On Episode 204 of the Spybrary Spy Book Podcast, we chat with the author of the best spy book I read last year, Big Bear Little Bear, David Brierley. We are also joined by the publisher, thriller critic, and author Mike Ripley as we dig into David's work and, in particular, how he researches locations for his spy novels.
As I shared in the best spy books of 2022 post, Big Bear Little Bear, published in 1981, was the best spy thriller I read last year. It was hard to ignore this recommendation from Mike Ripley, who shared that the man himself, Len Deighton, had stumbled on a copy of Big Bear Little Bear in a second-hand shop in LA and loved it. He urged Mike to republish Brierley's work under his Ostara publishing arm.
David Brierley comes in at #63 on Tim Shipman's best spy writers of all time list:
‘Brierley created Cody, one of the very best female leads in spy fiction. She is a CIA trained agent who has gone freelance, who we first meet in Cold War, a 1979 novel set in the midst of a French election, which involves assassination, betrayal, and real tension (It scores 4.14 on GoodReads, which is much higher than a lot of books I love).
Cody is resourceful and Brierley was hailed on publication as “a new name joins the world’s greatest spy fiction writers”. Best of all his books are not long and written with a spare and unflashy style that nonetheless has real novelistic flair.
This is espionage for grown-ups. Blood Group O, Skorpion’s Death and Snowline followed. Between those Cody books, Brierley also became renowned for spy thrillers set in Eastern Europe, such as Czechmate.
His best book, though, is Big Bear Little Bear set in 1948 Berlin, before the airlift, where the sole survivor of a blown network works to expose a traitor in British intelligence. My paper, The Sunday Times, reviewed it thus: “ Has the rancid strength of a distillation of the best of Le Carré and Deighton: an authentic winner.” That this praise is only slightly excessive tells you what you need to know.'
The master of cold war espionage fiction returns with a tale of intrigue and suspense set in post-Soviet Latvia. When wine-merchant Matt Clough learns that the father he never knew has died, he sets out to discover the truth of his father's past. What he finds is a secret that will mean great riches, or sudden death.
England, 2001. Matt Clough is an ordinary English wine-merchant, approaching middle age with no family and no great ambition. An orphan. An ex-spy.
Latvia, 2001. Krisjanis Kulbergs is far from ordinary. Ex-spy. Double agent. Master of the triple-cross. Guilty of just about every crime or sin the twentieth century had to offer. He is the unknown father of English wine-merchant Matt Clough. He is also dead.
When Clough learns of the death of a father he never knew, he travels to Latvia to uncover the secrets of his father’s life and his own inheritance. The Cold War has been over for a decade, but some men still keep secrets so great that old spies from both sides of the divide will go to any lengths to get hold of them.
Discussed in the episode:
- Big Bear Little Bear by David Brierley
- Kiss Kiss Bang – The Boom in British Thrillers by Mike Ripley
- Dead Man Telling Tales by David Brierley – just released (2023)
- Czechmate by David Brierley
- Jeff Popple (Spybrarian) Review of Czechmate
- Skorpions Death by David Brierley
- The Cloak and Dagger Girl by David Brierley
- Best Spy Books of 2022 (Spybrary)
- Tim Shipman's best spy writers ranked list.
- Adam Hall/Elleston Trevor
- Raymond Chandler
- Join the Spybrary Community