Desmond Bagley Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Desmond Bagley wrote fourteen novels. His work has often been recommended to the young adult reader as well as to the adult fan of suspense and adventure fiction. His typical main character is an intelligent man who thinks of himself as an ordinary workingman. The protagonist is able to use his wits as well as his special hobbyist or professional expertise to solve mysteries or, more likely, to escape danger. The settings include countries or environments—South Africa, the Yucatán, Greenland, Iran—that are foreign to most English readers’ experience. Suspense, special knowledge, and setting all contribute to the reader’s sense of discovery and enjoyment. Bagley puts himself in the camp of John le Carré, considering espionage more evil than necessary, rather than in the camp of Ian Fleming, whose hero cannot lose or be representative of anything less than the right. Bagley did not become as famous as did le Carré or Robert Ludlum in espionage or as Dick Francis has become in tales of the amateur sleuth. It may be that Bagley’s novels lack the signature touches, the disenchanted George Smiley, the ultracomplex plots, the horse-racing connection, which have made the reputations of these authors. Nevertheless, Bagley’s novels are worth discovering. His main characters have integrity, and they are driven to solve their various problems in ways that engage the reader.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bagley, Desmond. “A Word with Desmond Bagley.” Interview by Deryk Harvey. The Armchair Detective 7 (August, 1974): 258-260. A revealing interview that details Bagley’s approach to writing and his appraisal of the state of the mystery genre in the mid-to late twentieth century.

Bagley, Desmond. Interview. The Mystery FANcier 7 (March/April, 1983): 13-18. Bagley discusses his work and his writing process.

Keating, H. R. F., ed. Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense, and Spy Fiction. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982. Reader’s guide to various crime genres focused especially on the representation of criminals. Index. Provides context for understanding Bagley’s work.

Priestman, Martin, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Critical study consisting of fifteen overview essays devoted to specific genres or periods within crime fiction. Contains a chapter on spy fiction as well as one on thrillers that will shed light on Bagley’s works. Bibliographic references and index.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A post-structural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Contains some mention of Bagley and places his work in context.

Winn, Dilys, ed. Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader’s Companion. New York: Workman, 1977. Overview of the mystery genre, its conventions, and its practitioners. Helps readers understand Bagley’s place in the genre.