THE SILENT GAME chiefly concentrates on the origins of the British spy thriller. Granting, like most intelligence historians, that the public establishment of MI5 in 1909 owed itself in part to the effect of the novels of William LeQueux, Stafford highlights in turn the thriller writers of each subsequent decade.
THE SILENT GAME makes, again, a point of tracing the connections between the practitioner-author and the British intelligence system as it was created through both world wars. From the likes of John Buchan (later Lord Tweedsmuir and Governor General of Canada) through Graham Greene to John le Carre (with an interesting analysis of Ian Fleming’s transitional role), Stafford codifies much of the analysis already in print.
Stafford’s aim may be to do for the spy thriller what once was done for the mystery novel by Dorothy Sayers or Ellery Queen—that is, claim for the genre a place of literary consequence. In that, THE SILENT GAME’s essays are a useful contribution. However, Stafford only lightly treats the quality which makes the espionage novel unique. The mystery novel is only rarely written to make political matters, which are so dangerous as to be forbidden by law and contract, public. Espionage novels, starting with Buchan’s barely fictionalized account of Aubrey Herbert’s intelligence work in World War I (as Sandy Arbuthnot in GREENMANTLE) and continuing today with the “rogue” ex-CIA or ex-MI6 authors, derive much of their effect from that objective alone.
Stafford’s work is otherwise a useful introduction to the authors and titles of the field.