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Secret Agent Dog

Spy Talks

I've been to a couple of literary events over the last week. The first was Fleming, Ian Fleming: the author as collector at Senate House.

This was very much to my interest, as I like nothing more than nosing around other people's book collections. Fleming, as well as founding Book Collector magazine, amassed a large and eclectic personal library, including the biography of the first cross-Channel swimmer, bridge manuals, and The Magic Mountain (which has been on my To Read list since I watched The Wind Rises).

The impression I came away with was that we could easily have been treated to a novel in which James Bond and the villain battle it out over a ping-pong table. If only.

Last night was Henry Hemming on his book M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster, in a church in Dulwich.

It was a very enjoyable talk, enlivened by a game in which we had to try and lie convincingly to another audience member, to find out who'd make a good spy (almost none of us, it turned out) and by the author's small daughter shouting out "That's my daddy!" when we applauded him at the end.

I bought the book because I very much want to find out more about Knight, who kept a small menagerie of creatures in his home and ended his life as a much-loved BBC nature presenter, with nobody suspecting he had also run a highly successful network of secret agents.

"All he really wanted was to write pulp novels and get more pets," said Hemming. Don't we all?