Littell, Robert. The Amateur. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.
A commercial and critical success that solidified Littell’s reputation as a novelist, The Amateur focuses on Charles Heller, a C.I.A. cryptologist whose fiancee is killed by West German terrorists. Intent on avenging her death, Heller tries to arrange for special targeting of the terrorists by the agency. When that proves ineffective, Heller coerces his superiors into arranging for him to be trained as a field operative, proficient with weapons, so that he can avenge his fiancee’s death with his own hands. Ultimately, his quest is a potential embarrassment for the agency, and his points of leverage with his superiors potentially threaten the progress of their careers within the agency. So, they, like the terrorists, begin want Heller dead.
The novel subverts many of the conventions of the espionage genre. It demonstrates how the devaluation of the individual by a bureaucracy inevitably involves a diminished sense of ethical accountability. It elevates the amateur over the professional in a milieu that views professionalism not only as a necessity but also as a major source of pride. And it suggests that in their fundamental assumptions and in their manner of operation, if not in their ideologies per se, the antagonists within the international intelligence community
Have more in common with each other than with the general populations whose interests they are ostensibly protecting.
Littell, Robert. The Defection of Al Lewinter. Boston: Houghton Miflin, 1973.
For this, his first novel, Robert Littell received an Edgar Award for best first mystery novel, a Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers Association, and a Critics Award (United Kingdom). The novel was also a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
The novel has been described as a satire on the espionage genre, as a “meta-thriller,” and as a “counter-thriller.” Littell has taken the genre just seriously enough to produce a novel that presents a credible story, which will be of interest to fans of the genre, while subverting most of the conventions of the genre.
The main character of The Defection of Al Lewinter is not Al Lewinter. In fact, the central issue in the novel is whether Al Lewinter exists at all. He is supposedly an American missile engineer who has defected to the Soviet bloc. But each side quickly begins to suspect that the other side may be staging an elaborate hoax in order to test its responses to available intelligence and to gauge what intelligence is available to it. Therefore, the Lewinter defection, whether real or staged, becomes something quite secondary to the manner in which each intelligence service shapes its responses to it. With a great deal of wry humor, the novel depicts the ways in which “intelligence” can become divorced from actuality.
Ludlum, Robert. The Osterman Weekend. New York: World Publishing, 1972.
For two decades, Robert Ludlum pursued a career as an actor and as a theatrical producer. When he turned to writing novels at the age of 42, he became one of the most prolific and popular novelists of the 1970s and 1980s, with each of his novels selling an average of 5.5 million copies.
The strengths of Ludlum’s novels begin with his typically focusing on a relatively ordinary individual who stumbles on a high-level conspiracy. Although Ludlum is not known for his skill with characterization, he is very adept at making the reader identify closely with his protagonists, and this skill contributes a great deal to his ability to sustain suspense despite the length of the novels. Although Ludlum has been criticized for creating overly complicated plots that eventually became rather formulaic, each of his novels has a fascinating premise and contains a great deal of “insider” information, or at least knowledgeable speculation.
In The Osterman Weekend, a C.I.A. operative approaches John Tanner, an investigative reporter who hosts a popular television program, and convinces him that the three old friends with whom he is planning to spend the weekend are actually Soviet agents and involved in a scheme that may have disastrous repercussions throughout the world economy. Tanner has to reconsider not just what he actually knows about his friends but also the ways in which he ascertains the truth in events and the stories created from them.
Ludlum, Robert. The Bourne Identity. New York: Richard Marek, 1980.
Because of the commercial and critical success of the film adaptations, Ludlum’s trilogy of novels featuring Jason Bourne are among his most widely recognized works. Yet, in some respects, they provide atypical examples of his work as a whole. Although Ludlum’s novels typically thrust fairly ordinary people into extraordinary situations, Bourne is a top-notch American agent, as adept at creating complicated schemes as he is at unraveling them. Indeed, because Bourne is an insider, the novels featuring him are considerably brisker in their pacing than Ludlum’s other novels because one of their premises is that he will process information much more quickly than the reader will. In effect, when the major character is a professional investigator, much of the suspense is actually generated from the reader’s trying to keep up with the main character, rather than from sharing in that character’s response per se.
In The Bourne Identity, the first of the novels in the trilogy, Ludlum mitigates the differences just enumerated by having Bourne suffer from amnesia. While in the thick of a critical operation, he suffers a head injury that leaves him no sense of who is he. Of course, he is soon wondering why he has apparently mastered certain, unusual skills. And almost as soon as he resurfaces, trying to follow several clues to his identity, he attracts the attention of those who would like to kill him. Bourne has to determine who they are and why they are trying to kill him before he can anticipate how they might try to kill him and can survive long enough to determine his own identity.
The other novels in the trilogy are The Bourne Supremacy (1986) and The Bourne Ultimatum (1990).
Previous Posts in This Series:
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/