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Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton Hardcover – July 15, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

This fictional account of the life of James Jesus Angleton, founder of the American counterintelligence establishment, will make readers wish for the humor and high jinks of Blackie Oakes, William F. Buckley Jr.'s much more engaging fictional spy. As the novel opens, Angleton is being summarily locked out of the halls of power and plotting his final act: the unmasking of the famed Fifth Man involved in the scandals that rocked England when Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Anthony Blount were unmasked as traitors. But before he lets the reader in on the identity of the Fifth Man, Buckley traces Angleton's career through his involvement in a number of espionage cases, all rooted in the cold war and apparently chosen to illustrate Buckley's ongoing (and already decided) battle with his favorite nemesis, Soviet communism.

Angleton's lifelong obsession with Philby is the engine that drives Spytime, but there are too many miles on it to make what passes for a plot hold the reader's interest. On the brighter side, Buckley's erudition puts a fine polish on the chassis. Cold Warrior, Tom Mangold's fine biography of Angleton, is a more evenhanded treatment of the life of this complicated man, but Buckley's is more fun to take to the beach. --Jane Adams

From Library Journal

Author of the best-selling "Blackford Oakes" series, Buckley here takes on the core of spying--recruiting, training, and deceit. Many former spies make cameo appearances in this profile of James Jesus Angleton, a real spymaster who ran the counterintelligence operations of the CIA for decades after World War II. The introduction of young agents gives Buckley a lot of room for sexy interludes, professorial expositions, and energetic episodes. Throughout the book, the intellectual appeal of espionage separates this from the usual cloak-and-dagger story. Sure to be a favorite, this novel successfully explores the enigmatic life of a Cold Warrior. For all popular fiction collections.
---Barbara Conaty, Library of Congress
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (July 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151005133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151005130
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

William F. Buckley's novels all intrigue me.
Daniel Berger
Buckley touches on all this only very lightly at the end of this short work, but the simple brushstrokes paint a poignant picture.
Mark Edward Bachmann
Too many, too much, too confusing?, not for a moment.
taking a rest

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mark Edward Bachmann on November 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
William Buckley has in his later years developed a surprising talent for fiction, and he couldn't have picked a more intriguing subject to focus it on with this book than James Angleton. How does one portray a man like Angleton? The spy novel genre, as epitomized by writers like John Le Carre, tends towards heavily convoluted plots, language, and characterizations in the effort to force the literary vehicle itself into a representation of the dark and twisted ethos of espionage. And one might have expected Angleton, as the quintessential cold-war spymaster, to have inspired just such a brooding study. However, Buckley will have none of that with his book, and taking the opposite tack, he crafts his novel with the same crisp lucidity that animates his political commentary. Employing spare sentence structure, sprightly characterization and fast-paced narrative, he draws a portrait of Angleton that has nothing sinister or even particularly mysterious about it. The legendary CIA counterintelligence chief emerges from this as entirely human - flawed and quirky, but brilliant, loyal to friends and motivated by a sincere patriotism. Underlying the story, however, is a kind of sad commentary by Buckley on the tragic nature of espionage as a profession. Much like a good cop corrupted by the violence of a high-crime neighborhood, Angleton by the end of his career seems helpless against the pressures driving him into a paranoid pathology. Frustrated by his failures to detect genuine traitors in his own ranks, Angleton becomes suspicious of everyone and begins voicing reckless accusations. This being historical fiction, of course, we all know how the story ends.Read more ›
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Jane Adams is off the mark on Spytime-in fact, I'm not sure we read the same book. The novel's well-written-as we expect: this is Buckley, after all, good at everything but sex descriptions (he writes of a woman's "malleable vulva"! , memorable phrasing, but, gosh!); it's nicely paced, an absorbing fictional portrait. Angleton's obsession with Kim Philby is not, as Ms. Adams has it, "the engine that drives Spytime." Rather the book starts at the moment of undoing which marks the end of Angleton's career, and which comes because his superiors feel a need to sacrifice someone to the Church Committee. The Fifth Man is on Angleton's mind at that moment-he believes he knows who it is. We then get a flashback tour of Angleton's career in counter-espionage, an important reminder of the Soviets' use of disinformation and misinformation against the US, and of the moves and counter-moves of the Cold War. Angleton's belief in the identity of the Fifth Man was a surprise to me, and I think it will be to most readers.
What Buckley does in this book, as in its predecessor Redhunter, is to tell the story of a flawed hero in an extraordinary time. These are not adventure stories like Day of the Jackal or Red Storm Rising, or the Blackford Oakes novels, but they are adventure stories nonetheless: unusual novels of the real people who helped shape and guide our country's life during the most dangerous period in history. If some of the excitement seems gone from these tellings, it's only because we think we know how the story ended. This is not a great book, nor one of Buckley's best (my list includes Unmaking of a Mayor; Cruising Speed; Stained Glass; Airborne, etc.
Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By bill runyon on April 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A very decent book and an interesting read, but Buckley's
fictional account of some of Jim Angleton's anti-communist
work lacks enough detail to really prove engaging.
As a mystery, the story seems a little weak, but passable.
A more glaring omission is Buckley's usual detailed knowledge
and background, and we are allowed only the slightest insight
into Angleton's thinking and motivation. It's especially glaring here because the author has significant knowledge
of the events and eras covered, but he has chosen not to share
it with the reader.
Angleton was the CIA's Chief of Counterintelligence for 20
years, and he was one of the leading anti-communist fighters
of all time, and he devoted his life to that cause, and we
have to wish Buckley would have shared significantly more of
his insights and knowledge. Even in a fictionalized account,
the author could have easily added far more interesting details
and stories.
This work is barely an introduction to either the life and times
of the famous Angleton or to the enormous anti-communist
effort so many Westerners made for decades.
This is a book to read in between more serious pursuits.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kenney on January 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
SPYTIME is a fictional story which covers such historical events as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of Mussolini and the capture of Che Guevara in Bolivia. Many of the book's characters are real. In spite of its title the novel is not a spy story in the traditional sense but is actually written more in the style of an expose of the inner workings of the CIA.

Jim Angleton remains in the background throughout much of the story while the bulk of the spy action is handled by his young protege, Tony Crespi, who is stationed in Beirut. Angleton's main obsession as Director of Counterintelligence is the search for the infamous Fifth Man who collaborated with Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and Philby.

SPYTIME is an intriguing book for anyone who is interested in the Cold War and the CIA. Buckley writes with some authority about these subjects. The novel's greatest weakness is its lack of suspense and the ending is also a bit of a dud.
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