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Bill Granger wrote books. He churned them out. They had no business being as good as he made them. "I've written eight books in three years," he told an interviewer in 1983. "Fear is a great motivator—I have to pay the mortgage."
What he said above he said to me in 1991. The subject of our conversation was his best-known books—the November Man series of international spy thrillers—and confusion thrown in the marketplace by other authors. Roger Ebert was serializing in the Sun-Times a "crackpot, whimsical" cliff-hanger (Ebert's description) whose hero was a Mason Devereaux. Granger had named his ice-cold November Man Devereaux (no first name given), and until Ebert explained that he intended some sort of homage and compliment, Granger wasn't particularly happy about it. A former Sun-Times colleague of Ebert's, he accepted the explanation.
But somebody else came out with a spy novel called The Devereaux File; and then E.P. Dutton's 1991 spring catalog touted a new novel by the author David Daniel as a "riveting, frighteningly realistic political thriller." The title: The November Man. Granger's agent, Aaron Priest, called Dutton's editor in chief, and the title was changed. The dimes went back on Granger's eyelids.
In 1978 the Sun-Times's sister paper, the afternoon Daily News, folded, and when the staffs were merged Granger lost his job. He had a family to support. He started writing books, and he wrote and published 28 of them before he had to quit. About half were November Man novels. Granger quit writing because of a massive stroke in 2000 that destroyed his short-term memory, and he lived out the last few years of his life at the Manteno Veterans Home. I visited him there once, and when I got back to Chicago called his wife, Lori, to describe the visit. "He's already forgotten it," she said.
Granger died in the spring of 2012.
His books were admired, but I always felt they were not admired enough. My yardstick was Granger's: they'd earned him too many dimes, too few dollars. Hollywood should have snapped them up. If Hollywood had butchered them, Granger would have cared but shrugged it off.
So I write today with good news. Pierce Brosnan is in Belgrade, Serbia, at this moment making a movie he’s calling The November Man. It's an adaptation of one of Granger's Devereaux novels—not the first, called The November Man and published in 1979, but a later one, There Are No Spies. Said Publishers Weekly, when that book was published in 1986, "a sequence of deadly events" brings Devereaux out of retirement, "pitting him against a deadly female Soviet operative and ultimately leading him to a Soviet sleeper agent high within the American security community."
How did this happen? I asked Lori Granger.
"Our agent [Priest] kept saying the motion picture business is crazy," she said. "We've had options in the past, and they went away." An option to hold movie rights to a book for a few years isn't even a lot of money to the author—maybe a couple of thousand dollars a year; it's insignificant to a producer. Granger's first novel, The November Man, was optioned, and so were a couple of others. Nothing ever happened and the options eventually lapsed. Authors who get their hopes up learn better.
About five years ago Brosnan optioned There Are No Spies for four years. "When Aaron called me he said, 'Take it for what it is. It'll probably not go anyplace,'" said Lori Granger. And it didn't. But then Brosnan renewed the option for a fifth year at $10,000—a sum still too small to mean anything, but even so, five figures. And then Brosnan (actually, his "money people") told Priest early this year they were going to exercise the option and make the movie. And, just in case it's a hit, they've reserved the right to make a second movie from another November Man novel.
Granger died before his wife could tell him about the movie. But he knew about Brosnan's option. "In so far as he knew anything at all in the last four years," she told me. "I certainly explained it to him several times. His short-term memory was down to about 15 minutes, so it was rough. He'd gotten to the point where he didn't even remember writing the books."
Lori Granger has no intention of going to Serbia to visit the set and kick the tires of the moviemaking business. I asked her if she could see Brosnan, who's 60, as Devereaux. "I guess I can, as much as anyone," she said. "He's older than the November Man would have been in the books."
But James Bond, in those books, was in his mid-30s, and Brosnan managed. Besides, he picked the one where Devereaux comes out of retirement.