It’s all about spies today. I read a great post by spy fiction writer Jeremy Duns about the brouhaha over disgraced writer Q.R. Markham’s plagiarized spy novel, Assassin of Secrets. Very interesting stuff, combined with some of the analysis around the net about whose novels got whole paragraphs lifted. Markham, whose real name is Quentin Rowan — he seems to have chosen one of Kingsley Amis’s pennames — is what is known in the real world as a pathological liar. Somebody who can’t physically stop himself from falsehoods and theft. Very sad because his career is now toast. He’s been caught, and Duns, who wrote a glowing blurb for the book, has a unique give and take with him in the comment section of his blog.
One of the novelists Q.R. seemed to like a lot was Charles McCarry, author of Tears of Autumn about the Kennedy assassination. I had never read any McCarry until a neighbor on the Madison River where I spend my summers foisted this book on me. His favorite writer, he said. I agreed, an amazing writer, and not well known enough. Maybe the plagiarism will help McCarry’s career. His last novel about spy Paul Christopher was 2007’s Christopher’s Ghosts.
Speaking of Kingsley Amis’s penname, he used Robert Markham when he did one of the first James Bond pastiches in 1968, Colonel Sun. I know this because I just read a piece in The Atlantic by James Parker titled The Anti-James Bond. The article is about the new John le Carre film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, coming in December. (Parker is not a fan.) I have to admit to a love of George Smiley and le Carre’s writing, but not so much Fleming and Bond. I bought Jeffery Deaver’s new Bond book this summer and passed it off to my 30-year-old son who is more into that stuff. I find James Bond, without the on-screen swagger and heat (and sometimes with), dull as dust. George Smiley isn’t exactly a charmer either but there is something so grounded, so melancholy and real about him. If you want a real treat listen to The Constant Gardener as an audiobook, with John le Carre (David Cornwell) himself doing the narration. He’s fantastic, all the accents and voices. Like maybe he was a master of disguise back in the day? Ya think?
The new version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy features Gary Oldman as Smiley, not a bad choice. Even if the new version doesn’t light up the big screen, there are a few perks as in some of my favorite actors: Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Ciaran Hinds. I will miss Alec Guinness though, and those amazing eye bags. With “Tailor” in the title it’s easy to get this novel mixed up with the other leCarre novel titled The Tailor of Panama. That one was made into a movie with the once-Bond, Pierce Brosnan, in 2001. Alas no George Smiley in Central America.