Personnel File of Karl Gunnar Øen – DeClassified.
The Oslo Connection
- My favourite spy author is….
I have several favourites and several favourite books, too. And I’ve had different favourites at different times. I started out as a thriller fan, Alastair Maclean, Desmond Bagley, Frederick Forsyth and Jack Higgins were all early favourites.
I read the odd Bond book but didn’t really ‘get’ it, it wasn’t the Bond I heard about from elder cousins.
I struggled with John le Carré, too. The language seemed too dense. Too little action for my taste. Then SS-GB came along. I remembered the name of the author from a book I read at fourteen. A truly shocking book of a WW2 bombing mission going horribly wrong. I read a nonfiction book by the same author when I was doing my military service, and an observant mate told me that he wrote spy books too and that they were really good.
I was heavily into Science Fiction at the time but got hold of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy which I enjoyed, but it didn’t knock me out. It wasn’t till I came across Funeral in Berlin a bit later, that I was really intrigued. When I came across a book with an almost similar title, Berlin Game I was hooked. And have been ever since. So it’s Deighton for me, no doubt.
Len Deighton was also the reason I found the Spybrary Podcast and this group of likeminded people. I was lucky enough to listen in from that first episode. I enjoy a lot of other authors, Charles McCarry, Anthony Price, Eric Ambler, and the younger generation, Charles Cumming, Mick Herron, Jeremy Duns, and Olen Steinhauer, but I’m always returning to Len Deighton.
- My favourite spy novel is…
Berlin Game, of course. Part mystery, part love story – office politics that might turn out deadly, family drama that might turn out fatal, class struggle that might kill you…friendship, treachery, paranoia and child raising.This novel has it all.
- My favourite non-fiction spy book is?
I think it might be Steve Vogels Betrayal in Berlin (ah Berlin again, a common fetish among Spybrarians, it seems), but then again I haven’t read a book by Ben MacIntyre I haven’t enjoyed tremendously – The Spy and the Traitor, Operation Mincemeat and A Spy among Friends are all great reads. Of more contemporary stuff I enjoyed We are Bellingcat (of Salisbury fame, you know) and I’m currently reading Soldatov and Borogans’s The New Nobility.
- What spy book are you currently reading?
Anthony Horowitz’ latest Bond novel, With a Mind to Kill. I have liked his two earlier Bond outings, and so far, I think he keeps up the standard he’s set for himself.
- And what was the one before that?
I got hooked by the terrific Slow Horses tv-series, and had to get another quick Herron fix, so I listened to Dead Lions as an audiobook while doing a lot of garden work and house chores. If that doesn’t count as reading, I recently finished Silverview, which I enjoyed, but I admit I have a weakness for novels that are set in libraries and bookstores. Before that, it was Judas 62 by Charles Cumming.
- Which spy book could you not finish and why?
See next response.
- Which spy book are you ashamed to admit you have not read?
I’ll lump these two questions together because they concern the same book. I’m afraid I’ll offend some honourable members of our community, but my mother told me that honesty goes a long way, so here goes – I’ve never been able to finish The Honourable Schoolboy. Firstly because it is too long, secondly because I find the Asian location not to my liking and maybe a bit…boring(?), thirdly because I’ve taken a hearty dislike towards Jerry Westerby. The reasons are all on me, and won’t stand for close scrutiny, I know, so I promise to be good, get my …things together, and read It during my summer holidays. Pinkie promise.
- What is your favourite spy movie and why?
There are a lot of films I truly enjoy which most of you will never get to watch, like the 1985 Norwegian Orion’s Belt or the Swedish series of Coq Rouge-films (some produced for theatrical release, some for TV), but what really makes me tick are the American paranoid spy thrillers of the post-Watergate seventies, Three Days of the Condor being the prime example.
Robert Redford is the analyst who rises to the occasion and uses what he has learned from analysing mass market spybooks to real life tradecraft that keeps him alive. The amateur forced to turn pro, aptly named Turner.
- What is your favourite spy tv series and why?
The French series Le Bureau, no doubt, because it – in addition to everything you expect from a spy series like tradecraft, gadgetery, tension and suspense – shows the personal cost of living under such inhumane circumstances, ripping away the glamour in a brutal way.
The second place goes to The Americans, while Spooks/MI5 gets the third place. Honorable mentions goes to the classics Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, for Guinness’ portrayal of Smiley, Game, Set and Match because it is Deighton (I actually like Holm’s Bernie), The Sandbaggers for making men walking in and out of offices seem exciting, Slow Horses for the humour and The IPCRESS file for style.
- Do you have a favourite song, track or piece of music from a spy movie or TV series.
It used to be the Spybrary theme, but now it is Mick Jagger’s cracking theme song from Slow Horses!
- 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?
In my experience many guests turn out to be no-show on the day of the event, so I always invite quite a few extras, and why only six in the first place? I want a banquet!
Several spies have been referred to as charming, and you would like to have charming guests to any party, wouldn’t you – so there would always be a space for real-life spies like Kim Philby, Melita Norwood, Rudolf Abel, George Blake, and Arne Treholt.
From what I have seen and heard about spy authors, I think Ian Fleming, Adam Dimant, Charles Cumming, Jeremy Duns and Stella Rimington (double whammy, author and spy) would make excellent guests.
A former colleague of mine, who moonlighted as a translator, translated one of Forsyth’s novels and was invited to meet with him for dinner. She reported back that Freddie was the crown example of the British gentleman, polite, polished, eloquent and elegant, so he must be on the guest list.
Actors like Kristin Scott Thomas, Alec Guinness, Michael Caine, Keeley Hawes, Gary Oldman, Bill Nighy, Nicola Walker, Roy Marsden, Helen Mirren and Charlotte Rampling would brighten my day, as would Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood.
I’m afraid this guestlist turned out terribly Eurocentric, but I would not want to share the table with Jesus James Angleton or J.Edgar Hoover, who comes across as rather morose, Robert Hansen is a no-no, too. Keri Russel, perhaps, and Joseph Kanon, who seems like a real gentleman. And I would like Len Deighton to cook!
- And what music would you play during the dinner?
Beatles, of course!
- Which spy book or author do you feel is the most underrated?
To call a CWA Dagger winner underrated is a bit of a stretch, but I believe Anthony Price deserves more attention. The mix of history, mostly military history, and terribly clever plots ought to attract history buffs and people of an academic leaning…
- Which non espionage author would you like to see writing a spy novel?
I believe William Boyd and Ian McEwan did pretty well, as did my friend Nils Horvei, so what about Karl Ove Knausgaard?
- Which spy character do you resemble in real life and why? (talking traits rather than looks.)
I would very much like it to be Harry Palmer, because of his wry outlook, sardonic wit and resourcefulness, but I’m afraid it’s Jerry Westerby…