I was once accused of working covertly for the CIA. This would have been quite funny if I hadn’t been staring down the barrel of an AK-47 at the time. It was a colossal case of being in the wrong place (Mozambique) at the the wrong time (in the middle of a Marxist revolution). That episode cured me of any desire to be involved in of the thrilling work of spy craft. Furthermore, it has become quite apparent that I lack several necessary skills for undercover work:
- I am a terrible liar.
- I like to talk . . . a lot.
- I am so bad at word and math puzzles that the war would be over before I could solve any codes.
And so I dabble in espionage only within the safe borders of the pages of books.
People of my (mature) age were raised on the cold war classics where it was always the Russians or East Germans that were the bad guys and occasionally our guys turned traitor and worked for the enemy. Nowadays, with a world awash in complex and shifting alliances, the tales of espionage are less predictable, but just as entertaining. Here are some of my recent favorites from the library shelves:
The Time in Between is the lyrically rendered story of a seamstress during the Spanish Civil War who is forced to make dresses for the wives of German officers and bravely delivers coded messages in her dress patterns.
Daniel Silva always delivers a great novel and Portrait of a Spy is no exception. His Israeli hero, Gabriel Allon, would rather be an artist, but his talents are frequently needed to help the Mossad in critical espionage cases.
And from the non-fiction shelves, A Train in Winter was a fascinating description of the heroic activities of a group of French women who consistently found ways to resist and spy on the German regime in Nazi-occupied France. The best part of this book is the follow-up about where these women wound up after the end of the war. Some were still alive to give the author first-person accounts of their exploits when she wrote the book in 2011.
There’s no great secret to decode about where to find great spy stories — just look on the library shelves!