Reading recommendations for spies – Quiller

Ian Fleming didn’t leave to the reader’s imagination what James Bond liked to read. As written by Edward Biddulph on the excellent James Bond site – Artistic License Renewed – we can see some of the books Bond perused while off duty.

We’re not as lucky with other famous fictional spies. That’s the idea behind this occasional series. What might be sitting on the nightstands of some of the best spies in fiction?

Quiller – a character created by Adam Hall


Quiller is the one of the best operatives out there. Working for “The Bureau,” a shadowy organization that reports directly to the British Prime Minister, he is one of several agents that go into the field. He doesn’t use guns and is typically sent to dangerous “red zones” to burrow into some type of conspiracy. Whether tasked with the rescue of a source, retrieving a lost weapon or killing a double agent, he takes on the most difficult jobs and still manages to come out the other side. The novels are told in the first person, shifting into the occasional stream of consciousness when the mission starts getting especially sticky.

What would or should he read?

Quiller never fails to have trouble getting along with his bosses or his control in the field. For that reason my first suggestion would be to keep Dealing with People you can’t Stand by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner on his nightstand. The book looks at the various types of people you encounter in work situations and how to best manage dealing with them. It might mean a shorter Quiller novel if there’s no workplace drama but I’m sure it would be soothing to Quiller’s soul. Given the way Quiller’s boss Croder always manages to manipulate Quiller into taking on missions initially turned down, Croder may already have a copy.

During the typical Quiller novel we are given a glimpse into his view of the human psyche. Since that tends to be an important part of each book, I  reached out to Tim Stevensspy writer, Quiller fan and expert in psychiatry – for what he would recommend. Tim let me know about two books that Quiller actually mentions – Psychocybernetics by Maxwell Maltz and The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra – both of which were breaking new ground at the time but 40 plus years on have fallen out of favor. If Quiller were interested in reading something a bit more current Tim suggests Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett saying it’s “[t]he best attempt at explaining consciousness I’ve ever wrestled with, and it would be right up Q’s street.”

I’d also like to suggest a book of fiction that Q might enjoy. This gets a bit tricky but I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think Quiller might find a kindred soul in Ursula Todd from Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life. In the novel we follow Ursula’s life throughout the 20th century as she dies and is reborn again and again. Reliving choices and taking us through various possibilities in her childhood, the blitz, even a meeting with Hitler, Atkinson is a master at bringing you into the mind and actions of her characters, similar to Adam Hall’s Quiller. Ursula lives with the knowledge that every moment could lead to death and, live or die, she can’t stop but has to get up and try again. It’s an attitude I believe Quiller would recognize and respect.

Those are my suggestions. Do you know of a book Quiller mentions reading that I missed? Do you have a better suggestion of a book he should be reading? Let me know in the comments or reach out on Twitter – @spywrite.

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