Beyond Bond: Espionage In Other Countries

Spy
Source: adampenney, Flickr.

James Bond is not the only non-American spy out engaging in derring-do. Other countries have their intelligence agents. These are some of the more recent entries for those who like to engage in armchair espionage.

The Gentleman From Japan is the latest in the Inspector O series by James Church. While these books tend to be more mysteries than spy novels per se, this one is definitely one of the latter. Inspector O, retired from the police of North Korea, takes a job going to Portugal for an old friend. What he encounters is what appears to be an effort to prevent the North Koreans from getting uranium centrifuges that is purely amateur hour. O's nephew, who he often lives with and consistently annoys (neither man is suited to be a roommate), investigates a string of murders that end up being connected to O and his mission. Church, which is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative, obviously knows his stuff and how to keep the pages turning. There's also some wry humor and philosophizing, both of which are necessary in a police state.

Louise Doughty's Black Water is an international thriller in the grain of Greene and Le Carré. John Harper is back in Indonesia after 30-plus years, deathly afraid that his Belgian black ops firm has mobilized a death squad for him. You see, back in the 1960s, Harper joined the firm and ended up doing some vile things during the Indonesian civil war, not all of which went according to plan. Now he's gone and messed up again, and this time his firm is not feeling as forgiving. After being asked by Rita, a woman he initiates a relationship with, "what happened to you," Harper flashes back to Civil-Rights-era Los Angeles and his peripatetic upbringing. There are also forays into Cold War Europe for other morally-ambiguous-at-best adventures. This is a stylistically complex, yet compelling novel, full of menace.

Yiftach Reicher Atir makes his English-language debut with The English Teacher. A spymaster himself, Atir peppers his book with the nitty-gritty of the craft. The story is basically that of a scramble by Mossad to locate Rachael Goldschmitt, a spy with a full web of undercover connections, who disappears after her father's funeral. Heading up the search is Ehud, her former handler pulled out of retirement for the job. The book alternates between his narration and Rachael's and what emerges is not just a spy thriller but a bittersweet love story between Rachael and one of her Muslim students who knows her only as the kind English teacher with a British accent. Introspective yet a page-turner, this is another book built around a fascinatingly flawed character.

Gerald Seymour has been in the international-thriller-writing business a while now, and his latest, Vagabond, does not disappoint.  Tensions are ratcheting up in Northern Ireland, and some want to return to armed conflict. This does not sit well with MI5, which has a double agent ready to buy weapons in Prague. Brought in to handle this agent (his current handler is judged just too inexperienced and female) is a legend known as Vagabond. Vagabond got his legendary status ruthlessly manipulating agents to their deaths but getting results. Now he gives tours of French WWII battlefields, where at least the long-gone carnage seemed to have a purpose. Will Vagabond resurrect his old self one more time? The results either way will be terrifying. Besides the propulsive plot, the equally intricate plot and characters drive this novel.

Got other international thrillers with deep characters and motives? Tell us about them in the comments.

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