Gérard de Villiers, one of the bestselling thriller writers of all time, passed away a couple of weeks back. The 83 year old French writer died of cancer.
His spy thrillers — Son Altesse Sérénissime aka SAS — serve as an example of one of the longest running series in the history of espionage fiction. De Villiers wrote 200 SAS novels, which sold more than 150 million copies and were translated into several languages. SAS novels always had provoking covers — usually a semi-nude female clutching a gun.
When Ian Fleming died in 1964, De Villiers tried to take his place with his brand of espionage thrillers. His protagonist Malko Linge is a Austrian aristocrat, who acts as a freelance agent for the CIA and embarks on perilous missions across the globe. Like Bond, he is vulnerable to femme fatales. SAS novels have a heavy dose of sex and gunplay, but are somewhat different from Bond books in terms of style.
De Villiers had a lot of sources in intelligence agencies, which gave him crucial information about real life espionage. His journalistic background gave him a thorough geopolitical knowledge too. So it’s not surprising that his books, though formulaic, were too close to reality and often mentioned events like assassination of the President of Egypt before the actual incident took place.
De Villiers was often accused by the critics of extreme right wing views, racism, and cheap entertainment. He was kind of sad about this; once he said “They cannot ignore me, but they have given me no recognition.” De Villiers’ success in English-language market was limited, and his books were never made into Hollywood blockbusters. But if globally considered, he was a publishing sensation and had success few writers in the genre could achieve.
Hopefully, we shall have new translations of his novels soon enough. Sleep well Mr. De Villiers.