Freemantle, Brian 1936–
Freemantle, Brian 1936–
(Harry Asher, Jonathan Evans, Brian Harry Freemantle, Richard Gant, Andrea Hart, John Maxwell, Jack Winchester)
PERSONAL: Born June 10, 1936, in Southampton, Hampshire, England; son of Harold (a seaman) and Violet (Street) Freemantle; married Maureen Hazel Tipney (a television makeup artist), December 8, 1956; children: Victoria, Emma, Charlotte. Education: Attended secondary school in Southampton, England. Politics: Liberal. Religion: Church of England. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, driving.
ADDRESSES: Home—4 Great Minster St., Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9HA, England. Agent—Ann Evans, Jonathan Clowes, 10 Iron Bridge House, Bridge Approach, London NW1 8BD, England.
CAREER: Reporter for New Milton Advertiser, 1953–58, and Bristol Evening World, 1958; Evening News, London, England, reporter, 1959–61; Daily Express, London, reporter, 1961–63, assistant foreign editor, 1963–69; Daily Sketch, London, foreign editor, 1969–71; Daily Mail, London, foreign editor, 1971–75; writer, 1975–.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America.
The Touchables (novelization of a film), Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1968.
Goodbye to an Old Friend, Putnam (New York, NY), 1973.
Face Me When You Walk Away, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.
The Man Who Wanted Tomorrow, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1975.
The November Man, J. Cape (London, England), 1976.
Hell's Paradise, [England], 1977, Severn House (New York, NY), 2001.
The Iron Cage, [England], 1980, Severn House (New York, NY), 2000.
Target, [England], 1980, Severn House (New York, NY), 2000.
Rules of Engagement, Century (New York, NY), 1984.
Vietnam Legacy, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1984.
The Lost American, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1984.
O'Farrell's Law, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1990.
The Choice of Eddie Franks, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Betrayals, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Little Grey Mice, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Button Man, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
No Time for Heroes, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Mind/Reader, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998, published under pseudonym Harry Asher as The Profiler, Vista (London, England), 1998.
At Any Price, Severn House (New York, NY), 1999.
The Watchmen, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Ice Age, Severn House (New York, NY), 2002.
Two Women, Severn House (New York, NY), 2003.
The Holmes Inheritance, Severn House (New York, NY), 2004.
Triple Cross, St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Dead End, Severn House (New York, NY), 2005.
The Holmes Factor, Severn House (New York, NY), 2005.
"CHARLIE MUFFIN" MYSTERIES
Charlie M., Doubleday (New York, NY), 1977, published as Charlie Muffin, J. Cape (London, England), 1977.
Here Comes Charlie M., Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978, published as Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, J. Cape (London, England), 1978.
The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
Charlie Muffin U.S.A., Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980, published as Charlie Muffin's Uncle Sam, J. Cape (London, England), 1980.
Madrigal for Charlie Muffin, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1981.
The Blind Run, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
The Kremlin Kiss, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1986.
Charlie Muffin and Russian Rose, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1987.
See Charlie Run, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987, published as Charlie Muffin San, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1987.
The Bearpit, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1988.
The Run Around, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Comrade Charlie, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Charlie's Apprentice, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Bomb Grade, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Charlie's Choice: The First Charlie Muffin Omnibus, Bloodlines (London, England), 1997.
Dead Men Living, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Kings of Many Castles: A Charlie Muffin Thriller, St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.
UNDER PSEUDONYM JONATHAN EVANS
Misfire, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1980.
The Midas Men, M. Joseph (London, England), 1981, published as Sagomi Gambit, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1981, published as Gold, Severn House (New York, NY), 1998.
Takeover, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1982, published as Chairman of the Board, M. Joseph (London, England), 1982.
Monopoly, M. Joseph (London, England), 1984.
The Laundryman, M. Joseph (London, England), 1985, published as Dirty White, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1986.
UNDER OTHER PSEUDONYMS
(Under pseudonym Richard Gant) Ian Fleming: The Man with the Golden Pen, Mayflower Books (London, England), 1966.
