• France's news in English
 

French spy novelist De Villiers dies at 83

Published: 01 Nov 2013 13:18 GMT+01:00

Prolific spy novelist Gerard De Villiers, the creator of the top-selling SAS series with a hero often described as France's answer to James Bond, has died aged 83 in Paris.

Friends and family said he had died on Thursday after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.

Never a darling of the critics, De Villiers was nonetheless a publishing phenomenon, claiming his thrillers sold up to 150 million copies worldwide.

The 200th book in the series -- "SAS: The Kremlin's Revenge" -- was released last month.

Instantly recognizable by their lurid covers inevitably featuring a femme fatale brandishing a handgun or assault rifle, his work was shunned by France's literary establishment.

But outside literary circles, De Villiers was often praised for his geopolitical insights and was known for cultivating a vast network of intelligence officials, diplomats and journalists who fed him information.

In a profile early this year headlined "The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much", The New York Times said his books were "ahead of the news" and "regularly contain information about terror plots, espionage and wars that has never appeared elsewhere".

His death came as he seemed on the verge of realizing a long-cherished dream of breaking into the English-language market, with reports he was working on a deal with a major US publisher.

In an interview with newspaper Le Monde this summer, De Villiers said Random House had offered him $350,000 (260,000 euros) for the rights to five SAS books that would be translated into English. He said he hoped the deal would eventually lead to Hollywood films.

De Villiers gleaned much of his information from field trips around the world, giving credence to the exploits of his aristocratic Austrian hero, Malko Linge, who works as a freelance agent for the CIA to fund the restoration of his family chateau.

The books stuck to a well-trod formula -- fast-moving plots, exotic locales and generous doses of graphic sex.

"I never had any pretensions of being a literary writer," De Villiers told AFP in an interview this year. "I consider myself a storyteller who writes to amuse people."

He was also considered eerily prophetic, detailing a plot to kill the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a year before his actual assassination in 1981 and describing a secret CIA command centre in the Libyan city of Benghazi in early 2012.

The true existence of the CIA site eventually came to light after an attack on US facilities in Benghazi in September 2012 that left four dead, including US ambassador Christopher Stevens.

His work was reportedly required reading in some intelligence circles and followed by spies far outside France.

"The (intelligence) services used SAS novels countless times to send messages to their counterparts," said De Villiers's longtime lawyer, Eric Morain.

Born in Paris on December 8, 1929, De Villiers was working as a journalist when he drew inspiration from the success of Ian Fleming's James Bond series to write his first novel, "SAS in Istanbul", in 1965.

He went on to publish an average of four SAS novels -- so-called after Linge's honorific "Son Altesse Serenissime" (His Most Serene Highness) -- every year, writing them over a month on an aged typewriter.

He was often lambasted for his right-wing views and his overtly sexual portrayals of women, and accused of racism.

But De Villiers was unapologetic.

"Some women are sexual objects in my books but others are beautiful, intelligent and brave. And I am always warmly welcomed in Africa, where I have very many readers," he said.

De Villiers's wife Christine said he had been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer since May.

"The last weeks he was conscious but very weak. He could not endure the chemotherapy," she told AFP. "It is exactly the death that he did not want."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Why the French back their striking farmers
A farmer passes by the main entrance of the DDT (Direction Departementale des territoires) with manure stacked outside during a protest. Photo: AFP

Why the French back their striking farmers

Visitors to France may have cursed the striking French farmers who recently blocked towns and tourists attractions with piles of manure, but the French public are 100 percent behind them. Well almost. READ  

New plan to get shy French chatting on trains
TGV passengers are known to keep to themselves. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers/Flickr

New plan to get shy French chatting on trains

A passenger survey from French rail operator SNCF has found that while the majority of respondents are keen to make conversation on a TGV train, they're being held back. And SNCF wants to help. READ  

Hollande hails Obama's 'courage' on climate plan
President François Hollande has saluted the courage of Barack Obama for taking on the fight against climate change. Photo: AFP

Hollande hails Obama's 'courage' on climate plan

The French President François Hollande has hailed the "courage" of Barack Obama for committing the US to unprecedented cuts in carbon emissions as the US president takes up the fight against climate change before December's key global conference in Paris. READ  

Calais migrants' crisis
Calais migrants: France wants more help from UK
UK Border Force will send 100 more officers to Calais. Photo: AFP

