Ploy is set partially in several continental capitals. He is presently planning another three month trip abroad for research on a sequel to The Killing Ploy, which will also use foreign locales.

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