In the midst of the cold war, the super spy became a serious character in both books and movies. I am not sure if we have Ian Fleming or Hollywood to thank more for this. Somewhere in the 1960s the rise of the suave, sophisticated, multi-lingual, incredibly effective, and notoriously lethal secret agent burst onto the scene. This solo hero replaced the revered lawman of the old west be it the real Wyatt Earp or the fictitious Matt Dillon.
I was just coming of age when the Man from U.N.C.L.E. was all the rage on the television. I could not get enough of it. We wanted to be Napoleon Solo or Ilya Kuryakin. The girls all loved Ilya. I avidly watched the Avengers. John Steed was cool. Emma Peel? Lovely and talented to say the least. The genre was so popular in novels, cinema, and television that it even spawned a pop song. In 1966, a popular singer Johnny Rivers had one of his many hits “Secret Agent Man.” The song was recycled in the Austin Powers series. You can watch Rivers perform it, of course on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iaR3WO71j4
Even before the recent Austin Powers series, there were spoofs of the genre. My favorite was the “Our Man Flint” starring James Coburn. The first Flint movie also hit the scene in 1966. There were cerebral spies or spy stories like those of John LeCarré. There were pure action figures. But, there is only one James Bond, who did it all very well and as a result is the most enduring brand in the genre.
More than the movies, I love the books by Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Nelson DeMille, and now Vince Flynn. When I find one of these authors I like, I read every book I can get my hands on. I love the novels more than the movies because when I am reading… I can project myself into the character much better than in any movie. In the book, I am in the hero’s mind. I am rolling and coming up shooting with deadly accuracy with him. I am also above it all because I know things the author has yet to let the hero, the secret agent man, in on. When well written, these stories are adrenalin fueled page turners. I do have a hard time putting the book down.
It is pure Walter Mitty.
When I am reading these kinds of books, I walk around like Mitch Rapp the hero of the Vince Flynn series. I am anticipating ambushes, constantly aware of exits should the need arise of every venue I enter, and most assuredly I am taking tables in restaurants with my back to a wall and clear view of all who enter. I am keenly aware of any suspicious behavior of everyone around my. Does the janitor have on the wrong shoes? How many times have I seen that lady today? I vary my work schedule and routes I take to the office. OK, I really don’t vary my departure times or routes but I am keenly aware that it is a risky practice not to.
Most of all, I can do things in my imagination reading these kinds of books that would most assuredly look absurd and result in broken bones and worse in real life.
That is all for now. I have to go and join Mitch Rapp who is currently undercover in… well, you know I cannot divulge where.