Would you believe I started–and very nearly finished–this list way back after Thanksgiving? But you know how things go. So here it is again, late as always, but not quite as last-minute a shopping guide as last year's... which never happened. Here are lots of spy-happy ideas for your Christmas lists, or ideas for what to get for the spy fan in your life, or just a handy list of all the things you need to get. And if you're anything like me, you probably haven't even started your Christmas shopping yet. Rather than just sticking with new and recent items this year, I'm accompanying each entry with a "classic" related suggestion. And, as usual, if you buy through the Amazon links here you'll help support the Double O Section, support for which I'd personally be very grateful this holiday season!
Free Agent and Free Country
Jeremy Duns burst onto the scene last year with his debut novel, Free Agent. Duns was a life-long fan of spy fiction, an expert on the subject published in numerous newspapers and magazines, and an avid contributor to online forums on the subject who proved himself to also be a top-notch practitioner of the genre! Seriously, Free Agent, set in the Golden Age of spying of the late 1960s, was the best new spy novel I'd read in years, achieving the rare feat of successfully combining the globe-trotting thrill of Ian Fleming's Field Man novels with the rivetting political intrigue of John Le Carré's Desk Man novels. The paperback came out this year. The sequel (and second in Duns' projected trilogy about the same character), Free Country, was released in Britain. It's due out in the USA next year, but anyone who's read the first entry will probably be so eager for the next one that they'd appreciate the import from Amazon.co.uk.
Also try: A Dandy in Aspic by Derek Marlow, which was clearly a big influence on Duns.
Our Kind of Traitor
Speaking of practitioners, how about a new novel by the greatest living practitioner of the genre, John Le Carré himself? Yes, please! This is probably the most obvious gift for fans of spy fiction this year. I haven't read it yet myself, but I'd be very happy to unwrap this book come Christmas morning.
Also try: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. You can't go wrong giving someone Le Carré's very best novel, which just might be the greatest spy novel ever written. And it's timely, too, with the new movie version starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley due out next year!
At last! Tara Chace is back in Greg Rucka's new Queen and Country novel! (And he's really putting her through her paces.) While the series hasn't been too active in either comics or novels since I started this blog, it remains one of my very favorite contemporary spy series in any medium. Ideal for fans of The Sandbaggers in particular or any of the more serious takes on British Intelligence, this is an amazing world to open up to the spy fan on your list.
Also try: Queen and Country: The Definitive Edition Vols. 1-4. These comic book collections are the place to start if you're new to Queen & Country. (Although you can't go wrong with any of the novels, either.)
Dead Spy Running
Jon Stock's opening salvo in a new spy trilogy made news here when it was optioned for a movie by McG well in advance of its publication, and then when it came out in the UK last year. Now it's finally available in America.
Also try: The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum's classic of the genre, to which no movie version has yet lived up.
Tom Clancy (probably the bestselling spy writer of the 90s) returns to shelves after years of absence along with new co-writer Grant Blackwood to resurrect Jack Ryan and his whole family of covert operatives in a new 848-page brick of a book. Whether he finds a good way to bring the Ryans and John Clark into the modern world or the whole thing proves to be an excercise in nostalgia, this book should make a great Christmas gift.
Also try: Clear and Present Danger–classic Clancy at the peak of his powers!
James Bond: Choice of Weapons: Three 007 Novels
The second of two hardcover anthology volumes collecting all of author Raymond Benson's James Bond adventures, Choice of Weapons compiles the novels Zero Minus Ten, The Facts of Death and The Man With the Red Tattoo and the elusive short stories "Live at Five" and "Midsummer Night's Doom." Even if you've already got all the novels on their own, Bond fans will still want this collection for the inclusion of those two rare short stories, originally published in TV Guide and Playboy, respectively, and never before collected anywhere.
Also try: James Bond: The Union Trilogy, collecting Benson's other three original 007 novels and the short story "Blast From the Past."
The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Surely there are still a few people in the world who haven't yet caught onto the worldwide phenomenon of Stieg Larsson's bestselling "Milennium Trilogy." And if someone on your list is one of those people, well the paperbacks make great stocking stuffers. You really have to start at the beginning with the dark, dark mystery thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. That first book reads like a combination of Agatha Christie and Robert Ludlum (though focusing on darker material than either of those writers tapped into), but it's clearly a mystery and not a spy story. If you stick with the series, however, it morphs into full-on spy thriller territory by the last book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The spying starts in the second book, though, which bridges the genres as half murder mystery, half spy story/conspiracy thriller. I never knew anything about the Swedish secret service (Sapo) before, and I was excited to learn something about it while reading these thrilling page-turners about deeply compelling characters in a setting exotic to me (Sweden). Sure, it's easy to disdain the thing that everybody's reading, but these books are really good.
