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Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  600 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Now a TNT series starring Sean Bean

Robert Littell is the undisputed master of American spy fiction, hailed for his profound grasp of the world of international espionage. His previous novel, The Company, an international bestseller, was praised as "one of the best spy novels ever written" (Chicago Tribune). For his new novel, Legends, Littell focuses on the life of one gr
Hardcover, 386 pages
Published April 21st 2005 by Overlook Hardcover (first published 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,450)
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Lukasz Pruski
Robert Littell's "Legends" is a pleasantly offbeat spy novel. It aspires to a degree of depth by attempting to investigate psychological effects of assuming different identities for different undercover assignments, but despite the pretentious subtitle "A novel of dissimulation", it does not quite work. The title word, 'legends', refers to fictitious life histories made up for an operative of a spy agency when preparing for a mission.

Martin Odum is a private detective in Brooklyn, who - in his e
Martin Odum is a former CIA agent with some memory issues and a few former aliases--called legends in agency parlance--that continue to haunt him. Now out of the game and working as a private detective based in Brooklyn he's unable to recall large swathes of his adult life, and most of his childhood. He's not even sure if Martin Odum is his real name.

When he gets hired to find a husband who skipped out on his wife without giving her a 'get' (Jewish divorce decree), he unknowingly stirs up a horn
First of all, I didn't read it, I listened to it. I can still hear the voice of the man, as he switched between accents and genders.
The author has definitely a handle on details.
His story is not drawn in pastels, but rather in pen with all the details clearly visible. It is the details themselves that sometimes make the narrative dry - on the other hand it is the details that make the book good. Go figure.
I never tought people can lie so much - is the first thought that jumps into my head when
I picked this up because I watched the first season of the tv show and always like a good spy thriller. It didn't take long to realize the show was only extremely loosely based on the book. It's like they took only the concept of the character and select names, took away the specific plot and plopped him in a very current America instead of the 90's. Honestly, it sounds reasonable to me so they could make a tv show that's current. It plays better to today's audience to have had him be in Afghani ...more
Lorin Cary
Martin Odum is a retired CIA covert field operative who now works as a detective in Brooklyn, NY. When a new client asks him to track down a missing husband in Israel so her sister can get the paper which will allow her to divorce, the trek across countries is a voyage through his past as well. Odum seemingly suffers from multiple personality disorder. The various covers, legends, he has used in the past are so real that they permitted him to penetrate the Mafia and Hezbollah, for instance. But ...more
It’s interesting reading Robert Littell’s ‘Legends’ at this particular moment of time. The world news is full of those Russian spies arrested in the US, while the British papers claimed this weekend there are about 300 Russian spies in this country. (What they’re all doing here, I don’t know. The reports have had the odd effect though of making me think of every Russian person I’ve ever met in the UK and then trying to calculate how suspicious they are.) This is very much a modern cold war novel ...more
I picked up this book because I've been enjoying the television series, but this is nothing like what is on TV except for the title and the name of main character. In fact, there is so much repetition that a good editor could probably knock off a hundred pages from the novel without any loss. There are numerous typos and misspellings, unusual for a Penguin book. The one thing that WAS clever was that the main character has multiple personalities, thus allowing the author to be totally inconsiste ...more
Christopher Culp
One of Littell's better espionage novels, Legends is an interesting mix of a good old-fashioned spy novel with an analysis of the psychological impact of being under deep cover on the man. More than his other works, Legends crosses over into the territory normally dominated by Graham Greene and John le Carré. This is not Littell's bread-and-butter territory, but he makes the crossover effectively. The result is a very nice (albeit long and sometimes slow) book and a significant contribution to L ...more
Martin doesn't know who he is, except that he is quite possibly a government agent, and he's done some very bad things. ( very bad things indeed!) He has other names in his head and other lives he has lived, other pasts that pop up in his conscious and subconscious, but he can't quite pin any of them down. Dies he work for the CIA or MI6, or something far more nefarious?
So when a woman comes to him for help in getting her sister a religious divorce which requires traveling to several foreign co
Ian Wood
This is the complete review as it appears at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here. Graphic and children's reviews on the blog typically feature two or three images from the book's interior, which are not reproduced here.

