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February 3rd, 2013

Today's (3 February 2013) Sunday New York Times Magazine has an article about an author I'd never heard of who has given me the strongest urge yet to learn French.

Not the desire to read in the original the likes of Flaubert, Proust, Balzac, Zola, Jules Verne, Joseph Kessel, Henri-Pierre Roché, Albert Simonin, Auguste le Breton, Georges Bataille, Zoé Oldenbourg, Marguerite Yourcenar, Jean-Christophe Rufin, Pierre Guyotat, or even François Villon; nor the laughably remote possibility of extended trips to either Paris or Montreal (though Montreal is "only" an eight-hour train trip away from me, it might as well be on the ass-end of one of Saturn's moons). No, the one thing that might, just might, prompt me to actually learn French is the work of the author of the long-running (196 books and counting; he's working on the 197th book now) SAS (Son Altesse Sérénissime; "His Serene Highness" in English) series of novels, the 83-year old Gérard de Villiers.

According to Robert F. Worth's article "The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much," De Villiers is a right-wing journalist turned pulp thriller spy novelist who transcends his genre (and his fondness for writing explicit sex scenes -- his titular hero, the Austrian prince Malko Linge, has "a penchant for sodomy" -- and "[b]rutal rapes [that] are described in excruciating physiological detail") by the breadth and depth of his contacts with various countries' intelligence agencies. De Villiers has long since reached the point in his career as a pulp novelist where various intelligence employees -- executives, operatives and analysts -- seek him out like fanboys, and feed him material for future books. Worth writes,

"...I spoke to a former C.I.A. operative who has known de Villiers for decades. 'I recommend to our analysts to read his books, because there's a lot of real information in there....He's tuned into all the security services, and he knows all the players.'

"Why do all these people divulge so much to a pulp novelist? I put the question to de Villiers the last time we met.....'They always have a motive,' he said....'They want the information to go out. And they know a lot of people read my books, all the intelligence agencies.'"


As to the type of inside poop to be found in the SAS novels, Worth writes:

"Nearly a year ago he published a novel about the threat of Islamist groups in post-revolutionary Libya that focused on jihadis in Benghazi and on the role of the C.I.A. in fighting them. The novel, 'Les Fous de Benghazi,' came out six months before the death of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and included descriptions of the C.I.A. command center in Benghazi (a closely held secret at that time), which was to become central in the controversy over Stevens’s death. Other de Villiers books have included even more striking auguries. In 1980, he wrote a novel in which militant Islamists murder the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, a year before the actual assassination took place. When I asked him about it, de Villiers responded with a Gallic shrug. 'The Israelis knew it was going to happen,' he said, 'and did nothing.'”


As to what de Villiers has on tap for his next novel:

"'It goes back to an old story,' he said. 'Lockerbie.' The book is based on the premise that it was Iran — not Libya — that carried out the notorious 1988 airliner bombing. The Iranians went to great lengths to persuade Muammar el-Qaddafi to take the fall for the attack, which was carried out in revenge for the downing of an Iranian passenger plane by American missiles six months earlier, de Villiers said. This has long been an unverified conspiracy theory, but when I returned to the United States, I learned that de Villiers was onto something. I spoke to a former C.I.A. operative who told me that 'the best intelligence' on the Lockerbie bombing points to an Iranian role. It is a subject of intense controversy at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., he said, in part because the evidence against Iran is classified and cannot be used in court, but many at the agency believe Iran directed the bombing."


I also didn't know that Georges Simenon, the creator of Commissaire Jules Maigret, was "famously...perverted"; Worth wonders if Simenon was one of de Villiers' literary influences, along with Curzio Malaparte (best known as the author of the 1944 novel Kaputt) and Georges Arnaud, who told de Villiers "'that he started life by murdering his father, his aunt and the maid.' (Arnaud was tried and acquitted for those murders, possibly by a rigged jury.)"

Seriously, if you haven't already used up your allotment of ten free articles from the NY Times this month (assuming that you're not a subscriber), and you've even a passing interest in how the world's spooks (or at least the Western world's spooks) disseminate information and show off to each other, give this article a dekko.



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