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Friday, 9 July 2010

Spies of the Modern World

Just when we thought the world of espionage was consigned to the pages of addictive novels set in the past, ten so-called suburban spies are winging their way back to Moscow as we speak. In return, four Russian prisoners, spies themselves, are being exchanged. To my mind, that’s not such a great bargain or maybe it’s to do with the quality of the work. Maybe the West has a tab whereby they are owed another six, to be returned at some stage in the future! I wonder what fate awaits these men and women whose mission to report back juicy secrets from the Western World has been abruptly aborted.

I’m in the middle of Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst, a novel set in Salonika around 1940. Costa Zannis, a former detective, finds himself smuggling the disenfranchised from Germany out to safety in Istanbul, beyond the reach of Hitler and his henchmen. Furst is the author of ten such novels and I’m sure he’s rubbing his hands with glee as material for a further ten novels is unfolding before our very eyes. I can see the Hollywood movie being worked on before the ink on the deportation papers has dried: the rugged arms analyst, a nuclear specialist, double-identities, money laundering, four sets of parents raising seven children, and a redhead who has made quite a name for herself on social-networking sites. Stars and starlets are going to be throwing themselves at possible directors; can’t you just see Julia Roberts as Anna Chapman or is she too old for the role now?

I loved reading how commentators in Russia have chafed at the obvious lack of results of the spy ring and ridiculed the low level of their training. Maybe there’s a job for Fás here, the Irish government agency responsible for helping the unemployed get back in the work place (though more lately known for those at the top of the organisation and their profligacy, foreign travel and expenses). They couldn’t do any worse in training the modern spy, or could they?

What we all should realise is that history continually repeats itself, and all of us are prone to the failings laid out in the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Instead of going out to spy on other peoples and nations, we should all look inside ourselves and see what we can improve in our own back yard.

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