Calais migrants: France wants more help from UK

UPDATED: The French and UK governments have steered clear of blaming each other over the ongoing Calais migrants crisis, but France’s interior minister upped the tone on Tuesday by demanding more action from London. READ  

Wild wallabies roam villages west of Paris
Wallabies have adapted to their new home in the wilds of France. Photo: AFP

Wild wallabies roam villages west of Paris

A tiny French village in Paris's leafy western suburbs is ringed by scores of wild wallabies, who now thrive in a nearby forest a world away from their native Australia. READ  

Christian tombs desecrated in France
File photo showing Jewish graves vandalised in February. Photo: AFP

Christian tombs desecrated in France

UPDATED: Around 40 Christian tombs were desecrated in a cemetery in eastern France on Monday, with headstones uprooted or broken, the interior ministry said in a statement. Three youths have been arrested. READ  

Teen driver who killed four 'had been drinking'
An arrow painted on the road by the police indicates the direction of the road accident. Photo: AFP

Teen driver who killed four 'had been drinking'

The driver of a van which crashed killing four teenagers and injuring ten others in northwestern France over the weekend was under the influence of alcohol, it emerged on Monday. READ  

French beach re-opens to public as Saudis leave
A woman watches as workmen dismantle the lift built for the Saudi royals. Photo: AFP

French beach re-opens to public as Saudis leave

UPDATED: Workers were busily returning a beach in southern France to its previous condition on Monday after the departure of Saudi King Salman, whose commandeering of the coastline had caused uproar among locals. READ  

Experts meet in Paris over Boeing 777 debris
Officials come the waterside in Réunion looking for more clues. Photo: AFP

Experts meet in Paris over Boeing 777 debris

French and Malaysian aviation experts met in Paris on Monday to probe the disappearance of Flight MH370, after mystery plane debris washed up on the French island of Réunion last week. READ  

Summer storms to batter south-western France
The heavy weather is expected to roll in at 7pm, not abating until 6pm on Tuesday. File photo: AFP

Summer storms to batter south-western France

Parts of France's south west are on high alert on Monday with wild weather set to create havoc in three coastal départements from the early evening on. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
French bullfighting president mauled by rampaging bull
National
French court says 'non' to new cockfighting pits
France names capital cities for new regions
Ten things you didn't know about Gay Paris
France eyes boost to holiday leave rights
Business & Money
French dating sites 'not protecting client privacy'
Features
Learn more about the Bayonne festival - France's wildest party
Features
What's on in France: Ten things to do in August
Features
What to see and do at the Paris Plages this summer
Saudi royals 'bar' French policewomen from beach
Take a closer look at the 560,000-year-old tooth found in France
National
Swiss army pilfers French water to give to thirsty cows
National
'B**ch' and 'brainless': French shop slurs clients
Travel
French cops rebel over order to give kids sweets
National
New measures to stop migrant deaths in Calais
Travel
Here are some of the most ridiculous comments you'll read about France
Features
Life may be about to get easier for expats settling in France
National
Burning tyres and blocking roads is just the way the French do strikes
National
Muslim tourists visiting French Alps are reminded of burqa ban
Opinion
Slim and chic: Are French women fed up of the stereotypes?
French officials defend handing public beach over to Saudi royals
Society
French kiss: Should expats in France do 'la bise' among themselves?
National
Paris commuters and tourists face summer of travel trouble
This man learnt the entire French vocabulary in nine weeks, but why?
French speed cameras snare tens of thousands of British drivers
Gallery
What kind of expat in France are you: A lover or a loather?
Society
French tweeters reveal the trials and tribulations of #GrowingupFrench
Where to find the best (and worst) quality of life in France
National
Riviera rumpus as Saudi royals grab public beach all for themselves
What we know about France's foiled terror plot
Features
Here are ten places in Paris where you can escape the summer heat
National
Coup d'état fails in France after being snubbed by military
Are shoppers in northern France the most honest in the world?
French woman fined €90 for driving in flip-flops
Cyclists in Paris get the green light to jump red
'Adieu France': Angry mum's parting rant goes viral
Franco-German rift opens over Greece and it could take time to heal
The Megavalanche: The most spectacular cycling event in France
Ex-French PM's daughter creates a buzz by going topless for photo shoot
Could Parisians be bathing in the Seine by 2024?
Paris unveils new mobile app to help non-French speakers
France declares war on public transport sex pests
So where's the best place to live in France if you want to be happy?
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,629
jobs available