In 1965, Goldfinger was in the cinemas and James Bond was everywhere. I was only 10 but I thought myself as grown-up as anybody and pleaded with my parents to let me have Bond books at an age when probably the only Ian Fleming I should have been reading was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My mother certainly had misgivings, but my parents believed in letting their children read what they wanted to. They had already given me Marchette Chute’s Stories from Shakespeare, and there is certainly as much sex and violence in Shakespeare (and in the Greek myths – another favourite) as there is in James Bond.
It wasn’t until the early Seventies, however, that I really began to explore the spy story. By then secret agents were no longer so fashionable. Ian Fleming had been dead for some years, and John le Carré and Len Deighton were on leave from the spy story, though both returned to it before long. But I didn’t care about fashion. In my later school years I read every spy novel I could find – Fleming again and again, Ambler, Deighton, le Carré, Greene, Victor Canning and John Gardner. Buchan I didn’t read until later. I had an idea that he was hopelessly old-fashioned and that his heroes preferred cold baths to women.
Yet despite this obsessive interest, I might never have discovered James Munro’s John Craig thrillers had I not seen the film of the last of them, The Innocent Bystanders, in early 1973. Christina Foyle remarked at the time of Craig’s first appearance in The Man Who Sold Death (1964) that his creator wrote like a cross between Ian Fleming and John le Carré, but although the book and its successors were well-received, Munro never found the same fame. The film sank without trace, despite an excellent cast headed by Stanley Baker, but it did inspire me to seek out the Craig books. I loved them.
Craig, the remorselessly tough yet thoughtful agent for MI6’s Department K, was no less
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in