|Martin Cruz Smith (ed.): Death by Espionage|
House (Hardcover), ISBN: 1581820402
The anthology Death by Espionage, edited Martin Cruz Smith, explores this clandestine universe from the 19th century to post Cold War. The reader travels around the globe, including the U.S., Israel, Tanzania, the Netherlands, France and Wangerooge, a remote island in the North Sea. Agents include both sexes, from government operatives to contract spys and assassins. Even Sherlock Holmes surfaces, foiling a spy's attempt to auction British top-secret submarine plans to foreign governments. Holmes' singular power of detection saves the Empire and a dead man's reputation.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, a.k.a., the "Company"), stories portray cynicism and disillusionment. In "Charlie's Game," by Brian Garfield, a young operative named Ross accompanies an old hand to West Africa to "eliminate" a female assassin. Ross superbly acts the charade the older operative contrives. Yet after the subterfuge, Ross reflects, "But it's not all that much fun for the losers, is it?"
Stanley, veteran CIA assassin, in Jean-Hugues Oppel's "A Demon in My Head," develops excruciating migraines -- the "demon" -- after years of killing. When the Soviet Union shatters, and patriotism dissipates, Stanley's detachment dies. Still assigned hits, Stanley craves to know who and why, but the Agency never tells.
By contrast, stories by Ambrose Bierce and Guy de Maupassant espouse honor. American writer Bierce, Mark Twain's contemporary and friend, writes a Civil War yarn, "The Story of Conscience." Capturing a Confederate spy, a Union officer recalls his own dishonorable wartime act. French author de Maupassant's "Two Fishers" tests two French civilians' honor during the Franco-Prussian War.
Mark Twain interjects wry humor into the genre with "A Curious Experience," set during the Civil War. "Evidence" of spying by a ragged, lost boy from Louisiana triggers panicked investigations and arrests at a Connecticut fort, where "spy fever" abounds. The story portrays spying as child's play.
This reviewer's favorite "spy-tingler?" "Dr. Sweetkill," a classic cloak-and-dagger tale by John Jakes, mixes one disgraced agent and his "kick-butt" female partner assigned to destroy a bio-weapons factory with an evil scientist, a mysterious woman and the bomb in the briefcase.
Despite entertaining stories excellently written, Death by Espionage contains a flaw -- a scarcity of female authors. Why didn't Cruz Smith send in spies to ferret them out?
Lynn I. Miller
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