Friday 11 March 2011

A Tale of Two Greenes: The Human Factor by Graham Greene; Bodley Head / Simon & Schuster, 1978

Time to breathe a sigh of relief, because it's the final Spy Fiction Fortnight post. Huzzah! It's been a reasonably successful few weeks, I think: certainly the essay on Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy went down very well, racing away from the rest of the field to become the most popular post of the fortnight, not to mention the fifth most popular post of the past month (at time of writing); and honourable mention must also go to this post on Joseph Hone's The Private Sector and this one on Graham and Hugh Greene's The Spy's Bedside Book, both of which benefited from additional assistance by Jeremy Duns. And it's to Graham Greene that we return for this finale – and indeed for the first of next week's posts, too; more on that later – with two editions of the same book. That's right: two editions. What fresh lunacy is this? Allow me to explain.

During a recent jaunt up to London for a high-falutin' editorial conference (ahem), I just so happened to find time to pop into the World's End Bookshop on the Kings Road. It's a funny little place, situated at the foot of a tower block, but it does have quite a nice, varied stock, a lot of it very cheap. After a thorough rummage I emerged clutching a couple of books: one was a Patricia Highsmith first, which I'll be blogging about down the line sometime; and the other one was this:

A UK hardback of Graham Greene's The Human Factor, published by The Bodley Head in 1978, with a dustjacket designed by typographer Michael Harvey. Now, those of you paying attention (at the back) might have noted that I haven't done there what I usually do, which is to state the book is a first edition. That's because, as I later discovered, it isn't. Or rather, it is a first edition, but it's not the first impression. It's an easy mistake to make, because there's nothing on the copyright page to indicate it's a second printing: no strike-off number line, no "second issue", nothing:

So how come it's not a true first? Well, the reason is, prior to this printing of the book, there was an initial run of, it's estimated, around a thousand copies. And those first printings bear one minor difference from the second printing: the publisher's logo on the title page. On copies of the first printing, the Bodley Head logo consists of an oval with Sir Thomas Bodley's head inside it; but on the second printing, that logo was replaced with a box with the letters "BH" inside it, apparently at the direction of Graham Greene himself.

Ordinarily, discovering this would have been, for me, hugely annoying. An altered logo may seem only a minor thing, but to me, it makes all the difference as regards the desirability of a book. Realising that I own a second printing rather than a first would normally have set me off on fevered quest for a true first (of which there are a good number for sale online). But in this instance, it didn't, for three reasons. One, I paid so little for the book – six pounds – that it's really not a great loss – and anyway it's still a first edition. Secondly, despite the (very) occasional appearance to the contrary, I'm no expert on modern firsts (more of an enthusiastic amateur, really); part of the fun of collecting is increasing one's knowledge in a subject area, and looking at it philosophically we do, after all, learn by our mistakes. So, lesson learned.

As for the third reason, I popped into local Lewes secondhand bookshop A & Y Cumming the other day (which, coincidentally, also has a copy of the second printing of The Human Factor, priced at thirty quid), where I found this:

An American first edition – and first printing – of the novel. This edition was published by Simon & Schuster in the States in the same year as the UK edition, 1978, with a jacket designed by Janet Halverson (who also designed the cover for the 1981 US first of Ross Thomas's The Mordida Man). And aside from a few blemishes on the jacket – the design of which I actually prefer to the British edition – it's in really nice nick – plus it was only a fiver. Result. So, all's well that ends well. (Er, kinda. There's another US edition of the novel, a privately printed run by the Franklin Press published in the same year again, which is mentioned on the copyright page of the S&S edition. That might, in fact, be the true American first edition... but let's not go down that road, because that way lies MADNESS.)

One more quick note before we (finally) turn to the meat of the book: this copy has a curious stamp on the bottom page edges:

That's the Simon & Schuster logo, which makes me wonder if this is a S&S file copy of the book...

Anyway, The Human Factor is one of the few out-and-out pieces of spy fiction Graham Greene wrote. Many of his novels have espionage elements – the book I'll be blogging about next week, for one – but The Human Factor is about a leak in the Secret Intelligence Service and the subsequent marking for elimination of a junior operative. Greene actually began writing the book ten years before it saw publication, but abandoned it after a couple of years because of the Kim Philby affair, worried that it would be seen as a roman a clef. He even sent a copy to Philby, who by that time was ensconced in Moscow. There's more on Greene's take on the book here on the indispensable Greeneland website.