(Under pseudonym Richard Gant) Sean Connery: Giltedged Bond, Mayflower (London, England), 1967.
(Under pseudonym John Maxwell) The Mary Celeste, J. Cape (London, England), 1979.
(Under pseudonym John Maxwell) HMS Bounty, J. Cape (London, England), 1979.
(Under pseudonym Jack Winchester) The Solitary Man, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1980.
(Under pseudonym Jack Winchester) Deaken's War, Hutchinson (London, England), 1982, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1985.
KGB (nonfiction), Holt (New York, NY), 1982.
CIA (nonfiction), Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1983.
The Fix: Inside the World Drug Trade (nonfiction), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1985.
The Steal: Counterfeiting and Industrial Espionage (nonfiction), M. Joseph (London, England), 1987.
The Factory and Other Stories (short fiction), Century (London, England), 1990.
The Octopus: Europe in the Grip of Organised Crime (nonfiction), Orion (London, England), 1996.
ADAPTATIONS: Charlie Muffin was produced as a film in 1980.
SIDELIGHTS: Brian Freemantle is a British writer of thrillers and suspense novels. The author of dozens of books under a handful of pseudonyms, Freemantle is probably best known for his novels that feature the disheveled spy Charlie Muffin, though his works include series novels as well as stand-alone titles. Freemantle's espionage novels have been compared to those of John le Carré, for they feature heroes who do not quite fit the mold of the cool, smooth superspy. In fact, Freemantle's spies are fallible and emotional, relying upon their wits—and often sheer luck—to get through each calamitous adventure. Like le Carré, Freemantle has been able to see beyond the end of the Cold War, moving his heroes and villains on to other fields of adventure, from organized crime to the drug industry and global terrorism. Unlike le Carré, however, Freemantle does not possess the same crossover value; his books remain categorized as thrillers in the United States rather than as mainstream popular fiction. A Publishers Weekly reviewer cited Freemantle's work as "an impressive blend of full-bodied characters and nerve-plucking action," while another critic in the same publication called the Freemantle opus "some of the best post-Cold War spy writing around."
Though Freemantle has created many quirky characters, none has earned such widespread popularity as Charlie Muffin, the aging British agent who is featured in numerous thrillers. Charlie is described by New York Times Book Review mystery critic Newgate Callendar as "a slob who all but sleeps in his clothes, fudges expense accounts, breaks all the rules, [and] is held in disdain" by his superiors. Yet, Callendar continued, he is also "the best in the business, a man who can synthesize tiny facts and see the big picture and who is held in great respect even by his KGB adversaries." Writing in Time, William A. Henry III characterized Charlie as "scruffy," "wily," and a "brilliant survivor." Charlie is an expert in Russian affairs. When the Cold War was still a reality, his adventures often took him behind the Iron Curtain. He was particularly adept at transporting defectors to and from the Soviet Union. Too often, however, Charlie is too smart for his own good, discovering prematurely the seedy machinations behind his missions. For this reason, he has several times been jailed, exiled, and marked for death by his own government. Charlie always seems to bounce back, though—and usually with a vengeance.
Critics have identified several reasons for the popularity of the "Charlie Muffin" novels, the most important being Charlie himself. Freemantle's hero, according to critics, is a likeable, sympathetic, three-dimensional character. Frederick Busch, writing in the Chicago Tribune Books, described Charlie as "rich in tradecraft, afraid of no one and tough in the scrum," but further noted that the British spy is "always battling deep feelings: anger at his bosses, sadness for his dead wife and for his Russian lover, trapped in the service of the KGB." Nearly as important as his character is Freemantle's skill as a storyteller. "The reader is captured by the narrative," explained Jim Stinson in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, adding that Freemantle "handles story, logic, tension, pace and surprise with sure control. He hauls you aboard and won't let you off until the roller coaster stops."
