The Spies who Never Were – Lost Manuscripts

One of the ideas that can set a book lover’s mind aflutter is the idea of a “lost” story by one of their favorite authors. This is especially true for fans of espionage fiction. Finding a famous author’s lost gem hit a new high with the release of Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz. This latest James Bond continuation novel integrated an old Bond script treatment dug up from Ian Fleming’s files.

How do we define these “lost” stories? Some are truly gone forever, some never written, some never published, others out of print for decades and finally, some that were “lost” and now found. Below are some of the more interesting instances now declassified for your review.

Gone forever

W. Somerset Maugham – Every “literary” spy novelist owes a debt of gratitude to Maugham. His espionage short stories, collected in Ashenden, set a high bar for lyricism and three dimensional characters that others, such as Graham Greene and John le Carré, would follow up on.

Like Greene and le Carré, Maugham was also a former intelligence operative. In his case it was during the First World War.
Churchill and Maugham around the bonfire.


The story goes that when Maugham showed his stories to Winston Churchill, Churchill found 14 of the stories still too sensitive to publish. On his advice Maugham reportedly burned those stories. Although there were recently unsubstantiated rumors that the stories had been rediscovered they have yet to appear in the wild. If they really are gone forever, it’s truly a loss to literature.

Never published

Charles McCarry – He’s known as the American counterpart to the UK’s John le Carré, but we’ve only seen 11 novels from McCarry versus le Carré’s 23. However, according to an interview with McCarry, his first two novels were never published and sit in a storage unit somewhere in Florida.

These were written before he joined the CIA and most likely do not deal with espionage. Still, it’s a tantalizing thought that we may someday see novels from one of the masters of the spy novel appear on the show “Storage Wars.”

J.D. Salinger – One of the more intriguing news items to come out of the recent Salinger biography is about one of his unseen stories. Apparently, he wrote an espionage story and this revelation is very exciting given his limited output of work. It’s described as “a World War II novella that ’takes the form of a counterintelligence agent’s diaries … culminating in the Holocaust’” Supposedly this previously unseen novella will be published in the next several years. Fingers crossed.

John le Carré – He’s the biggest living espionage author out there still producing new novels and seeing adaptations of his works on film and television. Having regularly released novels on a 3 year schedule, we would expect his next to appear in 2016/2017. However, according to the new biography written by Adam Sisman, in 2015 le Carré set aside the novel based off an idea from a Joseph Conrad story he had been working on. Given the way publishing works, he easily could have been two years into the writing of this novel.

Le Carré is instead working on some type of memoir to be released in September 2016. Will he pick this story back up again? Or will the latest novel by this master writer go unread?

Adam Diment – Diment, who burst on the spy scene in 1967, has been an object of mystery for the past fifty years. At the age of 23 he created Philip McAlpine, a hip young spy living in London at the center of the sixties social revolution. When he sold a boatload of books over a short period of 4 years he became a celebrity in his own right.

Diment disappeared after his last novel in 1971 and his books have not been reprinted since. Wild rumors of what happened abound but the reality seems more mundane; a young man got bored and decided to try something new.

What does seems clear is that he kept writing . . . something. No one knows exactly what type of books or stories are out there.

Perhaps an article that recently appeared in Esquire UK looking into what happened to the author will spur a re-release of his novels and new stories.

Len Deighton – Deighton created the first spy made for the sixties, a sharp contrast to Fleming’s cold killer spy. His unnamed narrator was a working class bloke just trying to pay his bills as a spy in swinging London.
However, even Deighton couldn’t resist taking a crack at upper crust James Bond when he was asked to write film scripts for both From Russia With Love and Never Say Never Again. As detailed in his wonderful ebook, James Bond: My long and eventful search for his father, we learn about the various personalities involved in making the Bond movies. His scripts ended up heavily rewritten by other writers and copies of his original versions have been lost to the sands of time. That can’t keep fans of both Deighton and Fleming from wondering how his Bond would look.

