- Who’s on first by William Buckley
Allen Lane, 276 pp, £5.95, September 1980, ISBN 0 7139 1359 2
There are two ways of writing spy stories. One is to have the rival spies play out their contest in isolation, unconnected with the real world of armies and grain deals and elections. Real-life espionage is probably like this a lot of the time. Although the real function of spies is to find out about the other side’s army, nevertheless the most prestigious section of an intelligence department is normally the section that spies on the other side’s intelligence department. John le Carré writes novels about this kind of espionage: we know that whether or not Smiley defeats Karla, it will make no difference to the price of eggs. The alternative is to link the spies with some event or threat of world-shaking importance, like the assassination of De Gaulle or the kidnapping of Churchill.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.