Personnel File of Jason King –
- My favourite spy author is….
Leonard Cyril Deighton.
During the ‘60s, the untimely demise of my father saw me incarcerated at a charity school in the south of England. It was a dark place and the faculty would have made Jimmy S*ville look like a stand up guy !
My sanity was saved in ‘63 when, after seeing Dr. No the movie, I fell in love with Ian Fleming and he became my gateway drug into the literary spy world. Every night I escaped this turgid institution with Bond and his adventures.
I became the school’s leading 007 aficionado and the custodian of an illicit Fleming library. The latter got me into all sorts of trouble but that’s another story.
Fleming lead to a love of espionage fiction that saw me exploring the genre more broadly and when Deighton’s ‘ Ipcress File’ came along I was immediately seduced by its fabulous Raymond Hawkey monochrome dust jacket and jumped right in.
Its labyrinth plot and realism completely gripped me. What’s more here was a hero for my generation. He hated the establishment and boy couldn’t we all relate to that!
I always loved Fleming, Le Carre, Ambler and Hall but when push comes to shove Deighton is my man. I dream of meeting him. He’s brought me so much pleasure over the years.
- My favourite spy novel is…
Not surprisingly it’s Deighton’s ‘Berlin Game’. When I left school with my precious 2 ‘O’ Levels I embarked on a short career with the Honk Kong police which lead to a longer stay with ‘Department S’. Following this I went under deep cover for forty years, striding the world stage posing as a captain of industry by masquerading as a cosmetic executive.
It was during this period that I discovered many literary gems but best amongst them was Deighton’s incredible Samson ennealogy. Of course, ‘Berlin Game’ was the first instalment of this, the finest spy series ever written.
This was Deighton at the height of his powers. He created a cast of characters to die for and a labyrinth plot that filled nine volumes – not to mention a prequel – with a story that truly gripped, amused and informed in equal measure. It has never been equaled before or since.
My late wife also loved these books which makes them even more special to me. She used to howl when I told her my workplace was populated with Dickie Cruyers who didn’t open doors but slid right under them.
3. My favourite non-fiction spy book is?
Is ‘Agent Zigzag’ by Ben Macintyre – I find the true story of Eddie Chapman’s Second World War exploits completely enthralling. He was a rogue, criminal, lover, traitor and hero whose story has been told a couple of times but Macintyre’s version is absolutely the best.
What’s more, Chapman has doubtless been the inspiration for John Lawton’s fabulous Joe Wilderness series and other fictional characters across the years.
4. What spy book are you currently reading?
‘With A Mind To Kill’ by Anthony Horowitz. I’ve only just started so I’ll keep my powder dry but I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to these Bond continuation things.
Obviously, there will only ever be one Ian and he set the bar ridiculously high but next to Amis, I think Horowitz has made the best fist of it thus far.
5. And what was the one before that?
‘Bad Actors’ by Mick Herron – I was an early adopter of The Slough House series.
Some years ago, a young lithe bookseller in Hatchards hooked me on ‘Slow Horses’ and I’ve been mainlining Herron ever since. I think he’s a genius and I regard him as the spiritual successor to Deighton.
This is the eighth in the series and he maintains an incredibly high standard.
He is a true original and deserves all the success he gets. I’m jonesing for the next one already.
6. Which spy book could you not finish and why?
‘The Aquitaine Progression’ by Robert Ludlum. I’d struggled my way through ‘The Bourne Identity' but lost the will to live with this one. Boy did that guy need an editor !
Le Carre’s ‘Mission Song’ ran it a close second. I did finish it but was close to putting it aside. Huge swathes of it sent me off quicker than Ambien.
7. Which spy book are you ashamed to admit you have not read?
The last three Milo Weaver books by Olen Steinhauer. I read the first and quite liked it but never followed through with the others.
Matthew Bradford makes me feel guilty for not continuing the series. He bangs on about how good they are, notably ‘The Nearest Exit’, so I’ll have to rectify that.
I’ve really liked a couple of Steinhauer’s so feel I’m missing out. His novel, ‘All The Old Knives’, is particularly good as was the recent screen interpretation.
8. What is your favourite spy movie and why?
This is the most difficult question. I love so many.
Although I think we’ve been particularly well-served of late with movies like ‘Syriana’, ‘Body Of Lies’, ‘Spy Story’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ etc.. my actual favourite comes from the past and is ‘North By Northwest’.
Alfred Hitchcock was the greatest director that ever lived and this is his defining achievement.
It has everything. Gripping story, amazing locations, superb acting and that most essential of things in a great spy movie – a knockout score. It was a hugely influential film. There can be little doubting the influence it had on how Bond was adapted for the screen. And most importantly, that suit – Cary Grant was a sartorial sensei – and which woman ever looked sexier than Eve Marie Saint? The movie just oozes glamour.
It also holds a special resonance for me because Hitch’s cameo was shot right outside my old office at 575 Fifth Avenue. I wasn’t there at the time but it didn’t stop me from imagining myself as Roger Thornhill jumping into a cab on Madison Avenue.
