William F. Buckley, Jr., had been publishing books for twenty-five years by the time he came to write the Blackford Oakes novels. The story goes that he told his book editor he wanted to write something like a “Forsyth novel.” The editor thought Buckley planned a story akin to John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga (1922), perhaps featuring Buckley’s colorful family. Buckley, however, was thinking of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal (1971), about a hired killer who agrees to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle.
The book that Buckley produced—the first in the Blackford Oakes series—was Saving the Queen (1976), based in part on his own brief experience with the CIA in the early 1950’s during the Cold War period. The prevailing belief, articulated by novelists such as Graham Greene and John le Carré, was that espionage involved no morally worthy goals but was simply a sordid game or at best a means of livelihood. Buckley was disgusted with books and films that portrayed the CIA as morally reprehensible, with plots that suggested (as he described it with characteristic sarcasm) that “the evil spirit behind the killing . . . was the President of the United States or, to be really dramatic and reach all the way up, maybe even Ralph Nader.” So he “took a deep breath and further resolved that the good guys would be—the Americans.”
In Blackford Oakes, Buckley’s spy novels present what...
(The entire section is 1060 words.)
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