(UPDATE: I've since reviewed The Human Factor myself.)

And with that tale of collecting madness, Spy Fiction Fortnight is done. Next week I'll have a mixed bag of posts, including, hopefully, a Notes from the Small Press, plus one or two random book acquisitions. But I'll be starting the week with another Graham Greene novel – one which, again, I have two copies of...

Thursday 10 March 2011

Sydenham Score: Black Butterfly (Lucifer Box #3) by Mark Gatiss; Simon & Schuster First Edition, Ben Willsher / Mark Thomas Cover

Just two more posts to go now in Spy Fiction Fortnight. And for the penultimate entry, we have a UK hardback first edition (and first impression) which I bought in a Sydenham, South London charity shop for just two quid (on the same excursion where I got that first edition of Len Deighton's Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy). Which was a bit of a result, as hardback firsts of this one are rather thin on the ground...

Mark Gatiss's Black Butterfly was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008. It's the third (and final) in Gatiss's series starring British Secret Service agent (and portraitist to the rich and famous) Lucifer Box – a kind of lascivious James Bond for the Edwardian age. Or rather, the first book in the series, The Vesuvius Club (2004), was set in the Edwardian era; the second, The Devil in Amber (2006), was set around twenty years later, post-World War I, which would bring it under the reign of George V, while Black Butterfly takes place shortly after our current Queen came to the throne, so that would be some time after 1953. Confused? Well, you're not alone. The precise settings of the novels has caused so much debate that there's a dedicated page about it all on the League of Gentlemen website (and this Independent review of The Devil in Amber professes some befuddlement, too).

However, Black Butterfly is very definitely set in the 1950s, and is therefore contemporaneous (in a retcon kind of way) with Ian Fleming's Bond novels. So while the previous incarnations of Lucifer Box referenced, respectively, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and McNeile's Bulldog Drummond – at least, that's what I infer from various online reviews – for this third outing the character assumes more of a 007 shape (a little older, perhaps). Let's let the dustjacket flap blurb fill us in further:

LUCIFER BOX. He's tall, he's dark and, like the shark, he looks for trouble.

Or so he wishes. For with Queen Elizabeth newly established on her thrown the now elderly secret agent is reaching the end of his scandalous career. Despite his fast-approaching retirement, however, queer events leave box unable to resist investigating one last case...

Why have pillars of the Establishment started dying in bizarrely reckless accidents?

Who are the deadly pay-masters of enigmatic assassin Kingdom Kum?

And who or what is the mysterious Black Butterfly?

From the seedy streets of Soho to the souks of Istanbul and the sun-drenched shores of Jamaica, Box must use his artistic licence to kill and eventually confront an enemy with its roots in his own notorious past. Can Lucifer Box save the day before the dying of the light?

Well that blurb certainly owes more than a little to Fleming, as does, seemingly, the international jet-setting espionage plot, which even takes in Jamaica – where Fleming famously lived and wrote. And that 007 connection extends to the design of the book too. The dustjacket explicitly references the late Richard Chopping's memorable designs for the Jonathan Cape editions of the Bond novels, in particular his jacket for The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), which you can see on the right there. The jacket illustration on Black Butterfly is by Mark Thomas – who does a fine job homaging Chopping's style – but the cover concept is by Ben Willsher (with, I imagine, input from Mr. Gatiss), a comics artist and illustrator who's done quite a bit of work for 2000 AD.

But the attractive and witty design doesn't stop at the cover. Because inside the book, on the front and back endpapers, Gatiss and Willsher have cooked this up:

A number of spoof newspaper strips depicting the adventures of Lucifer Box, sellotaped onto the pages of an exercise book, schoolboy-style. It's always nice when publishers go the extra mile on often-overlooked book elements like endpapers, but here Gatiss and Willsher have gone above and beyond the call of duty: you can even see the edges of adverts and a reverse article on a folded corner. And if you know your Bond publishing history, you'll spot the reference straightaway:

Namely the James Bond strip which ran in the Daily Express from 1958, with John McLusky artwork and Henry Gammidge scripts (subsequently written and drawn by, respectively, Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak, whose take on 007 I much prefer). All of those newspaper stories are available from the lovely people at Titan Books, by the way; indeed, in my previous role at Titan I actually senior-edited a fair few of their Bond newspaper strip collections, securing some of the celebrity forewords in the process. (Might as well blow my own trumpet, eh?)

