Kenneth Benton’s spy thriller novels draw on his time in SIS (later to become MI6), and focus on the Cold War power struggles between MI6/SIS, the CIA and the KGB. His hero, Peter Craig, has an outsider perspective on events – allied to, and fluent in many of the intelligence services’ tactics, Craig is first and foremost an investigator and a troubleshooter, and often unaware of the services’ ulterior motives.
Benton’s affectionate, in-depth knowledge of Rome, the setting of Spy in Chancery, comes from his arrival as Head of Station shortly after the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943.
Sole Agent, set in Lisbon, draws on his time in Madrid during the war. Lisbon was one of the only neutral and open European ports on the Atlantic during World War II, and as such was a key route into Britain for the Axis spies whom it was Kenneth’s job to monitor.
Greek Fire marked a departure from the Peter Craig series, and was written under the pseudonym James Kirton in 1985. The thriller deals with a KGB plot to infiltrate Albania via Corfu. The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania had withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact many years earlier, and was outside the control of either Soviet Russia or China; Albania is strategically important in the Mediterranean, and in the later Cold War its independence made it a prime target for spying.
Vengeance in Venice was published posthumously in 2011, from manuscripts in Kenneth’s literary estate. Vengeance completes Peter Craig’s trilogy of spy thriller novels (the seventh book to feature the character); set in 1970s Venice, with a KGB assassin on Craig’s trail, ordered to avenge the events of the first two stories.
Reviews of the spy thriller novels
“Competent and tense to the last page.”
– Belfast Telegraph, 1971 (Sole Agent)
“Benton is one of those leisurely Englishmen who has a civilised, cultured style, and who knows how to get the reader involved in a complicated chess game of competing secret agencies.”
– New York Times Book Review, 3.6.1973 (Spy in Chancery)