This French espionage writer predicted the future

Each day I make a point of reading the obituaries in the New York Times. In November they marked the passing of the French writer Gerard de Villiers. They noted that he had written a series of spy novels featuring a character named Malko Linge.

In 1964 de Villiers was a journalist when one of his editors mentioned to him that Ian Fleming, the creator of the James Bond series, had just died. His editor thought Fleming’s death might provide an opening for de Villiers. He suggested: “You should take over” and start writing spy novels. His editor’s brilliant suggestion inspired him to publish his first Malko Linge spy novel the following year. While he wasn’t taking over Fleming’s franchise his secret agent character does bear some passing resemblance to James Bond.

Over the next half century he produced almost 200 books in the series. Do the math. He was writing four or five books every year. That’s James Patterson territory. This prodigious output paid off. He sold over 120 million copies of his books and lived luxuriously.

The author developed close contacts with people involved in espionage.

He was so well informed he was able to sometimes uncannily predict events in his novels that then actually happened after his books came out. This series is relatively unknown in the U.S. They have been massively popular in France.

Malko Linge is an aristocratic Austrian working as a sub-contractor for the CIA. The most recent book to be translated into English, “The Madmen of Benghazi,” was just published here. It was released in France six months before the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens was killed there. In this book the author eerily foresees the rise of Islamist jihadis in Benghazi and the CIA’s efforts to curtail them.

As the book begins Ibrahim al-Senussi, an exiled Libyan nobleman, is living the high life in Europe with his fashion model girlfriend, Cynthia Mulligan. Someone has planted the notion in his mind that with the recent overthrow of the Libyan dictator Qaddafi there could be an opportunity for him to become Libya’s next ruler.

They will need to lure him to Cairo first. As their jet is about to land in Egypt someone fires a missile at it. It misses. On board nobody is aware of this close call. The couple checks in to their hotel.

Malko Linge is close by shadowing them.

Linge’s CIA bosses want him to seduce al-Senussi’s girlfriend.

Linge will then have better access to intelligence. Standard operating procedure in this series apparently calls for unpredictable sex and predictable violence.

The action shifts to Libya — al-Senussi is ensnared by a terrorist who wants to expunge this potential rival amidst the post-Qaddafi chaos.

Linge follows close behind. He must protect al-Senussi. Things get very crazy. Linge takes al-Senussi’s girlfriend into Libya with him. She cannot comprehend why Linge isn’t genuinely enthralled by her. She doesn’t understand he’s a spy.

For each book the author went to the country he planned to write about, spent two weeks there, then six more weeks writing. He obviously scoped out the ruins of post-Qaddafi Libya: “both sides of the highway along here were littered with the hulks of tanks and armored vehicles, their turrets and treads destroyed and their flanks pierced.”

While this series will never be considered classic literature it is entertaining. Additional titles are now available in translation.

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Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Friday at 1:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, go online to www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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