In the two decades that followed the mid-1950s, the English detective novel was displaced in popularity in Britain by a new genre of fiction. Dubbed "thrillers", they were action-oriented books that reflected the legacy of the recent war and the issues of a nation coping with imperial decline and an ongoing Cold War against the Soviet Union. For all of the diversity of the characters and their foes, what these books shared was a common premise of British spies and adventurers facing off against a range of nefarious foes, typically in an exotic locale, for which various degrees of violence were necessary in order to win the day.
Having grown up reading these books, Mike Ripley makes it clear from the start that he is an unabashed fan of the genre. His book looking at its authors and their works is a reflection of this, serving in many ways as an extended love letter to works he looks upon nostalgically, albeit with a healthy dose of criticism. Tracing their emergence in the specific environment of postwar Britain, he charts their evolution from their origins in the sometime bleak atmosphere of "austerity Britain" through their James Bond-driven emergence as a global phenomenon in the 1960s to their fade by the late 1970s. In his best chapters he explains how they reflected the circumstances of the moment, providing a measure of escapism for people pining for distant places and an assertion of national importance during a period of global eclipse. While his later chapters often are little more than a recounting of various series by a growing range of authors, his book nonetheless serves as an entertaining study of an important genre, one that Ripley demonstrates reflected both their times and their audience.