Cloak and Swagger

Spy stories, whether via book or movie have always drawn me into their cover. I love the spies, the intrigue; the secretive chess game of espionage. Maybe it is the Mata Hari in me. (Mata Hari: the Dutch exotic dancer accused of spying for Germany)

In the sixties as a teenager, I read John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Later, I would watch the movie version with Richard Burton. I thought the book better than Burton’s sulky performance.

Also during the sixties, I watched the TV series I Spy. The show was different in many exciting ways by including cold war topics and the first black man in a major starring role: Bill Cosby. Robert Culp and Bill Cosby portrayed CIA agents under the guise of tennis player and tennis pro. As I recall, it was the first serious attempt at portraying espionage on TV.

Of course there are Ian Fleming’s James Bond series of novels. Dr. No was the first book I read in the series. Casino Royale with David Niven was the first Bond movie I viewed. Having seen all of the Bond movies along the way I would say that Daniel Craig’s James Bond is the best version of James. In my opinion, the latest version of Casino Royale starring Craig is the best Bond movie ever. (Quantum of Solace, the next Craig-Bond movie was good but not as good as the unforgettable Casino Royale (remember the high-stakes poker game?).

The rest of the Bond movies were for me just farcical romps and self-indulgent commercial spoofs – kitsch. I take my Bond seriously (I do give a damn). Daniel Craig, with his rugged good looks, has the cocky swagger of a worldly wise man and the wild abandon of a boy look in his eyes. He plays the role on target.

Besides the le Carré book mentioned above I have read his A Perfect Spy. I met Magnus Pym in those pages. Later, I would meet George Smiley in LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. From these stories I learned about moles, safe houses, cryptograms and some of the jargon used in covert operations including “circus” (the in house name for MI6) and “the cousins” (the CIA).

The Bourne Identity is a great spy series. Matt Damon fits the Jason Bourne part exactly. I enjoyed all three of the movies until I learned of Matt Damon’s Boston-liberal politics and his affinity for the acknowledged Communist Howard Zinn and his book The People’s History. I don’t watch these movies any more because of Matt Damon’s politics.

Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity series reminded of a book I read several years ago: Secret Weapons : Two Sisters’ Terrifying True Story of Sex, Spies and Sabotage. In this true account the Hersha sisters claim that before the age of seven they were inducted into a covert, government-authorized, mind-control program designed to spawn spies and assassins.

These days I am watching a TV series about a spy who came in from the cold. Actually, the agent was dropped out of the sky and into the ocean near hot steamy Miami. The spy has been burned (taken out of service), hence the title Burn Notice. Michael Westen, played by Jeffrey Donovan, is the burned spy.

The series has Michael looking for information about who burned him and why. In the mean time Michael has to “pay the bills” so he reluctantly works as an unlicensed private detective. In doing so he deals with all types of rogues and scoundrels and their illegal business, helping others in difficult situations. He goes after the bullies of the world. His real desire, though, is to go back to the life as a full time CIA operative.

Burn Notice is a refreshingly cool TV series and not the typical law and order, crime scene banality of so many other TV dramas, including the Chicago Code. And, Burn Notice doesn’t take itself seriously. It is a treat to watch for spy junkies like me.

Burn Notice characters are interesting and likable. There’s Sam (ex-Navy Seal and Michael’s friend), Fiona (ex-IRA operative and Michael’s ex-girlfriend) and Michael’s mother played by Sharon Gless (of Cagney and Lacey fame). There’s also a host of despicable and undercover characters who are given on-screen descriptions as they appear in the story. Smart, sexy and funny.

The writing is crisp, simple and often tongue-in-cheek funny. Michael’s voice over provides the viewer with a description of the situation at hand and the methods and devices a smart operative would use to rectify the situation. That, in itself, is soooo cool.

The series was voted as a Favorite TV Obsession at the 37th Peoples Choice Awards. I watch it every week and have never been disappointed. And, what can I say? Jeffrey Donovan is … hot. But, I was talking about spy stuff in this blog so…

Each week Sally Paradise (my nom de guerre) covertly watches Burn Notice and dreams of Michael Westen as The Spy Who Loved Me.

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