Charles McCarry, 1930–2019
The CIA agent who became a best-selling spy novelist
As a Cold War–era CIA spy, Charles McCarry was no James Bond. He wore heavy-framed glasses, sat around hotel lobbies a lot, and never carried a gun. After resigning from the agency, McCarry wrote novels that pulled back the curtain on spycraft to reveal how things actually got done. Not that everyone wanted the truth. His most famous novel, 1974’s The Tears of Autumn, was initially rejected by his publisher, who asked, “Where’s the car chase? Where’s the torture scene? Where’s the sex?” The publisher gave McCarry a best-selling thriller to study. A month later, he resubmitted his manuscript unchanged. It was accepted and went on to sell millions of copies. “I can only write what I know,” McCarry said.
Raised on a farm in Plainfield, Mass., McCarry wrote for newspapers before an Army pal introduced him to James P. Mitchell, President Eisenhower’s labor secretary, said The New York Times. After two years as Mitchell’s speechwriter and confidential secretary, he resigned “to write full time in Europe.” But Mitchell asked CIA Director Allen Dulles to recruit him in 1958, and McCarry spent nine years as “a deep cover operative” in Europe, Asia, and Africa. “I traveled a lot,” he said in 1995, “in and out of countries, in and out of identities. The telephone would ring at midnight, and then I would fly out to the Congo.”
McCarry’s best-known character is Paul Christopher, an “old-school spy with a poetic heart,” said The Washington Post. He appeared in eight of the writer’s 13 novels and was in many ways his alter ego. McCarry was working on a new novel at the time of his death. “Spies are everywhere among us and always have been,” he said. “It is a very old, old profession.”