Field Report: Jeff Quest

We welcome Jeff Quest in from the cold, to discuss his impressive collection of first-edition, signed spy novels.

What drew you into collecting spy novels?

I’ve always been a reader. I started with kid mysteries before branching out into stories with spies, like Gordon Korman’s “Our Man Weston” and the Hardy boys books. As I got older I moved on to gateway thriller writers like Clive Cussler and Robert Ludlum before finally settling on authors with something a bit deeper to offer like Fleming, Adam Hall, and le Carré.

When I stumbled upon a signed copy of le Carré’s “Smiley’s People” a few years back I couldn’t resist picking it up. Collecting is really about deciding what not to collect and starting with that first book I decided to try to get at least one signed novel every major spy writer. Things ballooned from there and I now own well over 300 signed spy novels, running the gamut from serious, like Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, to slightly sillier fare from writers like Adam Diment and Dorothy Gilman.


Photo: Jeff Quest

The Internet has really given Bond fans and spy fans in general a huge boost. A great online community of spy fans and collectors have come together to share their knowledge and it’s great to see and be a part of that. So thanks to and all of the other great Bond/spy websites and Twitterers out there.

What’s in your Bond collection?

Given my main interest is signed novels and I’m not independently wealthy, as much as I would love to own one, I don’t have any books signed by Fleming. I do have some continuation novels and, since Raymond Benson is a local author, I was able to get all of his Bond novels signed.

JamesBond_04I’m cheap when it comes to collecting and always on the lookout for a deal. Stumbling on a signed copy of Jeffery Deaver’s “Carte Blanche” for only a few dollars in a bookstore is the sort of find I love to make.

I enjoy reading about critical reactions and studies of Bond and have several different books on that subject. I also picked up a treasure trove of James Bond RPGs at a garage sale that I need to find someone I can trick into playing.

Recently through a series of cutouts and dead drops I was able to get my hands on a copy of ‘License Expired’, the short story collection that came out due to the Bond copyright expiring in Canada. I’m looking forward to starting that.

What are your favourite dust jackets from your collection?

I love the retro look of “Atomsk” and “Six Days of the Condor.” Just about any Len Deighton book has great jacket design and I love the way the spines of his Samson series look all lined up on my shelf.


Photo: Jeff Quest

It gets a bit harder with modern books as most end up as different versions of the shadowy running man, but I’d go with the UK version of “The Shanghai Factor” by Charles McCarry.


Photo: Jeff Quest

Who are some of you favourite past and present spy writers?

Past writers I enjoy are Adam Hall, Ross Thomas, Eric Ambler, and Len Deighton (still alive but not writing anymore) Charles Cumming, Olen Steinhauer, Jeremy Duns, Susan Hasler and Chris Pavone are all writing very different but very fun spy novels right now. Then there are the ones who’ve been writing forever and are still putting out interesting books like le Carré, Robert Littell and Charles McCarry. The great thing is there are so many great spy writers, past and present, you’re never short on something to read.


Photo: Jeff Quest

What are some of your prized possessions?

Prime among my collection is a complete run of le Carré’s US editions, all signed except for his first three which have laid in bookplates. If Fleming created the world’s best known “man of action” spy, then le Carré’s George Smiley is the epitome of the spymaster.


Photo: Jeff Quest

Beyond those I just like some of the odder things I’ve picked up over the years. I’ve got a collected edition of three le Carré novels that’s been signed four times, once on every title page.

I have a signed French edition of “The Berlin Memorandum” by Adam Hall and a copy of his “The Kobra Manifesto” that Hall inscribed to the author of “The Shootist” along with a nice letter from Hall congratulating him on the success of the John Wayne film.


Photo: Jeff Quest

Part of the fun of collecting is the thrill of the hunt. As an armchair adventurer, discovering a book I’ve been looking for at a great price, stumbling on something that has some history, or finding a book that’s a bit weird is always exciting.

Incidental Intelligence

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Spy Write is dedicated to spy fiction and nonfiction in all forms – movies, tv and books, new and old.


One thought on “Field Report: Jeff Quest

  1. An enviable collection – and I concur with his assessment of the “inveterate but impoverished collector”…the thrill of the hunt and the discovery of a forgotten novel is what drives us to collect and keep on looking for that unloved book that someone tossed away. And if the dust jacket is in perfect condition…well, it doesn’t get any better than that!
    Keeping the hunt alive for the rest of us…thank you Jeff.

    Who, btw, is appropriately last named…”Quest.”

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