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The Sirens of Suspense




MIKE RIPLEY is an award-winning British crime writer, scriptwriter, lecturer and reviewer. He is currently the ‘continuation’ author for the late Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series and he writes the monthly Getting Away With Murder column for Shots eZine, the UK’s leading website for mystery fiction .



item1 Resurrecting the Forgotten Spies item1

When Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was published in the UK, my wife said: ‘It’s a good thing you wrote that book, otherwise you would have had to buy it.’ But then, she knows me well and tolerates my passion for thrillers from the 1960s and 70s and accepts my inability to walk by a second-hand bookshop.

I was a British teenager at the best possible time. We had the best pop music, the sharpest fashion sense and British thriller writers were saving the world on a regular basis thanks to the publishing revolution in mass market paperbacks with innovative cover art. Perhaps best of all, we had Bond – James Bond.

Once the Bond film franchise began in 1962, Ian Fleming’s fantasy spy novels dominated British bookshops, but Fleming did not have it all his own way. His books were facing tough competition from writers of adventure thrillers such as Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley, and then a new more realistic type of spy story as penned by Len Deighton and John Le Carré.

It was a boom time, with new titles and new authors seeming to appear on a weekly basis: Gavin Lyall, Adam Hall, Jack Higgins, Francis Clifford, Alan Williams, John Blackburn, Dick Francis, Anthony Price, Brian Callison, to name but a handful. The authors were invariably men and the stories aimed very much at a male audience, with exotic foreign locations, rugged and resourceful heroes and the emphasis definitely on action, pursuit, violence and villainy – in other words, excitement.

It was only in the mid-1970s, when American thriller writers such as Robert Ludlum, Brian Garfield, Justin Scott and then Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy emerged to break the British dominance of the international thriller market.

Some of those bestselling Brits, and their books, are still around, but far too many have been forgotten, though not by me. Those thrillers taught me everything I ever needed to know about parts of the world I would never get to visit, about fast cars, the jet-set lifestyle, scuba-diving, helicopters, submarines, how to survive an air crash in the Andes or the Sahara, how to thwart mad scientists, ex-Nazis and megalomaniac businessmen and how to get over the Berlin Wall (both ways). Perhaps surprisingly, they did not teach me much about sex, as with a few exceptions, they were really rather innocent; one of the biggest sellers, Alistair MacLean, never mentioning sex at all and regarding the Bond books as near-pornography.

When I realised that far too many of these action-packed adventures were slipping from memory, I decided it was time to write Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and it turned out to be a labour of love, giving me the chance to reacquaint myself with those ripping yarns I had devoured so avidly in my youth and even discover one or two authors I missed fifty years ago.

I hoped that the book might spark some interest in the backlists of such as Alan Williams, an innovative thriller writer who used his personal background as a foreign correspondent to excellent effect, or Ted Allbeury, who drew on his experiences as an intelligence officer in both WW2 and the Cold War, or Anthony Price, a unique stylist who breathed new, intelligent life into the spy novel.

I decided my ‘reader’s history’ would cover the period 1953 to 1976, the years which were book-ended by Casino Royale and The Eagle Has Landed. It was an era which saw the publication of some classic thrillers – The Ipcress File, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Wreck of the Mary Deare, The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, The Quiller Memorandum and The Day of the Jackal – plus, it has to be said, an awful lot which probably deserve to be forgotten!

But the good ones were good, and are still worth reading today. I knew that today’s maestro of the international thriller, Lee Child, was, like me, brought up on Alistair MacLean and so I asked him to write the Introduction to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which he did with his customary skill and generosity.

He concludes, just as my wife predicted for me, that it might just be a book he would have to go out and buy…


WHAT WAS THE FIRST SPY NOVEL YOU READ? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of KISS KISS, BANG BANG (US entrants only, please.)



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