May 3, 2005
"Greatest espionage novel ever written" back in print . . .
by Dennis Johnson
“It’s tempting to say that Charles McCarry‘s The Tears of Autumn is the greatest espionage novel ever written by an American,” says Brendan Bernhard, apparently by way of politely avoiding the question, “Who is Charles McCarry?” On the occasion of the re-publication of Tears — out of print for a decade — by Overlook Press, Bernhard profiles the reclusive author in an in-depth interview that reveals McCarry was a real-live spy, working for the CIA under “deep cover.” And what, exactly, does “deep cover” mean? “Oh it’s laughable,” McCarry tells Bernhard. “What it means is that you have an ostensible occupation, a cover job, and that you don’t go about introducing yourself as a CIA agent. You don’t work out of an embassy, in fact you don’t go near an embassy, and all of your meetings and reporting take place clandestinely.² What’s more, he says, “It’s one of the most boring occupations in the world, punctuated by moments of ecstasy. You sit around for days, sometimes for weeks, waiting for something you think you have made happen, to happen. And sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t.” Meanwhile, Bernhard also reveals that Overlook has plans to re-release McCarry’s entire backlist of seven novels. And as for his writing, Otto Penzler, owner of New York’s Mysterious Bookshop, says, “McCarry’s a towering intelligence, an utterly brilliant man. You have the sense that this man knows everything, and that finds its way onto the page.”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives