So now that Richard Armitage is starring in the spy thriller Berlin Station for Epix, I'm enjoying doing a bit of research about the creative team behind the series. I always enjoy the adventure of Richard's new projects.
Today I found a New York Times interview with series writer and producer, and successful spy novelist Olen Steinhauer. Below are some excerpts from the interview that may give us some ideas about the direction Berlin Station may take.
What makes a good spy novel?
Depends on the reader. For me, it’s the moral muddiness of the ends/means equation that comes up more often in spy fiction than in, say, murder mysteries. The best espionage stories not only ask questions about how spying is performed, but they also question the value of the job itself. And when the profession becomes a metaphor for living, the spy novel can delve into the very questions of existence, while thrilling the reader with a convoluted plot. Do all that well, and you’ve got a potential classic on your hands.
What’s the best spy novel you’ve ever read?
I’d love to have an original answer here, but I always return to John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” It’s a truly exquisite book, full of mesmerizing voices, acute social commentary and a moral weight that is, to me, on a par with the Great Books of English literature.
What book made you want to write spy novels?
“The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” led me from crime fiction to spy fiction (Raymond Chandler originally brought me to crime), but it was “Tinker, Tailor” that really sealed the deal. Having spent my 20s wrapped in a self-consciously literary cocoon, shunning genre, it was a shock to the system to realize that a great novel could be written with international intrigue and the occasional gun, and not only about suburban malaise.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?
Influenced by my father’s collection, I was very definitely a sci-fi reader, finding imaginative worlds that took me away from the mundane sidewalks of late-’70s America. By my teens I’d moved to other pastures — a lot of Baudelaire and Rimbaud — but in those early years I remember being obsessed with the Well World series by Jack L. Chalker. (Though by now I’d be hard pressed to remember any of the story lines.)
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite or the most personally meaningful?
My second book, “The Confession,” focuses on a police officer whose marriage is falling apart. Halfway through the book’s composition my own marriage collapsed, and after months of writer’s block I got back to the book and was able to see the many details of that particular brand of despair that I’d gotten completely wrong. So I tore up a lot and went back to it, eventually writing what I still consider one of my “truer” novels.
If you could pick one of your books to be turned into a movie or TV series, which would it be and why?
While there’s been some recent action on this front, in particular with “All the Old Knives,” I would still like to see my first five novels, which take place in a fictional Cold War Eastern European country over 50 years, grow into a film or television series. I’d love to see how someone else reimagines that world and takes its characters down a half-century of European history.
APRIL 23, 201
I've been to Berlin once in my life, West and East, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yes, long time ago. I'm very excited about this new series for Richard, since I love spy stories, and look forward to seeing his character, Daniel Meyer, on the streets of Berlin.