I originally planned to just count up how many agents worked for, or came from, where. Naturally, that didn’t turn out to be so cut and dry. Things seldom are when spies are involved. And I’m not even talking about double and triple agents.
My first hurdle was deciding whether to count by series or individuals. I copped out a bit by doing some of each and breaking the tabulation into two broad categories: Agencies and Individuals. There is a subgroup to the Individuals for “team” series in which the books are about the two or three people in the team and not about any particular agency.
Let’s talk first about Agencies. Of the 679 different series in this collection, 26 deal with agencies.
By almost two-to-one ratio, Americans govern this category with 15. Next up are the agencies which are international in nature, of which there are 7. Finishing up are the 3 British agency series.
While the British come in third in number of series about agencies, they do lead with the two earliest: Department Z which started in 1933 and the Avengers in 1963. The first series about an American agency didn’t arrive until 1968 with the Mission Impossible series.
Sidebar here: it might be argued that the Man From U.N.C.L.E. series should belong here but since the series was called “The Man” and not “U.N.C.L.E.”, I give Napoleon Solo the checkmark.
More than a decade would pass before a new series about an intelligence agency would come with Alistair MacLean’s UNACO series in 1980 as well as the two-book series about Intersect.
The next two decades saw only three series come around. Stony Man (1983), Hagen (more properly called the Here Comes Hagen series, 1987), and Tom Clancy’s Op-Center (1995).
The first decade in the 21st century saw the emergence of the agency as the subject of a series with 11. Robert Ludlum landed first with Covert-One, followed by Clive Cussler’s Oregon Files and Stephen Coonts’ Deep Black. A couple more notable entries was James Rollins’ Sigma Force and David Baldacci’s Camel Club.
Sidebar on the Camel Club. I fully recognize that there is no official agency known as the Camel Club nor do the members of this group work for any particular bureaucracy. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell any of these members that they didn’t have an organization, least of all their leader.
So, the British started the concept but the Americans gradually dominated the field.
Now, about the individuals.
Once again the Americans hold the lead (not surprising as there are a lot of us around). They number 400. The British are a distant second but still quite impressive with 222.
The remaining nationalities are neglible, understandable since this is a list of series written in English and most authors write best what they know best.
There are 8 series about Russians. One is a double agent really working for the West. Several more are agents working with the West with the approval, or lack of disapproval, of their government. Only one actually works for the other side against the West. Again, that is reasonable since the writers were Western. It is not only difficult to write convincingly about the positive points of the other side, it likely would not pay too well.
Israel has 5 series about agents from there. There are 3 Canadian agents although one actually works for the British. There are 4 series about Irish characters but here, too, none actually spy for the Irish. There are 2 Jamaican series and one about an alien from another planet. Australia has one series.
Spying in a global (i.e., universal) activity as all countries want to know what some other country is doing. In the world of published spy series, though, it is far more limited. While there might well be references in a novel to a protagonist meeting a spy from Botswana, the chance that someone would create and get published in English a Botswanian spy series is not so high.
If you come across one, let me know!
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