Also try: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (That's the one to start with, even if it's not a spy story.)
James Bond Omnibus Volume 001
Okay, this one was out in time for Christmas last year, but it's just too perfect a gift for Bond fans not to mention. Collecting Titan's first three James Bond newspaper comics strip collections in one conveniently-sized volume, this first Omnibus amounts to eleven Bond adventures based on Ian Fleming novels and short stories. And what a handsome volume it is! This is the ideal presentation for these strips. It's much better than the oversize editions they were originally published in. It's a perfect gift size, and delivers the good contents-wise, clocking in at over 300 pages. The newspaper strips are one of the less well known incarnations of 007, and any fan of the movies or particularly the original novels will be thrilled to discover them. It's a great introduction to James Bond in a whole other medium.
Also try: James Bond: Nightbird, the latest volume in Titan's collection of oversize James Bond newspaper strip reprints. The stories in this volume are orginal adventures, not adapted from Ian Fleming titles.
Agents of Treachery
I've been meaning to write about this book since it came out last summer, but that half-written review is one of the many stories per year that end up buried in the Word document where I write this blog. I'll get to finishing it eventually, but I'm glad for the opportunity to talk about the book before then, because it's a great collection of short stories by some of the top spy writers in the business today. Noted spy fiction afficionado and James Bond collector Otto Pensler edited this Black Lizard anthology, and he attracted some great authors. Lee Child's 10-page story "Section 7(A) (Operational)" was far and away my favorite of a very good batch. I'd never read any Child before, and I hope this is exemplary of his work, because I'm very eager to read more after this one! That's the great thing about this book. It can serve as a perfect introduction to writers you haven't tried before (or have been meaning to try, but just haven't gotten around to) while also offering some fresh nuggets from your long-time favorites. Other contributors include the great Charles McCarry (who contributes the volume's second-best piece), Stella Rimington (whose first stab at a short story sadly falls far short of the high mark established by her novels), Olen Steinhauer (an author I was completely unfamiliar with, but very impressed by), Gayle Lynds (a sometime collaborator with the late Robert Ludlum who stands quite steadily on her own), Joseph Finder (who proves less adept at the short story format than the novel, but whose story is still entertaining, if predictable), John Lawton (another impressive entry), Andrew Klavan, Robert Wilson, Stephen Hunter, David Morrell, James Grady, John Weisman and Dan Fesperman. Some stories are better than others, but every one of them is an entertaining and rewarding read. Agents of Treachery succeeds far better than other spy anthologies, and is sure to please any fan of the genre. This book is the ideal stocking stuffer for the spy fan on your list!
Also try: full-length novels by some of the authors included, like Rimington's impressive debut At Risk, McCarry's The Tears of Autumn or Lynds' latest, The Book of Spies.
The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service
This is the perfect Christmas gift for any serious James Bond fan. Do you feel like all the new books on Bond regurgitate the same material you already know? Eager to learn something new? You'll learn it here, in Charles Helfenstein's exhaustive tome dedicated to every facet of the greatest 007 movie of all and the novel that inspired it. The most brilliant aspect of this in-depth book, though, is its breadth of scope. Using OHMSS as a jumping-off point, Helfenstein treats us to fantastic nuggets of information about many, many more subjects in the world of James Bond, from Ian Fleming to Pierce Brosnan and beyond. This is a great book, and I guarantee you will learn something new from it, even if you think you know everything there is to know about 007. It's been out for a year, but it's really flown under the radar, so that means that the Bond fan in your life is probably unlikely to have it yet, and you'll make his or her holiday with this fantastic gift.
Also try: The Battle For Bond, another book that uses the production history of one particular Bond film (Thunderball) to explore the entire history of the character.
The Avengers: A Celebration
Titan's brand new, lavishly illustrated hardcover book on the greatest spy show of all time celebrates the series' fiftieth anniversary in style with scads of glossy, never-before-seen images accompanied by insightful text by Marcus Hearn. This book has "Christmas gift" written all over it! Any Avengers fan would be thrilled to find it underneath the tree.
