It’s amazing what you find when you start digging. But, geez, you have to dig.
A while ago I’d thought there weren’t that many Australian authors writing espionage fiction, but as it turns out that’s not the case. They can just be a little hard to find, often because they’ve been lumped into the more generic ‘thriller’ or crime categories, or because they’re not strictly genre writers so when they do write an espionage novel it’s not as recognizable an event.
There’s also not a single point of truth about Australian writers in the spy genre as far as I can tell. For example, the fabulous Australian Crime Writers don’t keep a list of espionage writers as a stand-alone category and you’re left to, for example, trawl through entries in the Ned Kelly Awards or author bios to find them. Likewise with Damien Gay’s otherwise awesome Australian Crime Fiction Database, espionage writers are not currently tagged or searchable there, so distinguishing them from crime or thriller writers can be difficult and time-consuming. The exception is the splendid AustCrime site, and my thanks to Karen for pointing out the work done on tagging writers there.
So, they’re out there, if hard to find, and while some are not necessarily writing about the Australian intelligence community, preferring instead to pitch their narratives to a global audience more interested in US or UK agencies and plots, there’s a wealth of intelligence-related writing from Australian authors that’s worth giving a go. And it is pleasing to see some writers locating more of their plotting in an Australian context.
For example, I just finished Safe Haven by Sandy McCutcheon (well known to me as a journalist but not as a spy writer), and prior to that Due Preparations for the Plauge by Janette Turner Hospital – both, incidentally, as audiobooks from Bolinda, and both not genre writers.
Neither had an Australian intelligence community focus, but both of these books represent the best in espionage writing in my opinion, being literary, thoughtful and well-researched, with complex plotting and characters.
One of the things I like about Mark Abernethy‘s and Chris Allen‘s work is the use of Australian agencies, characters and settings. It’s refreshing after a long time reading UK and US writers to have such recognizably antipodean stories. For the same reason I’m looking forward to starting on Greg Barron‘s work soon, and reading Deborah Burrows’s A Time of Secrets, which is based in WW2 Melbourne.
One of the most interesting discoveries I made recently was about Ric Throssell‘s espionage writing – though he doesn’t rate a mention on the pages I mention above, which is curious. I now have a couple of his books to read and given his personal and family background expect them to be quite something.
I’m still on the hunt for more Australian women writers in the genre. It’s been hard to find many so far in my experience – though the Sisters in Crime Australia site is a great start – so if you’re reading this and have any tips then please let me know!