WHAT’S the longest-running series ever written by a single novelist?
I reckon it must be the SAS series written by octogenarian Frenchman Gérard de Villiers, which he began in 1964 when his agent pointed out that Ian Fleming had just died so there was a gap in the market. De Villiers has now sold 100 million copies and the series stretches to 197 books, so he was right.
The books, de Villiers admits, are just pulp fiction: he has no literary ambitions. You could guess as much from the covers, which all feature busty models poutily pointing pistols. Inside, there is non-stop action, usually featuring his aristocratic hero Malko confronting nymphomaniacs or taking out the baddies with his MP-44. Not the sort of book that would normally interest our readers.
Except for this fact. Thanks to de Villiers’ comprehensive network of contacts within the French secret services, his books are invariably well-informed, sometimes describing events before they have even happened. The assassination of Egyptian President Sadat in 1980 and the militancy of post-Ghaddafi Benghazi were both foretold in de Villiers’s novels, and even experts in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri admit that no journalist had better sources.
In that last case, New York Times writer Robert Worth pointed out in a fascinating article, de Villiers’s sources were a top Lebanese intelligence expert and Hezbollah leaders he met thanks to French spies: both sides keen to explain themselves, but neither side willing to trust journalists.
On 3 April, de VIlliers publishes his 197th book in the series. Its subject? Lockerbie. “The book – Les Fantomes de Lockerbie – is based on the premise that it was Iran, and not Libya, that carried out the bombing,” he explained to Worth.
It’s a familiar thesis, and when Worth returned to America, a CIA contact told him that many people in the agency believed Iran directed the bombing – although the evidence is classified and cannot be used in court.
Best book design of the year? How about Elizabeth Perez’s eye-catching dressing for Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? It comes complete with a match and the spine is designed so you could strike it. See it here: http://bit.ly/WGXIYm