As he states in the introduction, editor Otto Penzler has collected “a veritable who’s who of today’s most highly regarded thrillers, as well as the most widely read” for Agents of Treachery, a collection of short stories in the spy/thriller genre. The contributors are Lee Child, Dan Fesperman, Joseph Finder, James Grady, Stephen Hunter, Andrew Klavan, John Lawton, Gayle Lynds, Charles McCarry, David Morrell, Stella Rimington, Olen Steinhauer, John Weisman, and Robert Wilson. Penzler asserts this is the first such “collection of original stories” for the genre and what makes the endeavor most intriguing is, likely due in part to the complexity normally associated with the plots, the format is not often used to tell such tales.
The authors present an interesting cast of characters in a series of adventures that cover the globe. Grady’s “Destiny City” finds Sami working undercover within a terrorist cell inside the District of Columbia. Great tension as plan commences and authorities close in. In the Boston area, architect Matt Parker is suspicious of his Persian “Neighbors” in Finder’s dark comedy. It concludes with a good though not surprising twist. Child’s “Section 7(A) (Operational)” gets a little meta as the leader of a secret mission into Iran uses code that references writing. Lynds “Max Is Calling” finds CIA operative Bay learning the ropes the hard way on the streets of Vienna. Morrell’s provocative tale about “The Interrogator” questions how well the family business works.
Thankfully, the authors don’t restrict themselves to a post-9/11 world. This is made clear at the onset as McCarry’s “The End of the String” where CIA operative Mr. Brown witnesses the overthrow of the president of a fictional African president during the Eisenhower presidency. In a case of mistaken identity, George Horsfield gets caught up in an amusing Cold War tale of espionage and blackmail as the swinging sixties in London come to a close in Lawton’s “East of Suez, West of Charing Cross Road.” Hunter’s “Casey at the Bat” goes back to WWII and German-occupied France over the course of a few days in June 1944. As the story played out, it had the feel of an old movie.
Penzler has gathered together a talented bunch of writers, and they have delivered well-written, engaging stories filled with characters equally as compelling as their plots. Agents of Treachery will delight fans that read thrillers and also motivate authors who write them.