French spy writer Gerard de Villiers dies aged 83

Gerard de Villiers. Photo: 2007 Gerard de Villiers churned books out at a rate of about four a year

French writer Gerard de Villiers, whose thrillers sold more than 100m copies around the world, has died aged 83.

De Villiers died after a long illness, his lawyer said. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May.

He was the creator of the popular SAS series, with an Austrian hero often seen as France's literary James Bond.

Drawing on his network of intelligence sources around the world, De Villiers was famous for his uncanny knack of anticipating actual events.

'Action and sex'

Analysis

The literary world despised de Villiers' novels, with their formulaic melange of action and sex.

But the extraordinary thing was how closely they mirrored - indeed sometimes prophesied - geopolitical reality.

One recent book - The Madmen of Benghazi - dealt with the rise of Islamist extremism in post-Gaddafi's Libya and came out a few months before the killing of the US ambassador there.

Back in 1980, he devised a plot around the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was killed the following year.

The truth is that de Villiers had extremely good connections with French intelligence.

One French foreign minister has even said he read de Villiers' novels before going to a trouble spot in order to find out what French spies thought was happening there.

"The last weeks he was conscious but very weak," de Villiers' wife, Christine, told the AFP news agency.

"It is exactly the death that he did not want," she added.

De Villiers's SAS series became a publishing phenomenon in France, Germany, Russia, Turkey and Japan, the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris reports.

The series starred a fiercely anti-Communist Austrian aristocrat called Malko Linge, who worked as a freelance CIA agent.

The SAS initials came from Linge's honorific Son Altesse Serenissime (His Most Serene Highness).

Lurid covers

De Villiers was inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond but felt that no-one would believe in a French spy hero - so instead created Malko Linge, our correspondent says.

With covers invariably featuring a semi-naked woman with a gun they have been a staple of railway station book shops, selling by the million.

Starting in 1965, de Villiers churned books out at a rate of four a year.

His last and 200th book - SAS: The Kremlin's Revenge - was released last month.

"I never had any pretensions of being a literary writer," the writer admitted in an interview with the AFP last year.

"I consider myself a storyteller who writes to amuse people."

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