Skip to main content

Espionage Novel

September 2023
1min read

Most Overrated Espionage Novel:

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.

Most Underrated Espionage Novel:

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.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.