Mark Gatiss is of course rather better known for his television and radio work, especially The League of Gentlemen, various Doctor Who scripts, and the brilliant Sherlock, which he co-created with Who head honcho Steven Moffat. I haven't read Black Butterfly yet – deranged completist that I am, I can't very well read the third book in a series without having tried the others first (which, needless to say, means I'll have to find first editions of those, too) – but my estimable friend Steve Holland – whose opinion in such matters I trust implicitly – has, and reckons it's aces.

Just thought I'd sling an image of the book's case in as well, so you can see the lovely white debossing on the front. Right then. On to the final post, which will see the return to Spy Fiction Fortnight of Graham Greene...

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Cast a Yellow Shadow (Mac's Place Quartet #2) by Ross Thomas: A Review

"In this world," wrote Benjamin Franklin, "nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Well, evidently the miserable bastard never read this blog, because one thing you can be certain of on Existential Ennui is that there'll always be room for Ross Thomas. I've written about the American spy/political/thriller author many, many times now, most recently during the week's worth of posts on his pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck novels known rather prosaically as Bleeck Week. But I've got still more to come from him, with a planned run of posts on some of the scarce British first editions of his books due in the not-too-distant future. For now, though, and as part of Spy Fiction Fortnight, let's turn our attention to an early espionage novel by Thomas, the second in his quartet centring on the saloon Mac's Place, originally situated in Bonn, Germany, now reopened in Washington, DC.

Cast a Yellow Shadow was first published in the US in 1967 (1968 in the UK), and was Thomas's second novel, following 1966's The Cold War Swap (published in 1967 as Spy in the Vodka in Britain). As with its predecessor, the story is once again a first-person affair, narrated by the co-owner of Mac's Place, Mac McCorkle. Following the events of The Cold War Swap, Mac has upped sticks from Germany and plonked himself – new wife, new bar (the original Bonn establishment was blown up in The Cold War Swap), German bartender and all – in Washington. However, his partner in the saloon, occasional (reluctant) spy and hitman Mike Padillo, is still missing, presumed drowned, having tumbled off a barge during a deadly struggle at the end of the first book. Presumed, that is, by everyone except Mac, who later received a one-word postcard from Padillo, simply saying "Well".

So when Mac gets a cryptic call from local racketeer Hardman, informing him that a man stepped into a fight at the Baltimore docks, helping out an associate of Hardman's, Mush, but getting injured in the process, Mac realises it can only be Padillo. Mush has brought Padillo back to DC, and so, reasoning that Mike's CIA handlers believe him dead, Mac goes to collect him. But where Padillo goes, trouble is never far behind, and when the two of them and Mush get back to Mac and his wife Fredl's apartment, they find Fredl missing and a ransom note demanding Padillo carry out an unspecified assignment in order to secure her return. Thus the scene is set for another tale of duplicitous double-dealing – with an extra side-order of double-cross – as McCorkle and Padillo are drawn into a plot to assassinate a visiting African Prime Minister.

If there was one lesson to be drawn from The Cold War Swap, it was: Trust No One. Padillo and McCorkle operate in a decidedly murky world of subterfuge and backstabbing, where allies can quickly become enemies – if the price is right. Trouble is, having established that template in the first book, when the double-crosses start arriving in Cast a Yellow Shadow, they're not quite so unexpected. There's one big switch of allegiances in the story which should by all rights have had the same impact as that of Cooky's in The Cold War Swap, but because I was kind of waiting for it to happen – anticipating it – it didn't come as so much of a shock.

The plot of Cast a Yellow Shadow isn't as propulsive as its predecessor's either. Perhaps it's the shift in location from frontline buffer state Germany to rather more secure Washington – a nest of vipers, for sure, but still the Capital City of the Free World – but there's nothing to match the gaunt intensity of the first book's desperate mission into East Berlin. Much of the proceedings consist of meetings and negotiations and phone-calls, interspersed with the odd light lunch or beverage back at Mac's Place. At one point Padillo enlists the aid of a triumvirate of shady associates, and then gives them bugger all to do except wait around for an opportunity to knife him in the back. There's a distinct deficiency of momentum; it's all a little too relaxed. Indeed, as Mac becomes increasingly agitated at his inability to rescue his missus, it's almost as if he begins to sense (in a meta sort of way) the holding-pattern plot he's trapped in.