An interesting feature of the "Charlie Muffin" books is Freemantle's near-fanatical avoidance of the words "he said." "There is something almost poetic about the way Freemantle ignores the demands of transitive verbs," Callendar wrote, "sometimes going through extraordinary contortions to achieve his end." Callendar lists the author's idiosyncratic style as "one of the charms" of his novels. "One waits with fascination for the next verbal mix-up, and there are many." Elsewhere in the New York Times Book Review, Callendar stated that "part of the fun" in reading the Charlie Muffin books "comes from Mr. Freemantle's pungent and idiosyncratic style."
Readers of the "Charlie Muffin" series have followed their hero through a bewildering array of vicissitudes. One of the most affecting was the introduction of a daughter he has seen only in a picture, and his remorse and self-blame for his estrangement from the child's mother, KGB agent Natalia Fedova. Though their love affair seems doomed in the face of their professions—and the machinations of their co-workers—Charlie and Natalia manage to combine their talents in creative ways to further their own ends. In Bomb Grade, for instance, they team up to stop a mafia sale of high-quality Russian plutonium. In this story, "Charlie Muffin performs acts of professional bravado while racked with feelings of personal inadequacy," noted James Polk in the New York Times Book Review. "Watching this spy at work is like watching a stunted genius play Mozart perfectly, even as the rest of his life threatens to crumble around him."
Dead Men Living finds Muffin living in Moscow with Natalia when a Siberian thaw turns up three bodies, apparently frozen since 1945. Two of the dead are wearing World War II uniforms—one American, one British. Intelligence agencies from Russia, the United States, and England all scramble to protect their interests in the strange case, which involves many layers of deception on every side, and Muffin realizes that exposing the real truth may destroy his relationship with Natalia. Booklist reviewer Bill Ott commented that, like John le Carré, Freemantle knows that "the conflict at the heart of espionage fiction is not West versus East but individual versus organization." Dead Men Living was also recommended by Ronnie H. Terpening in the Library Journal as an "intricate and intriguing puzzle."
Charlie Muffin returns to action with the 2002 installment Kings of Many Castles. Charlie and Natalia are in action once again in Kings of Many Castles, which deals with the attempted assassinations of the presidents of both Russia and the United States. The subsequent shootings leave the First Lady—an accidental target—paralyzed, while killing the Russian chief. Arrested at the scene is the son of a British defector, but forensics shows that the bullets taken from the bodies do not match the supposed murder weapon. Charlie suspects something larger than personal vendetta; his bet is on former KGB agents. Such thoughts, however, are somewhat compromised by the fact that Natalia is also working the case, but for the other team. Ott, writing in Booklist, found this title "rich [and] multilayered," and "another winner from a genre master." Other reviewers, however, noted weaknesses in the same work. For example, a critic for Kirkus Reviews felt Freemantle went overboard with Charlie's "battles in the bureaucratic killing fields," while a Publishers Weekly contributor, though praising Freemantle's "witty, clipped style," also wondered "if it was worth the effort" for those who stuck the book out to the end. Others found more to like in Kings of Many Castles. Barbara Conaty, writing in the Library Journal, noted Freemantle "will not disappoint readers."
In addition to the "Charlie Muffin" stories, Freemantle has written a number of other spy thrillers under a variety of names. Many of the plots and settings for these novels are the product of Freemantle's years as a foreign press correspondent for several British publications. Critics frequently note that the author's experience as both an investigator and a world traveler lends an air of believability to his books. In The Midas Men, which was published in the United States as Gold, Freemantle creates a "devious" plot with "mesmerizing" results, according to Booklist reviewer Emily Melton. The story concerns a deadly plot involving SAGOMI, a multinational company involved in the production of oil, gold, silver, and various other precious commodities. Political and corporate scheming, along with personal greed and ambition, are portrayed with "frightening verisimilitude," noted the reviewer, who concluded that Gold is "top-notch" and "guaranteed to entertain." The Watchmen is another thriller marked by "painstaking detail within a lively plot," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. This novel depicts terrorist attacks, using rockets laden with the powerful chemicals sarin and anthrax, on the United Nations building, the Washington Monument, and the American Embassy in Moscow. Protagonists William Cowley and Dimitri Danilov are a "rather dour duo," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "lacking the nimble mind play and engaging personality of Muffin." Yet Freemantle "always knows just how to kick a story into gear," and "the action unfolds with characteristic impact."
