Ashenden was particularly admired by Raymond Chandler, and that is what first interested me in it. It is the story, based on Maugham's own experience, of a British spy in the first world war. The 'story' is more a series of separate episodes, and I can easily imagine why it appealed to Chandler -- as well as the laconic detachment of the writing, there is almost a feel of Hammett here and there, notably the episode of the Hairless Mexican. Much of the action centres round Geneva, a city I personally like, and there is a peculiar fascination in the voyage of the lake-steamer going in and out of the war-zone as it alternates between Switzerland and France. This kind of spy did not have much in common with the heroes of Len Deighton or John Le Carre -- the job reminds me more of how J K Galbraith described the life of an ambassador, ninety percent boredom and ten percent panic, like being an airline pilot. It has its grim side too as you would expect. One of the most memorable pieces is the story of the traitor Grantley Caypor. Some years ago Ashenden was serialised on television, with Caypor superbly played by Alan Bennett. What that production did not even try to reproduce was what happened at the moment of Caypor's execution, unforgettable in Maugham's cold prose.