All that said, I don't want to be too down on the book. The lack of progress in retrieving Fredl does lend a certain credence to Mac's palpable frustration, and he remains as likable a character as he was in The Cold War Swap. There's also plenty of Ross Thomas's thrust and parry dialogue – for example this back-and-forth between between Mac and Padillo in the back office at Mac's Place, displaying both a wry writ and a nice feel for surroundings:

Padillo rose from the couch and started to pace the small room. There wasn't much space for it—five good steps, and then he had to turn and head back.

"You're not making much headway," I said.

"It's called thinking."

"I'd join you, except that there's not enough room."

There was a knock at the door and I said come in and one of the waiters entered and set the martinis down on the desk. I thanked him and he left.

"Maybe the vodkas will help," I said.

"Nothing like a two- or three-martini idea."

"I've had some fine ones on four."

Padillo lighted a cigarette. He inhaled, coughed, and blew most of it out. "You think filters help?"

"I have no idea."

"I quit smoking in Africa."

"For how long?"

"Two days; a little over two days. Three-and-a-half hours over two days to be exact."

"What happened?"

"I admitted I had no will power. It was a great relief."

"I'd say your will power can lick my will power."

"I don't think it would be much of a match."

And there's lots more where that came from. So even though, of the five Thomas novels I've read thus far, this one was, for me, the least successful – it feels to me like a book Thomas was required to write, rather than (as with The Cold War Swap, which he bashed out in six weeks) one he simply had to write – the whole thing's so elegantly put together I can happily forgive any inadequacies. And let's face it: a slightly subpar Ross Thomas is still an enticing prospect, so if you think I judge too harshly, bear in mind Thomas on an off day is still better than many other authors on their best. Needless to say, I'll definitely be giving the next Mac's Place instalment, The Backup Men, a go before too long.

Anyway, next in Spy Fiction Fortnight, I'll be taking a look at a first edition of spy novel by League of Gentleman co-creator and Doctor Who scribe Mark Gatiss...

Tuesday 8 March 2011

The Bright Cantonese by Alexander Cordell (1967 Victor Gollancz First Edition, Signed)

For the next Spy Fiction Fortnight presentation, I have for you a book I bought in Lewes's legendary 15th Century Bookshop, a first edition (and first impression) of an espionage novel by a writer who actually found fortune as a chronicler of the industrialization of Wales:

The Bright Cantonese – retitled The Deadly Eurasian for some subsequent editions – by Alexander Cordell was published by Victor Gollancz in 1967, under one of those distinctive red dustjackets the imprint was famed for. It's the story of Mei Kayling, a half-British, half-Chinese member of the Red Guard who is, in fact, a secret agent. The novel follows Mei as she leads a column of refugees across the mountains of China into Hong Kong, a perilous journey through villages blasted by an apparent nuclear explosion. It soon becomes clear that the blast was caused by a bomb from an American warship, carried out by a crewmember who has since disappeared; and so Mei must hunt for the missing man, a quest that takes her to the US in her efforts to determine if the explosion was an accident, or was ordered by the Pentagon...

For anyone familiar with Alexander Cordell – real name George Alexander Graber – the above synopsis might come as something of a surprise. Because Cordell is rather better known for his novels set in Wales in the nineteenth and twentieth century, in particular the three books known as the Welsh, or Mortymer, Trilogy, which began with 1959's Rape of the Fair Country. Plenty more Welsh-themed novels followed those, and indeed there's an entire website devoted to that strand of Cordell's writing career, not to mention numerous profiles, biographies and Welsh tourist links.

