Saturday 26 February 2011

Jeremy Duns on Ian Fleming, Donald McCormick and Christine Granville / Spy Fiction Fortnight Preview

As promised on Friday, I thought I'd post a little preview of what you can expect from Existential Ennui's forthcoming Spy Fiction Fortnight, which I have to say I'm quite excited about (well, as excited as I get about anything, anyway). But before I get to that, and tangentially related to it, I just wanted to draw your attention to a terrific essay by espionage author and Ian Fleming expert Jeremy Duns.

As is often the case with contemporary writers, I wasn't really aware of Jeremy's work until very recently; so far as this blog and therefore my reading habits are concerned, it could be said that I'm somewhat stuck in the past, although in my defence it's not so much my own past but rather an unexplored (by me, anyway) history of 20th century genre fiction encompassing names like Lyall, Thomas, Highsmith, Westlake and Amis (K.). But earlier this year Jeremy left a comment on a guest post by Michael Barber about Dennis Wheatley, and in so doing positioned himself squarely in my sights (so he only has himself to blame there). Duns has had two novels published to date, with a third on the way; I've already devoured the first one – more on that in a moment – and I'll be cracking the spine on the second one pretty soon.

He also has a first-rate blog, and on Thursday posted a long but engrossing piece on a couple of writers I've blogged about a fair few times myself. One of those is Ian Fleming, who needs no introduction. The other is Donald McCormick, author and co-author of Who's Who in Spy Fiction and Spy Fiction: A Connoisseur's Guide. I've made reference to both those books in multiple posts, and I'd assumed that McCormick was a trusted authority on Fleming, McCormick having worked for Fleming after the war and indeed written a biography of him. But as Duns reveals in his post, McCormick was a hoaxer and a fabricator, and many of the things he wrote about Fleming over the years have turned out to be utterly unverifiable and almost certainly complete rubbish.

McCormick's lies about Fleming hit the headlines again last week when The Bookseller reported that Pan Macmillan had acquired the rights to a biography of WWII British secret agent Christine Granville, who was, according to the story, "the inspiration for Vesper Lynd in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale". Furthermore, as Guy Walters details in this Telegraph post, with its Bond-esque title of The Spy Who Loved, the biography promised to deliver sensational details of the supposed relationship between Granville and Fleming. But as Jeremy explains in his post (which Walters links to), once again, these claims can be traced back to Donald McCormick's fabrications. It's a fascinating story (and having read through those various links I'm starting to wonder whether a biography of McCormick might be a more interesting proposition than a biography of Granville), and I strongly urge you to go read Jeremy's piece.

Which brings me back to that promised preview of Spy Fiction Fortnight, because Mr. Duns will loom large over a number of posts in the coming couple of weeks. For a start, I'll have a review of his 2009 debut, Free Agent, which is a cracking espionage novel set at the end of the '60s. I'll also have two books that I was inspired to track down as a direct result of that comment Jeremy left at the beginning of the year. One of those is a first edition by a firm favourite of his, Joseph Hone, which will come accompanied by an intriguing piece of publishing paraphernalia, and the other is also a first edition, this time of a book featuring excerpts of other espionage novels, and compiled by Graham Greene and his brother Hugh. There'll be more from Graham Greene too, in the shape of a review of one of his novels – not so much a spy novel as a novel with an espionage element – and a look at another of his books that's very definitely a Secret Service thriller.

Elsewhere in Spy Fiction Fortnight, with a new film adaptation of John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy due later this year, featuring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, I'll be writing about the original novel, in particular how it stacks up against the 1979 Alec Guinness-starring BBC TV version. I'll be showcasing a signed edition of a spy novel by Alexander Cordell – an author rather better known as a chronicler of early industrial Wales – and I'll be reviewing Ross Thomas's Cast a Yellow Shadow and Gavin Lyall's The Most Dangerous Game – and yes, strictly speaking I know that second one is more of a suspense thriller than an espionage novel, but I recently nabbed a first edition of it, and it's a great book, and there is some spying stuff in it, and anyway it's my party, er, I mean, blog, and I'll cry – I'm sorry, review – if I want to.

Plus there'll hopefully be one or two other bits and bobs in the mix too, depending on how things pan out. So lots to look forward to. Back soon.


  1. Ennui, the mild discomfort of the day to day. your blog does marvelous job of conveying this

  2. I reread The Most Dangerous Game just last summer, after an interval of decades, and was delighted to be swept back into Lyall's world. Amazing the sense of world-weariness he could convincingly evoke when he was a young man. I look forward to your thoughts.

  3. Thank you, sir. Let's hope they're a bit more interesting than LearningByReading evidently feels the rest of this blog is...

  4. No more using any of those McCormick books then, right?

    I was having a hard time figuring out why McCormick would do such things until I read a review in The Spectator of The True Story of Titanic Thomspson - a legendary American con man. McCormick is just a literary con man, I guess. And that is probably worse, given how his fabrications have been laundered by others and appear as fact. Or at least they did until Mr. Duns discovered the truth. Kudos to you, Mr. Duns.

  5. Yes, oddly enough I didn't use either of McCormick's spy fiction reference books during Spy Fiction Fortnight...