Books, Movies

Quiller Beats Bond

10.05.09 | 9 Comments

In the past year I’ve become a big fan of the Quiller novels of Adam Hall, a pseudonym of English novelist Elleston Trevor (most famous for The Flight of the Phoenix).

Quiller is unusual for a fictional spy. He’s extremely taciturn, with no personal relationships outside of work, and no real friends in it – only people he respects. Despite this, he frequently shows compassion to those wounded, physically or emotionally. When in the field he’s all business. He never engages in casual conversation, he probes for information. He seems to be an expert on just about every subject, especially martial arts, and has such a complete knowledge and mastery of his own physiology that he can, for example, make himself faint it required.

Now, none of that is really so unusual, but Quiller is also deeply neurotic. He loves living on the brink, but at the same time it wears away at his nerves so that he’s always at the breaking point. He frequently lies to himself or ignores his own better judgement to find the guts to continue. And there’s not a speck of humour to be found in these books, only grim irony.

Physically he’s left undefined but I always pictured him as slightly built but wiry, blonde, and generally nondescript.

Contrast that to Bond, the philandering clubman, always quick with a quip (moreso in the movies). Bond certainly sees to his business but, compared to the aescetic Quller, he certainly indulges his vices, with considerable relish.

While watching the cheesy early-80s Bond flick Octopussy the other day, it occurred to me that there’s a spy out there right now who matches up to my image of Quiller in just about every way: James Bond. The “rebooted” franchise, with its darker tone, its emphasis on skill instead of seduction, and, most of all, its Bond in Danial Craig, is just about exactly the way I’d pictured Quiller.

Go read the books, though, they’re really unique, and with the “Harry Palmer” novels of Len Deighton, really make up a sort of alternative universe of spies to the one we normally think of.


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