Charles McCarry spent almost 10 years in the CIA as an undercover officer, operating alone as he roamed throughout Africa, Europe and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. He never carried a gun. He didnâ€™t kill anyone.
He was in the agency when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. He was in and out of Vietnam. He was at an airport in Congo in 1963, when a Belgian priest told him about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He always went by an assumed name and never lived in the same countries in which he worked.
After he resigned from the CIA to become a writer, Mr. McCarry used many of those elements in the novel that many consider his masterpiece, â€œThe Tears of Autumn.â€ But when he turned in his manuscript, it was initially rejected by his publisher.
â€œWhereâ€™s the car chase? Whereâ€™s the torture scene? Whereâ€™s the sex? Whereâ€™s the good Russian?â€ the publisher demanded, as Mr. McCarry recalled in a 1988 essay for The Washington Post. â€œDo you call this a thriller?â€
The publisher gave Mr. McCarry a best-selling novel to study. A month later, Mr. McCarry submitted his manuscript again â€” without so much as changing a comma. This time, it was accepted.
â€œI can only write what I know,â€ he noted.
Since it came out in 1974, â€œThe Tears of Autumnâ€ has sold millions of copies and has been hailed as a classic of espionage fiction. In his 13 novels, Mr. McCarry created dense, fast-moving plots of international intrigue populated by complex, troubled characters â€” male and female â€” seeking to find order and purpose in their lives.
â€œThere is simply no other way to say it,â€ Otto Penzler, a leading expert on crime and espionage fiction, wrote in the New York Sun in 2004. â€œJust the straightforward, inarguable truth: Charles McCarry is the greatest espionage writer that America has ever produced.â€
Mr. McCarry, whose novels about spycraft and politics were deeply admired if not always well known, died Feb. 26 at a hospital in Fairfax County, Va. He was 88.
He had complications from a cerebral hemorrhage sustained in a fall, said a son, Caleb McCarry.
No blockbuster movies have been based on Mr. McCarryâ€™s books, his photograph seldom appeared on his dust jackets, and he didnâ€™t go on book tours or appear on television. â€œThey only want to ask me about my life in the CIA,â€ he told The Post in 1988, â€œand I canâ€™t talk about that.â€
Yet his novels were written with such a deft, knowing touch that he often invited favorable comparisons to another spy-turned-author. â€œMr. McCarry is the American le CarrÃ©,â€ Penzler wrote, â€œequaling him stylistically but surpassing his English counterpart in terms of intellectual depth and moral clarity.â€
â€œPapa likes to know what a man is going to say to him before he starts to talk,â€ Cathy told Christopher. â€œIf thereâ€™s no horse in the first sentence, he knows heâ€™s in the wrong company.â€
–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 65.
The male parent seldom spoke. On first meeting he had established that he and Christopher had been in the same regiment of Marines in different wars and in the same house at Harvard; he had never asked Christopher another question. â€œHe knows everything about you, knowing those two things, that he needs to know,â€ Cathy said.
–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 103.
â€œI come from the most anti-American country on earth.â€
â€œCanada? Ah, no, America is the most anti-American country on earth. When you speak of public opinion, young man, you speak of the opinions of the intellectuals because they are the only ones who publish and broadcast. The masses are dumb. Intellectuals always hate their own country, but the United States has produced an intelligentsia which is positively bloodthirsty.â€
–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 127.
“In Spain the Germans tested aerial bombing tactics; the Soviets, propaganda. You see who won in the end. In 1945 there was no Luftwaffe. No one has yet found a way to shoot down the illusions of the Left.â€
–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 139.
â€œThis woman had the greatest private collection in Spain, portraits of her ancestors,â€ Rodegas said. â€œShe was asked by a journalist if she was not filled with awe, to possess the works of all those dead geniuses. â€˜Awe?â€™ she replied, â€˜Genius? Goya, VelÃ¡zquez, Rembrandt, were simply the people my family hired before the invention of photography.â€™â€
–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 250.