Simon Harvester began his writing career during World War II, after being given a medical discharge from the British army. His first espionage novel, Let Them Prey (1942), was followed by some forty more, with his last work, Siberian Road, being published in 1976, the year following his death. These novels, in particular those published following World War II, are based for the most part on Harvester’s own travels and the conclusions he drew as a result of those travels. Often fictionalizations of actual events in international politics, Harvester’s novels have been praised for their authenticity and for the education they offer.
Yet the educational value of Harvester’s novels is limited, largely because most of the information they contain is dated. In addition, the account of most of the events described in the novels is colored by Harvester’s unswerving anticommunist philosophy, a philosophy to which he gave full voice in his nonfictional works, which were published under the name Henry Gibbs. In his nonfiction, Harvester analyzed the political situation in Africa and other emerging nations, giving close attention to Russian influence in these areas. Most of these works, like his award-winning study of South Africa, warn of Russian intrigues.
Harvester’s concern over the spread of communism in the Third World is clearly reflected in his fiction, particularly in his efforts to make his novels as true to life as possible. The authenticity of the novels’ settings, the topicality of their themes, their frequent reference to the myopia of free world governments, and their sometimes tiresome monologues about the Russian threat to democracy suggest that Harvester intended his fiction to be taken seriously. As a result, Harvester’s espionage novels may be read simply as exciting adventures in international espionage or they may be studied as examples of post-World War II anticommunist literature.
Harvester’s commitment to realism is also reflected in the care that he took to make his agents as authentic as possible. In creating his spies, Harvester appears to have been inspired by the writings of serious students of espionage, such as Allen Dulles, from whose book The Craft of Intelligence (1963) Harvester quotes in an epigraph in Assassins Road (1965):There is in the intelligence officer . . . a certain “front-line” mentality, a “first-line-of-defence” mentality. His awareness is sharpened because in his daily work he is almost continually confronted with evidence of the enemy in action. If the sense of adventure plays some role here, as it surely does, it is adventure with a large measure of concern for the public safety.
Harvester’s greatest spy, Dorian Silk, is this kind of intelligence officer. Featured in thirteen “Road” novels, Silk is a professional agent’s agent. Far from being a James Bond kind of spy, he is convincingly human, neither a soldier of fortune nor a devil-may-care freelancer. If adventure is involved in a Silk story—and it almost always is—there is also, underlying whatever is happening and never far from Silk’s mind, “a large measure of concern for the public safety.”
The authenticity so evident in Harvester’s settings and his characterization of men is strangely absent in the women featured in his stories. Whether this was a concession to what he believed readers of espionage novels wanted or reflective of his own bias, Harvester was apparently unable to escape from a rather jaded, lurid portrayal of the female protagonists in his novels. Throughout the novels,...
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