cover image The Big Book of Espionage

The Big Book of Espionage

Edited by Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $26 trade paper (752p) ISBN 978-1-984-89805-0

Penzler’s enjoyable 10th Big Book anthology (after 2019’s The Big Book of Reel Murders) presents 55 stories first published between 1927 and 2015 from such established genre authors as Ian Fleming and Olen Steinhauer, as well as mainstream authors including John Galsworthy and O. Henry. The four themed sections—WWI, WWII, the Cold War, and Other Terrors, Other Battles, a catch-all that includes the covert struggle against terrorism—enable readers to trace how different writers treated the same conflict. As in Penzler’s other Big Books, many of the gems are from obscure writers, such as prolific pulp contributor H. Bedford-Jones, whose “Free-Lance Spy” features intrigue surrounding a draft treaty, and Marthe McKenna, who has perhaps the most unusual background of any contributor. Born in Belgium, McKenna received the Iron Cross during WWI for her care for injured German soldiers, before becoming an operative for Britain and its allies, experiences she fictionalized in “Gas Attack!” Penzler provides hours of intelligent escapism that combine plots centered on deception and betrayal with real-world political history. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber. (Nov.)