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British spy stories

Spy novelist Alan Furst recommends three - Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, Eric Ambler's The Levanter and John le Carré's Honourable Schoolboy.

I remember laughing out loud when I read Greene's novel, but I also saw Havana's people and beauty crumbling under the corruption of dictator Batista's regime. It is shocking to consider that the US State Department made Batista "our man in Havana".

That Batista would be replaced by the corrupt totalitarian socialist Castro - who boasts about Cuba's health care while calling in foreign specialists when he himself is ill and while generations of Cubans live in desperate poverty - makes a reread of Our Man a chilling experience.

Every US President could read the book as a warning that even his intelligence reports are personal - made by persons with personal ambitions, fears, blind spots - and therefore often wrong.

Comments (2)

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My personal Ambler favorite, straight out of the witch's brew that is the Balkans, is A Coffin for Demetrios.

A welcome post. All three are wonderful. A reminder to those who may not know: LeCarré paid his own homage to his acknowledged master Greene's Man in Havana in The Tailor of Panama.

And The Honourable Schoolboy is at its best when read as the middle volume of the Smiley trilogy, after Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and before Smiley's People.

The trilogy has its base of LeCarrean melancholy, but was mercifully written before his books became sermons (The Tailor is the turning-point in that process).

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