It's been a great week since the release of my spy novel, Nobody Dies For Free. The book's availability met with enthusiasm, I've had some good feedback from several readers so far, and I'm anxiously awaiting reviews. With the book getting attention, I've been thinking some about my favorite fictional spies and how they've influenced my work in general, and, in some cases, specifically the character of Richard Monroe, protagonist of Nobody Dies For Free. I got into that subject a little in my last entry where I talked about the influence of Ian Fleming and his James Bond stories as well as the movies based on his books. But 007 certainly isn't the be all and end all of fictional spies who have caught my attention over the years. So, today I thought I'd list a few espionage and thriller characters who I'm a big fan of.
Appearing in several novels by John le Carre, Smiley is not an action hero. He's a sly, scheming, intellectual agent. The most famous Smiley story is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which has been adapted to film several times. Smiley has been played by such extraordinary actors as James Mason (though the character's name was changed in that instance), Sir Alec Guinness, Denholm Eliot, and, most recently, Gary Oldman.
Tom Clancy's character, Jack Ryan, might best be described as an unintentional hero. Ryan, a CIA analyst, often wants nothing to do with the violence and gritty intrigue of the espionage world, preferring a peaceful life as a father and husband while serving his country from behind a desk. But he usually finds himself in the thick of things. Clancy has written many Jack Ryan novels. There have also been four major movies, with a fifth coming soon. If asked to choose a favorite film version of the Jack Ryan stories, I'd be forced to give a double-sided answer. My favorite in terms of plot and delivery is The Hunt for Red October, in which Jack Ryan was played by Alec Baldwin, with a superb supporting cast that included James Earl Jones, Sean Connery, Sam Neill, Tim Curry, and Peter Firth. But my favorite portrayal of Jack Ryan was by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and A Clear and Present Danger, which are both excellent.
Of the characters I'm discussing today, Carter might be the one most unfamiliar to American audiences, but I think my British friends will know who I'm talking about. From 2002 until 2011, a magnificent espionage series called Spooks ran on British TV. Lasting for 86 excellent episodes, the show was a smoldering, suspenseful joyride of spy thrills. It was a powerful show and had the guts to very frequently kill off major, well-liked characters. Nobody was safe on this show, which sometimes made me want to hate it as much as I loved it.
Spooks revolved around MI-5 supervisor Harry Pearce (played by Peter Firth) and the team of agents who worked under him. At any given time, the squad was led in the field by a Section Chief. There were five different Section Chiefs throughout the show's run and all were interesting characters. The one that makes my list today is Adam Carter (portrayed by Rupert Penry-Jones). The second character to hold the post, after Matthew McFadyen's Tom Quinn, Carter was a dynamic, energetic, courageous agent who worked hard to balance his obligations to his country with his responsibilities to his family, often with mixed results. Carter also lasted as Section Chief longer than any of those before or after him.
If anyone reading this has never seen Spooks, I highly recommend it. It's available for streaming on Netflix, but you'll have to look for it under the title it adopted for viewing in the U.S. Here, it's renamed MI-5.
You really, really, really do not want to mess with his family. It's not a good idea. Just remember, he has a very particular set of skills that makes him a nightmare for people like you.
On paper, Taken sounds like a mediocre, possibly somewhat entertaining action flick that might star someone like Steven Segal. Simple plot: retired spy's daughter is kidnapped to be sold as a sex slave, so he goes to Europe to find her and get revenge on those who perpetrated the crime.
But if you take that premise and give it to producer Luc Besson and director Pierre Morel, and cast Liam Neeson in the lead role of former special operative Bryan Mills, you end up with what I think just might be the best spy/ action movie of the last few decades! I absolutely loved it. I rarely watch movies more than once within a span of just a few years, but I've seen Taken at least a half-dozen times since its release in 2008.
The sequel, Taken 2, was a very good action movie and well worth seeing, but not on the level of the first. I'm happy to have recently learned that there will be a third installment. As long as Liam Neeson wants to keep playing Bryan Mills, I'm willing to go to the theater and watch him teach some very bad people some very harsh lessons.