My association with the spy genre is probably about as bad as yours. I first go to those shitty 90’s James Bond movies that were all about silly gadgets and nefarious, mustache twirling villains. Doesn’t do much for me, really. It is really hard to get that taste out of my mouth, and I still have a natural eye-roll at the very notion of ‘spy’ as a genre. it just isn’t very appealing.
The meta-narrative around how the spy-genre came to be as it is in its modern conception is a lot more interesting. Actual spy work is really very boring (I am always remind of the Doug Stanhope joke where he pities the poor NSA agent who actually has to listen to the unending reals of recordings about what Susy-from-down the street DARED say about Jane-from-across-town at the Sunday social), probably a lot more bureaucratic, and likely wouldn’t make for captivating cinema. So who would write a book about it?
The people who went through it, that’s who.
Grey Day is actually a rather interesting story. Eric O’Neil was the FBI operative who brought down an FBI double agent working in the Bureau. Eric O’Neil was the actual person who was tasked with getting close to Robert Hanssen, who had been selling FBI secrets to foreign governments, notably the Russians.
Alright, so I was needlessly mean in the above description of spy stories. But it was useful to set up the distinction. This story is ultimately a little bit on the dry side. That’s what the expectation of the genre have done to us. There aren’t any car chases in this book, and for that I am pretty grateful. A lot of the tension from this recounting of the events come from O’Neil not being able to tell his wife what was going on, or from him trying to balance what was starting to feel like a pretty real friendship / relationship beginning to develop with his target towards the end of the story. That is actually extremely interesting. And I wish it had gotten just a little more attention in this story. But other descriptions of events that were likely meant to be more dramatic didn’t really come off, though they did seem to feel clever in regards to how certain situations were solved. But, again, that just might be the expectations of the ever looming spy genre breathing down the neck of this narrative.
I liked this book, but I think I liked it a little too pragmatically. These days it seems like people are a little too keen to run off with wild theories that resemble our fiction more than our facts. Books like this seems to calm that a little bit.