Cordell spent much of his youth in the Far East; as well as The Bright Cantonese, he also wrote a couple of other Chinese-linked novels: The Sinews of Love (1965) and The Dream and the Destiny (1975). (There's a thorough Independent obituary for him here.) I haven't read The Bright Cantonese yet, so I can't yet report on its qualities (although a skim through suggests it should be a good read), but when I saw this copy nestling on the dusty shelves of the 15th Century Bookshop one recent Saturday afternoon, I was intrigued by it. For one thing, it was in splendid condition; AbeBooks only have five copies of the first edition for sale from the UK, with one of those being a second impression and another two being a bit tatty. But when I opened this copy up, I noticed there was writing – more than likely some kind of dedication – on the front endpaper, under the jacket flap:

When I lifted the flap, however, I discovered it wasn't just a dedication:

It was an inscription, written and signed by Cordell (as "Alex") himself. Which makes this the only known signed copy of the first edition in existence. Of course, whether anyone (other than me) actually wants a signed first edition of The Bright Cantonese is another matter entirely. Suffice it to say there are only fifteen novels on AbeBooks signed by him, ranging from four to sixty quid. So what this copy is worth is anyone's guess. Although I'd only sell it if it turned out to be a rubbish story – which I doubt it will.

Okay then. Let's have a review for the next Spy Fiction Fortnight post, of a novel by Ross Thomas, the second in his espionage-tinged Mac's Place Quartet...

Monday 7 March 2011

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A Review of the Novel (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974) and its Television Adaptation (BBC TV, 1979)

And so we saunter into week two of Spy Fiction Fortnight, the first week of which saw a review of Jeremy Duns's Free Agent; a look at Joseph Hone's debut novel The Private Sector (with an added bit of publishing paraphernalia); a review of Gavin Lyall's The Most Dangerous Game; a glance at, and brief review of, Kingsley 'Robert Markham' Amis's Bond novel Colonel Sun; and a showcase of Graham and Hugh Greene's The Spy's Bedside Book. And this second week promises to be just as thrilling, with appearances by Ross Thomas, Mark Gatiss, the aforementioned Graham Greene, and one or two other folk besides.

But let's begin week two with a man who bestrides the espionage field like a towering (if secretive) behemoth, and in particular with a book by him which is not only one of the greatest espionage novels ever written, but also gave birth to a BBC TV series so legendarily labyrinthine, perplexing and befuddling that it lodged in the memories of an entire generation of television viewers.

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was first published in 1974 by Hodder & Stoughton. It's the story of a mole hunt inside the British Secret Service, as former spy George Smiley is brought out of enforced retirement to ferret out a traitor – a highly placed double agent within the Circus (the colloquial name for the service) who has been spying for the Soviets for decades. At least, those are the bare bones of the plot (which was inspired by the case of Kim Philby and the Cambridge spy ring); in fact there's rather more going on in this nuanced, elegiac novel than merely an espionage tale. It's a book about regret, and memory, and reflection, and love, and loss, and age, and decay, and all of those things are played out on both a human and a geopolitical scale. It is, quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read.

Having said that, I should point out that I've yet to read the The Spy Who Came in from The Cold, the le Carré novel most frequently pinpointed as the exemplary work in the spy fiction field (not to mention an important work in the wider world of literature  – it was recently given away as part of World Book Night). Nor, indeed, have I read any of the other le Carré novels prior to Tinker, Tailor... in which George Smiley appears (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold among them). But I would be astonished if The Spy Who Came in from the Cold were as complex and layered a novel as Tinker, Tailor..., and as for those other previous Smiley outings, Tinker, Tailor... is so beautifully, subtly teasing about Smiley's character and nature that I'm slightly afraid his earlier appearances will reveal too much about him. (Although I do already know that le Carré altered aspects of Smiley and other cast members for Tinker, Tailor... and the next two parts in the Karla Trilogy.)

I'll find all that out for sure when I get round to reading le Carré's earlier novels – something I have every intention of doing. But the bar set by Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is so staggeringly high, I suspect any other le Carré works will struggle (however valiantly) to reach those lofty heights. And by that same standard, any adaptations of Tinker, Tailor... are bound to suffer by comparison, too. There's a new film version, with Gary Oldman as Smiley, due later this year, and there have also been a couple of radio adaptations. But the best-remembered version is still the 1979 seven-part BBC TV series, starring Alec Guinness as Smiley. With that one, however, the greater issue isn't how it stacks up against the novel, but rather how obstinately slavish it is.