Geoffrey Jenkins – There must be at least 700 “lost” 007 stories out there. Jeremy Duns, himself a spy writer, has researched many of them. One of the more interesting stories surrounds Jenkins’ James Bond story – Per Fine Ounce.

Jenkins was a friend of Fleming and they had worked on potential story ideas set in South Africa for a future Bond book that never came to fruition. After Fleming passed away, Jenkins was reminded of this story, dusted it off and received approval from the Bond publishers to work on a continuation novel.

There are varying stories on what occurred next. Either the draft turned in was not very good, the publishers lost interest, or something else, but the book was never published and subsequently lost. Recently, the surviving fragments of Jenkins story were used by author Peter Vollmer to create a non-James Bond version of the novel, adding yet another twist to the mystique of 007. Bond wouldn’t have it any other way.

Never written

Kingsley Amis – Amis is known not only as a well regarded literary novelist but also the first James Bond superfan. He wrote two books on Bond – The James Bond Dossier and The Book of Bond – before being tapped to write the first published Bond continuation novel under the pseudonym Robert Markham.

In 1963, long before his connection to Bond, Amis reached out to a who’s who of top thriller and espionage authors to contribute to a science fiction anthology. Eric Ambler, Alistair MacLean, Maugham, Fleming and more were all contacted to see if they would contribute. The letters recently came up for sale and are a captivating read. Whether through a lack of interest from authors or Amis changing his mind, the project never saw publication.

It all leads to a fascinating “What if?” Would we have seen a book of espionage – in space? Unfortunately, this is one we’ll never know.

Out of print

Ian MacKintosh – MacKintosh created and wrote the great television series The Sandbaggers that aired on ITV in Britain in the late seventies. Before dying in a mysterious plane crash he adapted two of the episodes into a novel. The novel is still relatively easily found with second hand dealers. More elusive is a short story he wrote for the “TV Times,” the weekly tv listings magazine everyone used before such things as DVRs were a possibility. I haven’t found it online or that issue available for purchase on ebay or other places.

Lost and Found

Michael Crichton– Before he was known for his brand of techno-thrillers, Crichton was writing pulp thrillers in med school under a pseudonym of John Lange. Scratch One is from 1967 and an Ambler-esque type of “ordinary-man-caught-up-in-espionage” novel. Binary, released in 1972, was a secret agent novel with a James Bond type of character. After being out of print for 50 years, both novels were re-published in the 2010’s with other adventure novels Crichton wrote in that timeframe.

Graham Greene – Greene wrote some must-read novels about intelligence officers. Early in his career, Greene would differentiate between his spy and non-spy stories, many times labeling them “entertainments” versus his more serious literary novels.

He also had a successful career as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. In 2005, nearly 15 years after he died, two spy story treatments he wrote were bundled together and released. Attempting to follow up on his success with 1949’s The Third Man,  No Man’s Land was a about a spy sent to cross the iron curtain. The Stranger’s Hand followed a young boy in Venice looking for his missing father whom he believes to be a spy. Both are mere wisps of stories, but again, some interesting glimpses into what might have been.

James Mitchell
Before becoming a television show starring Edward Woodward, James Mitchell was writing a successful series of novels based on his character Callan. In addition to several novels he also wrote dozens of short stories featuring the character that appeared in places like the Sunday Express and the TV Times. Unless you’ve been clipping articles for the past 50 years or have a parent that hoards old newspapers finding those stories is difficult.

Luckily, Top Notch Thrillers and Mitchell’s son teamed up to re-release these stories in hard copy and ebook. They are well worth picking up.

Update: Since this was first written I’ve posted on a couple of other authors.

Donald Westlake: Lost Bond Story

Eric Ambler: Eric Ambler’s lost novel

Are other lost novels out there? These are all I’ve found, but please leave a comment in the dead drop below with any others.


2 thoughts on “The Spies who Never Were – Lost Manuscripts

  1. Pingback: The Spies who Never were – Update – Spy Write

  2. Pingback: The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry – Review – Spy Write

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