Nor has the author turned his back on nonfiction in the wake of his success. His 1996 book, The Octopus: Europe in the Grip of Organised Crime, almost reads like a spy novel in its exploration of the escalating dangers of organized crime in Europe and the former Soviet states. A Publishers Weekly contributor called The Octopus "a generally well-detailed work that raises alarming questions not only about the rampant spread of organized crime but also about the future of U.S.-European relations." Freemantle painstakingly researched the real-life events concerning the famous mutiny on the Royal Navy ship Her Majesty's Service Bounty to write a historical novel, Hell's Paradise, which a Publishers Weekly writer deemed a "remarkable tale of guilt, shame, jealousy and revenge."
Freemantle has also reprised the investigative duo of Danilov and Cowley, originally encountered in The Watchmen. With Triple Cross, these two are back in action, this time battling organized crime in Russia. They are on the trail of the wily and evil big crime boss, Igor Gavrilovich Orlov. A critic for Kirkus Reviews felt that though this title was "a smidge less than [Freemantle's] best," there was still "no one in the field [who] is more consistently readable." Likewise, David Wright, reviewing the work in Booklist, concluded: "Freemantle still crafts some of the most intriguing thrillers out there," and a contributor for Publishers Weekly found Triple Cross a "rousing international thriller."
Freemantle moved into new territory with several other titles. Ice Age, an "expert thriller," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, posits a deadly illness in the form of an aging sickness. Uncovered first in a team of scientists working in Antarctica, the sickness spreads to other locations, and one courageous scientist has to battle not only a ticking clock but the in-fighting of fatuous bureaucrats. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented: "The tension doesn't let up till the final chilling page." David Pitt, writing in Booklist, was less impressed, finding the book resonant of "bigbudget disaster movies made in the 1970s." Another scientist does battle with an international drug company eager to cover up a lethal product in Dead End. Emily Melton, writing in Booklist, called this novel a "solid thriller," and a critic for Kirkus Reviews noted that Freemantle "remains at the top of his game."
A change of pace for Freemantle comes with The Holmes Inheritance and The Holmes Factor, both of which feature Sebastian Holmes, the son of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, fathered out of wedlock while the elder Holmes recuperated from his tumble off the Reichenbach Falls. In the first title, The Holmes Inheritance, young Sebastian is sent to the United States as a secret emissary, only to find himself involved in a series of murders. A critic for Kirkus Reviews advised readers to ignore the "shaky premise" of the book and simply "enjoy the mastery of Freemantle." Similar praise came from a Publishers Weekly contributor, who found the same novel "worthy of the best of Conan Doyle." Sebastian is once again in action in The Holmes Factor, in which the young man is sent on a secret mission, this time to St. Petersburg in 1913, to check on growing German influence with the tsar. A writer for Publishers Weekly commended the "rich panorama of events" that take place in this "literate and thoughtful escapist fare."
