by Joyce Lamb)
My favorite heroine among my own books is a spy (Samantha Trudeau in True Shot). I had SO much fun writing that character, for the same reasons that Sally Eggert, author of In the Dark (out now!), describes here. Female spies rock!
Sally: Spies make terrific characters in fiction. We can't help being dazzled by the danger, the intrigue, the tech, and the whole spy mystique. But I think my fascination with spy stories comes more from my curiosity about the real person under all that flash, especially when she is a woman. How can anyone live with all that secrecy, the constant necessity of watching her own back, and the need to question the motives of the people around her? I can only imagine. I think that's why my favorite female spies in pop culture are the ones who give me a glimpse into their inner struggles and the emotional fallout that comes with their job. Here are my top five favorites, in no particular order:
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!!
The stone-cold spy (but not really!): Evelyn Salt, from the movie Salt
This woman is dangerous — a human arsenal of deadly tricks and ruthless tactics. She escapes from one impossible situation after another, staying mostly in one piece. She's pretty much invulnerable, except for one place: her heart. She's been through a lifetime of conditioning and kept mind-blowing secrets from people trained to ferret them out, but the right love still got under her bulletproof skin. Her tactical prowess is impressive, but I find I'm more intrigued by her problems, like the challenge of holding on to anything resembling a consistent sense of her own identity, and the impossibility of locking her heart away or protecting the people she loves. I didn't see it coming, but somehow all of that came into much sharper focus for me when the character struggling with it was a woman.
The bitterly idealistic spy: Nikita of La Femme Nikita
Nikita is a wayward adolescent who has just about put the last nail in the coffin of her future when she is offered one last chance to redeem herself at the cost of her freedom. She is recruited into a clandestine agency, trained as an undercover counterterrorism operative, and told she is fighting for the greater good. But she can't reconcile the rhetoric with the reality. For her, the end doesn't always justify her superiors' ruthless means. She is constantly made to use her softer feminine side in the line of duty, but struggles with the emotional consequences of her actions. And how can she trust anyone in a place where even "truth" is just another cocktail of misrepresentations and ulterior motives? It's a perfect recipe for a character who desperately needs to trust someone with her heart, but can never fully do so. Her on-and-off, real-or-calculated relationship with her mentor keeps me on the edge of my seat even more than the fire fights. Once again, her gender brings her face-to-face with a whole different side of the spy gig.
At the start of the movie, Terry is nothing remotely spy-like. She is a computer operator in the money transfer room at a bank. And she never thinks of herself as a spy, but still ends up doing all the legwork and most of the high-tech stunts for a British intelligence operative who hacks into her terminal at the bank looking for help reaching his contact in New York. Terry doesn't do any of this for politics, patriotism, or thrills; she does it because someone she has grown to care about is in danger, and this is the only way to save him. And if you're going to be a regular person who gets plucked from the streets of Manhattan and sucked into a whirlwind of international espionage with hilarious results, isn't that the best reason of all?
The spy under duress: Marguerite St. Just, from The Scarlet Pimpernel
Marguerite is an actress, not a spy. But when Citizen Chauvelin accuses her brother Armand of treason, he offers her only one way to save Armand from the guillotine: by becoming a spy and helping to expose the brave and daring Scarlet Pimpernel. Afraid to seek help from her seemingly foppish husband, Percy, whose love she fears she has lost, she must agree to Chauvelin's demands, and doesn't learn that Percy himself is the Scarlet Pimpernel until after she has betrayed him. Percy has been hiding his alter ego from Marguerite because he believes she has already betrayed his cause. But when Marguerite realizes what she has done, she embarks on a new secret mission to save the man she loves, proving her loyalty and courage in the process. Percy and Marguerite spend most of the story desperately in love, but paralyzed by doubts and unable to trust each other. When the truth finally comes out, their reconciliation is sublime.
The ultimate tortured reluctant heart-breaker spy: Alicia Huberman in Hitchcock's Notorious
Alicia feels branded by the public and press, who paint her as the wild daughter of a Nazi war criminal. Angry and frustrated at her inability to change those circumstances, she does her best to flush her life and her better self down the toilet as a great big F-you to anyone who might be watching or disapproving of her. She drinks too much, looks for laughs in the wrong places, and has accumulated a long list of male "playmates" in 1946, when nice girls were supposed to wait until the wedding night. Then, along comes a strong silent spy, offering her a chance to redeem herself even in her own jaded eyes. But there's a catch: In order to accomplish her mission, she has to draw on her bad-girl skills and seduce a villain, which will break the heart of the one man who truly loves her. Add to that the alternating flashes of love, hurt, and cruelty expertly dealt by Cary Grant — who is devastating as the hero who can't help lashing out in pain as the mission moves forward — and the result is one of the most gripping heartsick spy love stories of all time.
While we're on the subject, I have to give honorable mention to Eve Kendall from North by Northwest for her combination of cool professionalism and personal angst, to Lana Kane from Archer for humor, strength, and sheer bad-assery, and to Julia Child, even though she was a real person, and not technically a spy but, come on!! Julia Child, America's favorite cheery, motherly TV chef spent World War II doing Top Secret research on shark repellent?! That's too good to leave out. Of anything. Ever.
Thanks for having me, HEA!
Here's the blurb about In the Dark:
A woman drawn into a dangerous game. A man who may not be what he seems. Passion raises the stakes in Sally Eggert's electrifying novel of deception and desire.
Josie Nielsen's anonymous life as a bartender is a world away from her classified job at a covert agency—and the terrifying night she was almost killed for her country's secrets. That was the night Josie found out the hard way that no one had her back, especially not the man she thought she loved. But she's pulled back in when her new boyfriend becomes the target of a government drug sting.
A sexy, laid-back barfly, Johnny Boyer is the kind of guy Josie can count on . . . to disappear before things get too complicated. But after she learns that Johnny is part of a major international trafficking operation, Josie can't let him out of her sight. And yet even as she plunges into the mortal danger that surrounds Johnny, her attraction to him burns hotter than ever. She just isn't sure whether she's falling for a ruthless, cold-blooded criminal or the only man she's ever met worth trusting with her life.
Find out more at www.sallyeggert.com.