April’s Diversions features a selection of British spy novels and their film/television adaptations from the twentieth century, selected by library director Mark Dahl. The genre is one that is simultaneously dark, entertaining and complex and often offers insights into the geopolitical zeitgeist.
John Buchan’s work provides an early example of the international espionage thriller from the pre-WW I era. The Thirty Nine Steps was adapted to film three times, perhaps most famously in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. The works of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler appeared during and after World War II and added a new realism to the genre with an anti-imperialist outlook. Works of John le Carré, Len Deighton, and Joseph Hone from the sixties through the eighties center around anti-hero protagonists in Cold War settings. Le Carré, who’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been dramatized as a mini-series and a recent feature film, develops narrative tension through intrigue within the bureaucracy of the ‘service’ as opposed to the glamorous international exploits of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Sandbaggers, an obscure, low-budget 1970s British television series about a under-resourced unit of the British SIS offers exceptionally taut plots and train crash endings set in the geopolitical hotspots of the time such as East Berlin, Cyprus, and Iran.