He named five of the best forgotten Cold War thrillers for Sophie Roell at The Browser, including:
The Private Sector by Joseph Hone.Read about the other books on Duns's list.
Hone is pretty much completely forgotten now, but I think he rates with le Carré, and he’s quite similar to le Carré in prose style. The difference is that it has a lot more suspense than le Carré, quite a lot more melodrama, a lot more twists and turns in the action. But it’s beautifully described. It’s like reading Graham Greene or Eric Ambler – but yet it has quite a modern, twisty-turny feel to it as well.
I discovered this book by pure chance in a second-hand bookshop in Brussels years ago and I have read all of the novels Hone has written – I think there are five. But this is probably the best one. It’s set in 1967 mainly, in Egypt, and it’s to do with double agents, and also triple agents. It’s just brilliant characterisation but also an incredibly bleak picture. I quite like bleak novels about espionage and this one is very much of the old school: very cynical, hard-hitting spies betraying each other the entire time. But also the depiction of Egypt is fantastically atmospheric; it’s a brilliant book.
It’s also about the run-up to the Suez crisis?
It alternates between two different times. It’s about Suez, and it’s also about the Israel-Egypt stuff that went on 1967. It alternates between the two. At the centre of it is a classic mole hunt, which was very common in all of those British spy thrillers of the day, with a kind of Philby-esque character in it. But it’s about a guy who is an English teacher at a small English school in Cairo, which is based on an English boarding school, and he gets dragged reluctantly into this spy ring. It’s just brilliantly done.
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