May/June 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 3
My candidate is Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity , his first, in 1980. The annotated bibliography of spy novels, Cloak and Dagger Fiction , begins its outline, “Suffering from amnesia, a shooting victim finds a Swiss bank account which identifies him as a professional assassin. . . .” Ludlum’s success led to a torrent of cabal fiction, most of it even less credible than The Bourne Identity , with similarly hyperventilated prose and plot lines by Jackson Pollock.
For that I would offer Anthony Olcott’s May Day in Magadan , which followed his excellent Murder at the Red October . Funny, sharp, and well written, both of these were classics of the form and should have stayed in print. May Day had in common with Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park the use of Russian sable as the object of the treasure hunt, but Olcott’s sense of the U.S.S.R.—paranoia, hypocrisy, and a few good souls still trying—is stronger.