6 Recurring Themes in Spy Thrillers

by Lee Cross


I have this guilty pleasure… well I have a few, biscuits before bed time is probably the worst of them; or maybe deliberately starting lunatic rumours, not for malicious reasons, just for the pleasure of seeing if I can get them to bounce back in third-party conversation, stuff like, “did you hear Brian (many other names applicable) likes to suck the air out of already inflated party balloons….I mean what the hell is that about?”.

Anyway – I have this other guilty pleasure, I like reading trashy spy/crime thrillers; the books are normally only average at best, but I love following the silly stories, in much the same way people do with trashy TV soap operas and the like.

I’m sure there’s psychology involved, that we are all looking to escape, to be above the mundane problems of life and love… I’ll leave thoughts like that to the psychology bloggers.

Instead here’s a list of things that seem to pop up in Spy books…


1 – The CIA is always bad.

While the FBI can be good, or MI6, or the DGSE, perhaps even the KGB (if you happen across a particularly magnanimous American author) – The CIA is bad. No messing, they’re the evil bastards behind it all.

Fiction imitates reality and to be sure ‘The Agency’ does have a chequered past but it really does seem to get the worst of it in literature. J Edgar Hoover isn’t exactly remembered as being a saint, nor were the British in Africa / Middle East… and the DGSE are French; if they aren’t running an illicit string of Bordellos then I’m… actually, they are, so FULL STOP.


2 – “Clandestine”

To be fair Robert Ludlum is the only writer that has a particular hard-on for using “clandestine” in his novels, but he (and his numerous ghost writers) loved bringing it up. Perhaps it made him feel smart, maybe he had a word of the day calendar constantly stuck on February 2nd …who knows.

I just want to go on the record, such as this is, to thank him and his followers for their assistance in many a crossword puzzle over these past twenty years.


3 – One man can save the world

Yep, you read that right – ONE MAN. Sorry ladies but you’re way to fragile and pretty to be let out there on your own. The world needs you at home keeping the dinner and bed warm.

[Don’t get mad at me! I don’t write the bloody books!]


4 – You can never retire – not really

Rule number 2 [right there on the list after CIA = bad] …the hero’s can never retire, not really.

Age?– bah, just a number! Loss of limb?– a mere formality …we all remember Monty Python’s Black Knight (I bloody hope we do). Loss of life?– even the death of the author can’t keep a good spy down; Jason Bourne still blunders around wondering why the hell he is killing people …James Bond is still spreading venereal disease throughout the world.

Nothing can keep a good spy down.


5 – Cocaine comes from South America and Heroin from Asia

While I haven’t passed the bar, I know a little bit… BUT I know next to nothing about the industrial production and distribution of Class-A narcotics.

Does Heroin really always come from ASIA? Does Cocaine always emanate from the Americas (see also Columbia)?

Cant you just grow the stuff in adjacent fields and corner the market with consolidated bargaining practices? (Perhaps the growing is climate sensitive or something???)


6 – Economic Viability

The bad guys always have these lunatic get rich quick scheme… or plans for world domination. The problem is that they usually begin the novels wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and thus already capable of world domination – at the end of the day, just what the hell is the point???

[Still, I love reading thrillers when I just need to let my mind unwind and switch off, even if deep down they don’t make too much sense.]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s