Also try: Saints and Avengers by James Chapman, for a very different approach to the subject matter: no pretty pictures you haven't seen before, but highly informative and thought-provoking text that proves equal parts academic and entertaining. I really must write more about this wonderful book one of these days! Like The Eurospy Guide, it was instrumental in setting me on the course that ultimately led to this blog. An absolute must for every fan for Sixties spy television.
DK's Bond Quartet: The Book of Bond, Bond Girls, Bond Villains and Bond Cars and Vehicles
These four books, each focusing on a single aspect of the Bond mythos, were made to be Christmas presents. Individually or as a set, they really make ideal gifts for casual and obsessive Bond fans alike. Nobody's going to learn anything new from these Bond books, but what you will get is (true to the publisher's signature) a great visual presentation. And everybody likes a pretty collection of pictures of Bond Girls or Bond cars! Also worth noting, oddly, is the texture of these books. DK has created a truly unique look and feel for this set. Read more about it in my full review here.
Also try: DK's James Bond: The Secret World of 007, the ideal gift for younger Bond fans. Read my review here.
Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI-5 by Christopher Andrew
Published last year but new in paperback this week, Andrew has penned a definitive history of Britain's domestic spy agency. The author's unprecedented access to declassified papers from the Security Service's earliest days makes this a must-read tome for scholars of real-life espionage.
Also try: The Secret History of MI6, Keith Jeffery's authorized history of Britain's foreign spy agency. Jeffery's similar access makes this book the ideal companion volume.
This is a book from 2009, and it was already featured on last year's Holiday Shopping Guide. But it's just so awesome that I can't help mention it again. Seriously, if you still haven't picked this up and you're a fan of Sixties spy movies or the amazing art that graced their posters or the amazing fashions that graced their stars, you need this book. Put it at the top of your Christmas list this year. Likewise, if you're looking for the ultimate gift for the spy fan in your life that they're not likely to already have, this is it. Fans of Sixties spy movies will be thrilled to find this underneath their tree. As far as I know, it's only available from the publisher's website, Fleet Street Scandal. Get a better idea of how awesome this book is by reading my full review here.
DVDs and Blu-rays
Oh man, there are so many choices this year! We've been blessed with an abundance of spy movies on the screen in 2010, and most of them are now out on DVD and Blu-ray. In addition, there have been tons of classic television series released this year, and even some obscure films making their way to home video for the first time.
Paul Greengrass's follow-up to his two Bourne movies, also starring Matt Damon, is every bit as thrilling as their previous collaborations. In fact, the put-you-in-the-middle-of-the-action shaky cam (a style of action filmmaking only Greengrass has managed to master) works even better in Green Zone than it does in Bourne. If you're shopping for a Bourne fan, get them this on Blu-ray or DVD. It's almost like having a fourth Bourne movie. Read my full review here.
Also try: The Bourne Ultimatum, Greengrass's best Bourne entry.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio
I've written about this title pretty extensively this year, so most regular readers will probably know all about it. The short version, though, is that this Sixties-set Eurospy send-up starring the great Jean Dujardin is a hilarious and loving homage to James Bond and the genre at large. It's the ideal gift for the spy fan with a sense of humor. The long version is here, in my full review.
Also try: OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, Dujardin's first outing as suave buffoon OSS 117.
Knight and Day
2010 was a big year for fun spy movies, and Knight and Day is nothing if not fun. It took a bad rap from the media for a soft American opening, but the fact is Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are both pretty great in this over-the-top action comedy. Read my review here.
Also try: Mission: Impossible III, the best entry in Cruise's more serious action spy franchise.
Out just in time (and I mean just in time, cutting it even closer than this shopping guide!) for Christmas is this summer's hit spy movie with Angelina Jolie as a female Jason Bourne. I wasn't a huge fan of this one (review here), but the first half is really solid and Jolie is good.
Also try: director Philip Noyce's earlier spy movies like Patriot Games (just $8.99 on Blu-ray right now on Amazon!) and The Quiet American.
From Paris With Love
Another very entertaining neo-Eurospy thriller from Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and the director of Taken. I was fully expecting to hate John Travolta in this, but ended up finding his performance the highlight of the film. Lionsgate has churned out a surprisingly feature-laden DVD and Blu-ray. Read my review here.
Also try: Taken: Extended Edition, Pierre Morel's previous neo-Eurospy hit.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
See above where I talk about the books. If you know someone who read and loved them, the Swedish movies are the logical next step for them–and a great gift. I haven't seen the second movie yet (where the series first veers into spy territory), but the first one was damn good.
Also try: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first film in the series.