National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29.


Littell, Robert.  The Amateur.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.

A commercial and critical success that solidified Littell’s reputation as a novelist, The Amateur focuses on Charles Heller, a C.I.A. cryptologist whose fiancee is killed by West German terrorists.  Intent on avenging her death, Heller tries to arrange for special targeting of the terrorists by the agency.  When that proves ineffective, Heller coerces his superiors into arranging for him to be trained as a field operative, proficient with weapons, so that he can avenge his fiancee’s death with his own hands.  Ultimately, his quest is a potential embarrassment for the agency, and his points of leverage with his superiors potentially threaten the progress of their careers within the agency.  So, they, like the terrorists, begin want Heller dead.

The novel subverts many of the conventions of the espionage genre.  It demonstrates how the devaluation of the individual by a…

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