When war broke out in 1914, Somerset Maugham was dispatched by the British Secret Service to Switzerland under the guise of completing a play. Multilingual, knowledgeable about many European countries and a celebrated writer, Maugham had the perfect cover, and the assignment appealed to his love of romance, and of the ridiculous. The stories collected in Ashenden are rooted in Maugham's own experiences as an agent, reflecting the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as its absurdity.
The most persuasive espionage fiction
The first spy story written by someone who had been there and done that. A humane and compassionate antidote to two-fisted, square-jawed heroes battling dastardly foreigners. The head of British Intelligence is known only as "R", anticipating James Bond's "M" by a quarter of a century
Thoughtful spy novels began with Somerset Maugham's Ashenden, featuring a detached hero on a journey to disillusion, a process brought to its apotheosis by le Carre via Greene
A collection of stories so accurate that Churchill ordered the destruction of 14 of them, while Russian intelligence immediately set up a special unit to read British spy novels for clues