Charles McCarry was an American author of spy fiction and a former CIA officer. He is best known for his series of espionage novels featuring Paul Christopher, a CIA agent. The New York Times called him "the best spy novelist of the Cold War."
Charles McCarry was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and lived in Virginia. He graduated from Dalton High School.
McCarry began his writing career in the U.S. Army as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes. He served from 1948 to 1951 and rose to the rank of sergeant.
After his army service, he was a speechwriter in the Administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1958, he accepted a post with the CIA, for whom he traveled the globe as a deep cover operative. Charles McCarry left the CIA in 1967, becoming an author of spy novels.
But first, he worked full-time as a journalist. McCarry wrote a profile for Esquire magazine about the consumer crusader Ralph Nader which so pleased its subject that Nader invited McCarry to write his biography. Non-fiction Citizen Nader was published in 1972.
The 1970s marked a pinnacle for spy novels in the United States as writers delved into the mysterious and nuanced world of espionage fiction. In 1973, Charles McCarry released The Miernik Dossier, introducing readers to CIA suer agent Paul Christopher. Fellow author Eric Ambler praised the novel as "the most enthralling and intelligent piece of work" he had read in years.
Paul Christopher, born in Germany before WWII to a German mother and an American father, joined the CIA after the war and became one of its most effective spies. After launching an unauthorized investigation of the Kennedy assassination, Christopher becomes a pariah to the agency and a hunted man. Eventually, he spends ten years in a Chinese prison before being released and embarking on a solution to the mystery that has haunted him his entire life: the fate of his mother, who disappeared at the beginning of WWII.
McCarry's subsequent novels, The Tears of Autumn (1974) and The Secret Lovers (1977), cemented his reputation as a master of the genre, with many hailing him as "the American Le Carré."
Although McCarry never achieved the same commercial success as his British counterpart, he cited Emmler and Somerset Maugham rather than Le Carré as his sources of influence.
What set McCarry apart from other spy novelists of the time, such as Paul Henissart and Robert Littell, was his in-depth understanding of the personal nature of espionage, where betrayal lies at the core of every action. Like Le Carré, McCarry was a member of the "honorable schoolboys" and expertly portrayed the old-boy ethos of the CIA, which he knew intimately through his decade of undercover work with the agency.
Drawing on his firsthand knowledge, McCarry also explored the moral complexities of the spy game, as seen in The Better Angels (1979). The book was later adapted into the film Wrong Is Right (1982) starring Sean Connery. McCarry wrote of the necessity for spies to sometimes collaborate with evil, noting that "evil was permanent and it was everywhere. What mattered was that it should be channeled, tricked into working for your side."
After the fifth Christopher spy novel, The Last Supper (1983), McCarry changed tack with a generational epic, The Bride of the Wilderness (1988), which charted the history of the Christopher family in colonial and frontier days.
In addition to his writing, McCarry has also worked as a journalist and a speechwriter. McCarry was editor-at-large for National Geographic and has contributed pieces to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and other national publications.
Charles McCarry died at 88. His son Caleb said the cause was complications of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a fall.