9. What is your favourite spy tv series and why?
Modesty prohibits me from throwing ‘Department S’ into the mix so, excluding that, I would say that we’ve recently had some great ones – ‘Homeland’, ‘The Americans’, ‘Le Bureau’. To name but three.
Qualitatively the best is probably ‘Le Bureau’ but my personal favourite is 2014’s ‘The Game’.
It’s set in London in 1972. They did a great job of recreating that era and came up with a Cold War thriller that was truly reminiscent of the past greats.
It has a superb original screenplay by Toby Whitehouse, an excellent cast (Tom Hughes playing a young MI5 agent determined to uncover a mole ) and a great score by Daniel Pemberton.
Frankly, it was much better than the recent ‘Ipcress’ rehash and has a cast of characters that would have played out well over the long hall. I’m sure it had the potential to become a cult classic.
Sadly some n’er-do-well at aunty canned it after just six episodes. They probably went and spent the production budget on a reality programme featuring nitwits with plastic breasts. Folk that incorporate ‘like’ into every sentence.
But take heart, it is available on DVD and I would urge any thinking SpyBrarians to view it.
10. Do you have a favourite song, track or piece of music from a spy movie or TV series.
‘The Ipcress File’ by the late great John Barry.
I just love the downbeat jazz noir main title theme and play it every morning whilst making coffee.
‘Alexa play Ipcress’ is my morning cri de coeur. Albeit I have got a better coffee machine than Harry Palmer.
11. You are hosting a spy dinner, you can invite anyone living or dead, a real-life spy, an author, a spy character, an actor from a spy movie/tv show – which 6 guests are you inviting?
Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Peter O’Donnell, Alfred Hitchcock, Terence Young and John Barry.
Greats from the golden era of the page and screen who have all made phenomenal contributions to our genre – I think the conversation would be scintillating.
I have deliberately left out Le Carre because he’d probably think himself above it all.
I just want us to have fun.
I’ll have Len do the cooking with a recipe from his ‘Ou Est Le Garlic’ cookbook but as I know John Barry is a very plain eater I’ll ask him to bring his own fish and chips.
12. And what music would you play during the dinner?
Jazz – I’d play ‘Cinematic’ by Kyle Eastwood, ‘Kind Of Blue’ by Miles Davis and ‘Oscar Peterson Plays The George Gershwin Songbook’. Something they could all enjoy and that would enthuse John Barry. He has a particularly discerning ear.
13/14. Which spy book or author do you feel is the most underrated?
When it comes to books it has to be ‘Typhoon’ by Charles Cumming.
I was working under deep cover (NOC) for the ‘Because You Are Worth It’ mob back in 2008 when my lunchtime stroll took me to Barns & Noble on Fifth Avenue where I picked it up on impulse.
My espionage reading had been on hiatus and ‘Typhoon’ reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the genre.
It’s a book that has everything. A solid, believable and exciting plot. Great characters and amazing locations. Furthermore, in the years that have lapsed since publication, it has proved to be more than a little prolific. Without doubt Charlie’s finest to date and a novel that deserves to be discussed in the same breath as ‘The Quiet American’ and ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’.
With regards to author, I’d hesitate to call him underrated because amongst the cognoscenti he is very highly rated but, if anybody is deserving of a wider readership, it is Simon Conway.
I’ve been a fan of his since reading ‘A Loyal Spy’ on the back of his 2010 Ian Fleming Dagger win.
He really is a superb writer who has a very unique and visceral style.
I would encourage SpyBrarians to read any of his books albeit his recent works featuring Jude Lyon – ‘The Saboteur’ and ‘The Stranger’ – should be taken in chronological order. Evidently, there is another Lyon book imminent called ‘The Survivor’.
Also well worth hunting out is ‘The Agent Runner’. It can be quite difficult to get because it fell victim to a publishing hiatus but your efforts will be rewarded because that one is beyond ‘Premier Cru’.
15. Which non espionage author would you like to see writing a spy novel?
The most interesting of questions.
Thinking of this I vacillated between James Ellroy and Michael Connelly.
Ellroy because ‘The Mad Dog’ has often expressed his admiration for Deighton’s Samson ennealogy and, in his inimitable modest style, has threatened to write the spy thriller to end all spy thrillers.
And Connelly because he is just a writer who has given us great police procedurals, great investigative journalistic thrillers and fantastic Legal thrillers.
Ultimately I come down in favour of Michael Connelly – because he is just such a fabulous storyteller.
16. Which spy character do you resemble in real life and why? (talking traits rather than looks.)
Fantasist that I am, over the years I’ve imagined myself as Bond, Palmer, Quiller and Samson. depending on the day of the week and what I was reading at the time.
But when reality hits and I look in the mirror, it’s the chiselled good looks of my own creation, Mark Caine, I see starring back at me.
Mark and I have so much in common. The same tailor. The same taste in Scotch. The same taste in …… well, everything really.
Of course, from time to time, that n’er-do-well Craggs claims to be more like Caine than me but really, what does he know?
Anyway, I must go, I’m just at a critical point in my sequel to ‘Index Finger Left Hand ‘ !