While widely and favorably reviewed for all of his novels, Freemantle will probably remain best known as the creator of Charlie Muffin—and, according to Busch, rightly so. "Certain writers seem to be at their best with only certain of their characters," he explained. "[Sir Arthur] Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger never came close to the electricity of Sherlock Holmes. Muffin is Brian Freemantle's Holmes." Callendar concluded: "[Muffin] may be a slob, but there is nobody smarter, more experienced or more resourceful in the British Secret Service…. He is always one step ahead."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, June 1, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Charlie's Apprentice, p. 1776; February 15, 1995, Emily Melton, review of No Time for Heroes, p. 1063; March 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Bomb Grade, p. 1117; July, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Gold, p. 1863; August, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Mind/Reader, p. 1975; February 1, 1999, Budd Arthur, review of At Any Price, p. 961; May 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Dead Men Living, p. 1616; November 1, 2002, Bill Ott, review of Kings of Many Castles, p. 477; November 15, 2002, David Pitt, review of Ice Age, p. 579; February 15, 2004, David Wright, review of Triple Cross, p. 104; December 15, 2004, Emily Melton, review of Dead End, p. 711.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1998, review of Mind/Reader, p. 915; February 1, 1999, review of At Any Price, p. 177; February 15, 2002, review of The Watchmen, p. 207; September 1, 2002, review of Kings of Many Castles, p. 1252; January 15, 2004, review of Triple Cross, p. 51; April 1, 2004, review of The Holmes Inheritance, p. 301; February 1, 2004, review of Dead End, p. 136.
Library Journal, May 15, 2000, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of Dead Men Living, p. 123; October 15, 2000, Michael Rogers, review of The Iron Cage and Target, p. 109, October 1, 2002, Barbara Conaty, review of Kings of Many Castles, p. 126.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 13, 1984, Chris Wall, review of CIA, p. 13; August 23, 1987, Jim Stinson, review of See Charlie Run, p. 4.
New York Times Book Review, February 23, 1973, review of Goodbye to an Old Friend, p. 49; January 19, 1975, review of Face Me When You Walk Away, p. 36; December 14, 1975, review of The Man Who Wanted Tomorrow, p. 31; November 27, 1977, Newgate Callendar, review of Charlie M., p. 36; December 9, 1979, Newgate Callendar, review of The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin, p. 20; December 7, 1980, Newgate Callendar, review of Charlie Muffin U.S.A., p. 45; September 7, 1986, Newgate Callendar, review of The Blind Run, p. 17; November 1, 1987, Newgate Callendar, review of See Charlie Run, p. 34; June 25, 1989, Newgate Callendar, review of The Run Around, p. 31; February 25, 1990, Newgate Callendar, review of O'Farrell's Law, p. 35; December 13, 1992, Newgate Callendar, review of Comrade Charlie, p. 17; August 22, 1993, Newgate Callendar, review of The Button Man, p. 15; June 26, 1994, Newgate Callendar, review of Charlie's Apprentice, p. 19; May 18, 1997, James Polk, review of Bomb Grade, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1992, review of Little Grey Mice, p. 66; October 19, 1992, review of Comrade Charlie, p. 58; June 7, 1993, review of The Button Man, p. 50; May 2, 1994, review of Charlie's Apprentice, p. 284; December 12, 1994, No Time for Heroes, p. 48; September 30, 1996, review of The Octopus: Europe in the Grip of Organised Crime, p. 71; February 10, 1997, review of Bomb Grade, p. 67; June 8, 1998, review of Mind/Reader, p. 50; May 22, 2000, review of Dead Men Living, p. 75; October 22, 2001, review of Hell's Paradise, p. 47; February 25, 2002, review of The Watchmen, p. 42; November 11, 2002, review of Kings of Many Castles, p. 42; November 25, 2002, review of Ice Age, p. 44; July 28, 2003, review of Two Women, p. 79; February 2, 2004, review of Triple Cross, p. 58; April 19, 2004, review of The Holmes Inheritance, p. 44; May 9, 2005, review of The Holmes Factor, p. 50.
Time, August 17, 1987, William A. Henry III, review of See Charlie Run, p. 64.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 11, 1989, Frederick Busch, review of The Run Around, p. 8; March 11, 1990, review of O'Farrell's Law, p. 7.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (December 15, 2005), Harriet Klausner, reviews of The Watchmen, Kings of Many Castles, and Triple Cross.
Crime Time Online, http://www.crimetime.co.uk/ (December 15, 2005), Charles Waring, review of Charlie's Choice: The First Charlie Muffin Omnibus.
Mystery Reader, http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (December 15, 2005), review of Dead Men Living.