Spy Story by Len Deighton (1974)

Dawlish collected my empty cup. ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Pat! You’re dripping blood all over the carpet.’ ‘It won’t show,’ I said. ‘Not in that lovely humming bird pattern.’ (p.193) Hooray! The anonymous protagonist of Deighton’s Ipcress novels is back! We know (well, suspect) this because the narrator recognises jovial, plump Soviet agent, Colonel Stok […]

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré (1963)

Who do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors, too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs? I’d have killed Mundt if I […]

To Catch A Spy edited by Eric Ambler (1964)

Seven short stories about spies, selected and with a genial introduction by Eric Ambler, who gives a useful summary of the spy genre from the turn of the century up to the early 1960s: the late-19th century background of Sherlock Holmes/Rider Haggard popular adventure yarns then suddenly the first classic spy novel, The Riddle of […]

Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler (1938)

Looking back now, I marvel at my stupidity; I was pathetically ineffectual. (p.152) Maybe the distinguishing feature of the six thriller novels Eric Ambler published in the late 1930s is that they are all set in Europe under the shadow of war: the fictional Balkan country Ixania in The Dark Frontier, Austria and Czechoslovakia in […]

A Perfect Spy by John le Carré (1986)

A Perfect Spy by John le Carré is a marvellous, overflowing cornucopia of a novel, crammed with hilarious characters, wonderful insights and amazingly flexible, resourceful prose. Plot The scaffold is a spy story, a thriller: Magnus Pym, model family man, good chap and manager of Eastern bloc agents from the decent safety of the British Embassy in Vienna, […]

The Aeneid by Virgil – books 10 to 12

Book 10 Pallas and Mezentius A mighty conference of the gods is called on Mount Olympus. Jupiter is puzzled why war has broken out. Aeneas’s mother, Venus, makes a long complaint, saying the Trojans have faithfully done everything they were asked to, and yet Aeolus sank them in his storms, Iris drove the women mad […]

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (1599)

Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, was first produced, in all probability, in 1599. The plot is based entirely on three of Plutarch’s biographies of eminent Romans, which Shakespeare found in Sir Thomas North’s translations into English of The Lives of the Most Noble Greeks and Romans, first published in 1579. The three lives he drew from […]

The Legend of Cleopatra by Geoffrey Chaucer (1386)

And as for me, thogh that I can but lyte, On bokes for to rede I me delyte And in myn herte have hem in reverence; And to hem yeve swich lust and swich credence, That ther is wel unethe game noon That from my bokes make me to goon. (The narrator describing his love […]

Dictator by Robert Harris (2015)

‘My skill is statecraft and that requires me to be alive and in Rome.’ (Cicero talking to Tiro, Dictator, page 36) This is the third and concluding novel in the Robert Harris’s epic ‘Cicero trilogy’. Harris is a highly successful writer of intelligent thrillers and in the Cicero trilogy he has applied the style and […]

Lustrum by Robert Harris (2009)

The senate was not the arena for brute force. The weapons here were words, and no one ever knew how to deploy words as well as Cicero. (p.184) ‘What are the only weapons I possess, Tiro?’ he asked me, and then he answered his own question. ‘These,’ he said, gesturing towards his books. ‘Words. Caesar […]