still spying


The spy thriller is a kind of weather report, taking disparate, shifting phenomena and working them into a prognosis for the days to come. Where the casual observer only sees the wavering breeze of foreign policy, approaching clouds of war, or sunny patches of treaties, the spy thriller knows of the coming of the storm, which may be why its most productive period coincided with the period we call the Cold War. Since that time, the form has co-existed rather uneasily with the present day, as if a kind of geopolitical global warming affects its ability to say anything other than the fact that things look very bleak indeed.

The response to this problem has taken the spy thriller in two opposed directions. John le Carré, the master of the Cold War novel, has tackled the situation head-on, directing his steely gaze towards multinational corporations and neoconservative cabals. The other approach, best exemplified by the novels of Alan Furst, has been to turn the clock back and convert a form obsessed with interpreting present and future into a historical receptacle, leaving it to us to decide if the double-crosses of the 1930s have any resonance in our world.

William Boyd’s latest novel, Restless, chooses the latter approach, its parallel stories focusing on the Second World War and the 1970s.

more from the TLS here.