W. Somerset Maugham


A collection of short stories based on the experiences of an intelligence agent during World War I.

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During World War I W. Somerset Maugham, already by then an established playwright and author, was recruited to be a British intelligence agent. These stories reflect his wartime experiences in intelligence gathering. Though fictionalized, they managed to retain enough authentic elements for Winston Churchill to advise Maugham that their publication might be a violation of the Official Secrets Act, resulting in the author burning an additional 14 stories.

Set in various locales across the continent, these remaining Ashenden stories are a precursor to the jet-setting spy novels of the 1950s and 1960s. Maugham is known as a master short story writer and these stories are no exception, combining wit and realism to create memorable characters in a unique and highly critical portrait of wartime espionage.

Initially released to a mixed reception—with an early review by D. H. Lawrence being especially scathing—Ashenden has since been credited as an inspiration for numerous authors, including John Le Carré, Graham Greene, and Raymond Chandler. The latter in particular was especially impressed, writing in 1950, “There are no other great spy stories—none at all. I have been searching and I know.”