|Agent Smith is NOT a nice guy.|
Yes, I argue on this blog that dysfunctional relationships can work as long as all the people involved know what dysfunction they're signing up for. But there are lines. And a firm line stands between ordinary-dysfunction and con-artists/grifters.
Spies--actual spies--fall into the latter category. Someone like Philby comes across not as clever, resourceful, daring, or even dangerous (in the James Bond sense) but as someone essentially hollow.
|Lee, from Scarecrow & Mrs King, isn't really a spy; he's|
|more of a international FBI agent a la Seeley Booth.|
John Le Carre's chilling depiction of spies in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (wherein the sincerely loyal-to-his-country character is sacrificed for the sake of protecting a sleazebag asset) is a far more realistic depiction than the noble secret agent who wants to protect his/her country.
A variation to the sleazebag asset is the tough assassin. The problem here is that generally speaking, tough assassins are like the mafia hitman serial killer in Criminal Minds: a fascinating character with a great deep voice who has no soul.
Every romance writer wants to create Jason Bourne (who doesn't?)--as opposed to the schemer in the backroom. But unless the character IS Jason Bourne and has a good reason to protect himself without becoming callous, amoral, and deranged, the romance writer is stuck. (In Person of Interest, John's determination to regain his soul means creating a set of personal criteria that he sticks to no matter the cost--he is constantly watching himself--plus he already walked away from being an official "spy".)
|Personally, I think spy movies should not even try to be|
|realistic--put the secret agent in a tank!|
adventure movie). In one I read recently, the spy handed the object of his assignment, the mark (and love interest), a gun within 24-hours of their meeting. At that point, I rolled my eyes and gave up on the book being anything more than a series of chases (well-written, I'll grant, but still--). A hard-headed, intelligent, resourceful, expert, non-novice, non-amnesiac spy simply HANDS over a weapon to a wild card?
Where did my suspension of disbelief go? Oh, there it is, wafting out the window . . .
I love the "but love conquers all doubts" theme as much as the next romantic. Only, please, not in a spy novel and not in the first three chapters. Even Leverage gave its grifter several seasons to "repent" (and she was a nice grifter).