Directed by John Irvin, the series was scripted by Arthur Hopcraft, who opted for a largely straightforward approach to the source material. There's a little structural reworking – in the TV show we don't catch up with wounded spy Jim Prideux's stint as a teacher at a British boarding school until towards the end, while in the novel it's as a teacher that Jim is first introduced to us. But by and large it's remarkably faithful. Trouble is – and this is something I touched on when I was writing about Justified last month – it's just a little too faithful.

Absolutely no concessions are made to the le Carré layman. Important characters like mole suspects Percy Alleline (head of the Circus once the ailing Control is moved out of the way), Toby Esterhase and Bill Haydon are briefly introduced in the first episode and then not really seen again until the third, where they seep back into the storyline with no reintroduction. The complex, convoluted plot, with its multiple flashbacks and reflections on past events, proceeds much as it does in the novel, but at least with the book the reader can check back if he or she loses the thread. The TV adaptation, on the other hand, was transmitted weekly, and the only recaps in each episode are a repeat of the final scene from the previous episode at the start of each new one, shorn of all context.

Christ alone knows how anyone without a working knowledge of the novel managed to follow the bloody thing when it was first broadcast; in fact I know for definite that many didn't. Certainly a mystique has grown up around the television series and its sequel, Smiley's People (the Beeb skipped the second novel in the Karla Trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy). The two adaptations have long been remembered as murky, difficult pieces of television, not particularly easy to follow (famously, BBC radio DJ Terry Wogan ran a daily quiz during the initial broadcast of Tinker, Tailor..., imploring listeners to explain what the hell was going on, while for my part I dimly recall Smiley's People in 1982 as being an opaque conundrum), but in truth the reason for that is the impenetrable way they're translated. So far as Tinker, Tailor... goes, I defy anyone who isn't intimate with le Carré's book not to be completely lost halfway through the TV show.

All that said, there is a lot to like about the series. Alec Guinness is great as the gloomy, clever but fallible (and vulnerable, especially in affairs of the heart) Smiley, and of the rest of the cast Ian Richardson (who you might also recall from the excellent House of Cards... although I couldn't possibly comment) stands out as the wry, likable Bill Haydon, gingerly balancing his cup of tea and saucer as he enters the Circus conference room, like a man walking a tightrope. (There's also a brief but memorable appearance by Patrick Stewart as a young Karla – the shadowy Russian spymaster – whose past encounter with Smiley is one of the key moments in the story.) Great swathes of le Carré's brilliant, clipped dialogue make it onto the screen, and though the Circus headquarters (at London's Cambridge Circus – hence the name) aren't really how I imagined them from the book, the drab, boxy rooms the spooks operate in – many scenes feel as if they're taking place in a storeroom – lend proceedings an intense, claustrophobic air.

Of course, now that the TV version of Tinker, Tailor... is available for a pittance on DVD, it's a simple matter of rewinding whichever sections one loses track of. However, I think you'd find yourself doing that so often that any momentum or impetus inherent in what is essentially a series of scenes of middle-aged blokes elliptically conversing in broom cupboards would be dispelled. The only option if you want to make head or tail of what's going on is, I'm afraid, to read the novel – preferably in advance. But then, I'd recommend you read it anyway.

So then, what's coming next in Spy Fiction Fortnight? Well, how's about a rather special edition of an early espionage novel by an author rather better known as a Welsh national treasure...?

(UPDATE 15/9/11: I've since reviewed both The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People – and its TV adaptation – which posts can be found here and here.)

Sunday 6 March 2011

Spy Fiction Fortnight Interruptus: Guest Post at Violent World of Parker

Interrupting Spy Fiction Fortnight briefly, just a short note to point you in the direction of the ever-excellent Violent World of Parker website – the go-to place on the web for all things Westlake and Stark – where I have a guest post up on the similarities between Peter Rabe and Richard Stark. It's worth a look even if you have already read the original version – which I posted on this blog back in January – because a) I've rewritten it slightly, b) it's now on The Violent World of Parker, which automatically makes it ten times cooler than it originally was, and c), there's a particularly awkward sentence in the third paragraph that really should win some sort of prize for being a fine example of how to successfully torture the English language. Unfortunately it's not my blog, so I can't edit it, but at least you can go and have a laugh at my expense.

Anyway: back to Spy Fiction Fortnight, where next I'll be looking at Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – both John le Carré's novel and the '70s TV adaptation.