Between research for my new thriller, an assignment from an editor to write a spy romance, and homework for a spy fiction class I’m taking, I am absolutely steeped in spies and spycraft.
As you might imagine, it’s interesting study material. I just finished reading Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, a non-fiction book about The Alliance, an important network of the French Resistance during WWII.
I’ve also been watching Spycraft on Netflix, a fascinating look at the skills and technologies used by spies and how it’s changed over the decades.
Spies have played many roles in many situations. Let me mention just a few as we look at some of the many facets of being a spy.
Spy as Mole
A mole operates inside some sort of intelligence service while secretly working for a hostile agent. Those with high-level access are particularly valuable to their handlers, providing information about critical aspects of the organization.
Aldrich Ames worked inside the CIA as a mole for the KGB, divulging secrets to the Soviets for almost a decade. He did it for money, but moles may operate for a variety of reasons.
I remember watching a season of the reality TV show called The Mole many years ago when I lived in Spain. It was especially fun to watch because it was shot right in the area where I lived and traveled.
A mole in fiction can be exciting, but we all know real life moles are not.
Spy as Saboteur
I recently reread Ken Follett’s exciting thriller, Jackdaws, about a fictional group working inside the French Resistance. I love the opening sentence:
One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cecile was at peace.
This, of course, tells us that one minute later, the square will be chaos. It lays the ground for high suspense. The explosion in question has been engineered by a spy playing a key role—that of saboteur.
Sabotage goes way beyond bombs and can include anything that disables or destroys enemy equipment or institutions.
During WWII, the Germans tried to destroy the British economy by flooding world markets with counterfeit English currency, a form of sabotage.
Sounds eerily similar to current events. Or perhaps that’s my overactive imagination.
Spy as Assassin
Officially, and to the best of my knowledge, the US does not participate in government-sanctioned assassinations, though the pages of fiction run rife with it.
However, historically and continuing now, assassinations are carried out around the globe. Soviet officials liquidated their political enemies by assassinating their leaders. The Soviets operated a laboratory called the Kamera, where weapons were developed for use in assassinations—rolled up newspapers that expelled poison gas, poison-tipped umbrellas, and the like.
Spy as Courier
The courier may be a lowly link in the spy chain, but a crucial one, acting as the interface between agents and their controllers. Couriers are also used as cutouts—a disconnect that allowed the communication system to work without contact between sender and receiver.
A courier’s job is a dangerous one and the world of fiction is full of couriers oblivious to their role, manipulated and taken advantage of by sinister or desperate individuals. I remember watching a film in the 80’s titled, Gotcha! It featured college student, Anthony Edwards, traveling around Europe with a buddy and seduced into delivering a package across the border into eastern Germany.
The indispensable Spy
All in all, spies and the work they do have proven vital and yet destructive to the national security of many nations—now, in the past, and certainly in the future.
Spy fiction is also alive and well. I’m currently working on the next book in my Riley Forte series which began with Nocturne In Ashes. In the sequel, concert pianist Riley trains to go undercover at a secret spy school in Bavaria.
Riley, while struggling to learn the craft of being a spy, must decide whom to trust when her best ally is killed, a mole infiltrates the school, and a terrorist plot to attack a nearby international peace summit unfolds around her.
Needless to say, the research for this novel has been a lot of fun! I’ll keep you informed as the book progresses.
If you haven’t yet joined my readers’ group, make sure you do that now so you won’t miss a thing!
How about you? What’s your favorite spy book or movie? Tell us about it in the comments.