History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

14 March 2012

Spy Stories

I felt quite behind on movie watching at the Academy Awards, but I have managed to go to the movies a couple of times since my daughter Mélanie was born (Mélanie cooperated by sleeping in my lap). One of the movies we saw was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I loved it, despite having vivid memories of the miniseries with Alec Guinness. In fact, watching the movie I was amazed at how well I remembered the story. Names of characters, plot twists, and even fragments of dialogue came back to me.

I was fourteen when I saw the original Tinker, Tailor (which led me to the book), and I was fascinated. In fact, watching the movie I realized that this story began my fascination with spies whether it's Le Carré's murky world of moral ambiguity, James Bond adventures, or Lauren's flower spies (just finished and loved The Garden Intrigue). Spies play roles (in The Garden Intrigue Lauren's spies are actually putting on a masque). Only spies roles don't end when the curtain comes down. And those roles inevitably involve telling lies - to the enemy, sometimes to their own people. Watching Tinker, Tailor, I also realized how often the political betrayal in spy stories is juxtaposed to romantic betrayal. The new Tinker, Tailor movie emphasizes this beautifull. As George Smiley searches for the mole in MI6, recurring flashbacks to a Christmas party reveal more personal betrayals. Len Deighton's Bernard Samson books also juxtapose betrayal of one's country with betrayal of one's spouse. The Bernard Samon books were one of my inspirations for my Malcolm & Suzanne/Charles & Mélanie books. But watching Tinker, Tailor I realized the inspiration went back to my fourteen-year-old self, drinking in a story that fascinated me even though parts of it seemed too adult to quite understand.

Do you like spy stories? What do you think the allure is? What are some of your favorites?

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Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I like some spy stories, but I have to admit it’s not a big draw for me (especially is straight historical romance). Your spies (as well as Lauren’s and Jo Bourne’s) have something special that resonates and feels real to me. Modern spies on the other hand I’m quite fond of, everything from Bond, to Salt, to the goofy Covert Affairs and the suburb Burn Notice. I love the anti-hero/ine element of those stories.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Great post, Tracy! I have to confess that I fell in love with "spy" stories when I was a girl and I saw the Sean Connery James Bond movies. He was soooo sexy (true confession: I wanted to be one of his Bond girls), and he's STILL the ONLY "Bond" for me -- even though Daniel Craig is very good. But it was the combination of sex and wit and toughness that did it for me. And oh, the accent!

And my parents always remind me that when I was very little I would practice my newly found reading skills by reading street signs and billboards aloud. I must have been truly annoying ... this three-year-old reading everything in sight, with nonstop patter. And while we were driving somewhere, I read this movie poster for "The 'Spee' Who Came In From the Cold" (unfamiliar with the word "spy"). So I like to think that I had an affinity for spy flicks at a VERY early age!

I still haven't seen either version of "Tinker, Tailor..." though. So I guess I'm certainly due!

However, I adore your books, Tracy, as well as Lauren's, so I have never lost my affinity for spies (and the writers' voices who create them) who combine wit and elegance with their feats of espionage.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for the nice words, Isobel! I think spy stories lend themselves well to anti-hero/ine stories, perhaps because espionage is so full of deceit and betrayals and murky loyalties. Do you know what it is that makes you prefer modern spy stories to historical ones?

9:57 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love Sean Connery as well, Leslie, though I'm also very fond of Daniel Craig as James Bond. I highly recommend both adaptations of Tinker, Tailor. And also the wonderful Game, Set, & Match miniseries based on Len Deighton's Bernard Samson books if you can ever find it. I don't think it's been released on DVD yet.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Do you know what it is that makes you prefer modern spy stories to historical ones?

I think it’s that in so many historical spy novels (and here I’m talking about historical romances specifically) the spies are unusually also peers, which I find hard to swallow, and the people around them consider them noble for being spies, which is a very anachronistic attitude. When I did research on spies for a long abandoned book (which I may well start working on again) everything I found was about how spies were considered a necessary evil. They weren’t liked. They weren’t trusted. Wellington had nothing nice to say about them.

So I prefer the nefarious spying of attaches and diplomats (your kind of spies) to outright historical James Bonds, which just don’t ring true for me based on what I know about the period.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

That makes sense, Isobel. Hope you resurrect the abandoned book!

11:08 PM  
Blogger Betty said...

Like Isabel, I typically am not a huge spy story gal, however, after reading The Rx Factor by J. Thomas Shaw, an amazing political/medical thriller, I am now hooked. It did help that there was a twist of romance in the story plot.

12:17 AM  

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