Magazine article American Libraries

Spy Novels in the '90S

Magazine article American Libraries

Spy Novels in the '90S

Article excerpt

What's a cold warrior to do without a cold war? That's the question spy-novel fans have been asking ever since the Berlin Wall crumbled. Well, the early returns are in, and it looks like we can hold off on all that death-of-a-literary-genre talk, at least for the moment. There seem to be two main approaches to solving the problem: either find some new bad guys on the international scene (unemployed terrorists, Iraqis, etc.) or keep right on writing about the Russians by using flashbacks or setting your story in the past. Both strategies can produce good books, as the titles listed below prove, though there can't be much of a future in the flashback tack - the idea of listening to another aging spy sing a few choruses of "The Way We Were" is eventually going to sound about as fresh as hearing Mickey Rooney reminisce about growing up on the back lot at MGM.

For the best espionage novelists, though, the question of plot has always been a means to an end. The John le Carres and the Anthony Hydes (see below) use the secret world of the spy as a metaphor for exploring the hidden corridors of the self. Their metaphors may change, but their focus on the inner drama of the individual life will remain the same. Le Carre, after all, has been bringing his spies in from the cold for the last 30 years. The world has finally caught up with him.

Clancy, Tom. The Sum of All Fears. Putnam,

1991, $24.95 (O-399-13615-0).

Clancy is a master at extracting plot premises from today's headlines, so it should come as no surprise that he's already solved the spyless-world problem: disenfranchised terrorists, that's the ticket. Clancy argues that enduring a cold war is a less dangerous proposition than dealing with frustrated terrorists who fell betrayed by the new world order. They're just as crazy as they ever were, but now they're mad at everyone.

Duffy, Brian. Head Count. Putnam, 1991,

$19.95 (0-399-13669-X).

As long as there are emerging or collapsing nations, there will always be a place for novels that explore the under-the-table machinations of international politics. First-novelist Duffy fits squarely in the grand Ross Thomas tradition, exposing the human absurdities that politicians invariably leave in their wake. The action takes place in a collapsing African republic as a wily cop must confront a gaggle of out-of-work East European terrorists who are fomenting a coup be depositing severed heads in the most indelicate of places.

Hyde, Anthony, China Gate. Knopf, 1992, $22

(0-679-41084-8). …

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