cover image The Oxford Book of Spy Stories

The Oxford Book of Spy Stories

Michael Cox, Editor Oxford University Press, USA $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-19-214242-9

Seeking to provide a panorama of those spy stories that define espionage in the public imagination, Cox, an editor at OUP, selects 28 short stories covering a variety of international (and in one case, interplanetary) settings and epochs. His choices concentrate on Europe and, particularly the U.K. during WWI. Despite contributions by authors including Ambrose Bierce, John Buchan, Somerset Maugham, Frank O'Connor, John Galsworthy, Len Deighton, Graham Greene and Ian Fleming, these stories may seem simple and sentimental to readers accustomed to Cold War treachery and moral ambiguity, and to the convoluted plot twists now associated with spycraft. Many read like anecdotes or droll jokes with no real tension or suspense. Even the iconic James Bond seems a drab version of his big-screen incarnation. In spite of its limitations, the collection does succeed in showing the vast evolution of popular notions about spying. Readers searching for sheer entertainment, however, will long for better examples of latter-day, action-oriented or intrigue-intensive tales. (Nov.)