Note that I don't really do stars. To me a book is either worth reading or it isn't. I can't rate it three-
Jeff Swystun
This was one of the more fascinating spy novels I have read in some time. A "legend" is a covert agent's back story and the book's main character has more than one incredibly layered and convincing persona. Indeed one of them is compelling enough on its own to warrant reading the novel. The plot takes place largely in the 90's and involves Cold War, oligarch and militant Muslim threats. With many such tales it also illuminates and calls out the clashes that take place between rival intelligence ...more
A muddled, far-fetched spy story with an obligatory romance. I am a sucker for fiction dealing with disorders of the mind, so I was intrigued by the protagonist's multiple personalities and memory loss. However, the story (and its resolution) had little to do with that. Though at points entertaining, the story was tortuous and plot-based, so the convoluted plot couldn't hold it up.

This would be a good read for hard-core spy/FBI/conspiracy fans, but for the average reader, it's lacking.
Although the idea of a CIA agent developing Multiple Personality Disorder based on his different cover identities (i.e. "legends") is clever, I never got to the point where I really cared what was going to happen to the protagonist. Clever ending from a political standpoint but, nonetheless, I just never got caught up in the plot. Doesn't hold a candle to the Company.
Bill Scott-Kerr
Compelling, smart, sophisticated and knowing, this book shows how and why Robert Littell is the genius of the American spy thriller. The Company is an impossible-to-beat classic of the genre but Legends admirably demonstrates just how many ways there are to skin the cat.
Well. The TV show has the same name. And the characters often have the same names as the ones in the book, but that's where the resemblance ends.

I picked it up to see if I could get insight into the TV show. It's a good story if you like spy/thrillers. There's a lot of violence, a lot of confusion, a lot of wondering who's good, who's bad and why.

It's an explanation for why the Soviet Union collapsed and for the chaos under Yeltsin. It will also make you wonder if the CIA recruits people with
I quite enjoyed the TV series so decided the book would be an improvement as is so often the case.


Firstly there is barely any common ground between the book and the TV series.

A pet annoyance was the time Odum (the main character) spent in England where he seemed to be surrounded by Dick Van Dyke sound-alikes.

Before I get more sidetracked lets get back on track.

Martin Odum (may or may not be his real identity) is a spy capable of taking on deep cover personalities to such a degree he is see
Littell, Robert. LEGENDS. (2005). *****.
Mr. Littell writes excellent espionage novels. He is often considered to be the American LeCarre. In this story, he has outdone himself. Our protagonist is a retired spook who has opened up a detective agency in Brooklyn. His name is Martin Odum; or is it? In the course of his work for the CIA over the years, Martin has taken on several identities – referred to as legends in his group – and now is confused as to who he really is. Who is he really? Is he s
Jim Leckband
Everybody in "Legends" is not who they say they are. Spies, of course, but other "civilians" as well. Illegal immigrants, criminals, witness protection, etc. In fact, as the book goes on you are habituated to not take anyone's identity at face value (pun very much intended) since you find out later that it was a "legend".

A "legend" is the cover identity that a CIA spy adopts on a mission. It needs to be so ingrained with history and mannerisms that the spy doesn't have to think to stay in charac
I absolutely loved this book.
To me it was the perfect mix of humor, action and psychology. I had just finished reading The Bourne Identity when I picked this one up and couldn't help but compare the two. They're both about CIA agents suffering from a type of memory loss, and both have people trying to kill them, however Martin is much more glib about it than Jason was.
I loved how Littell went into not just Martin Odum's head, but also jumped back and forth between present Martin, past Martin, L
David Graham
I really enjoyed this book. Loved the haunting, disturbing prologue, was intrigued by the early part, felt it lost a little steam just past the half-way point until the closing stretch (which I think was more down to me being so busy I was only getting to pick the book up for short chunks of time) and then loved the conclusion.

The book follows a private detective Martin Odum who is an ex-CIA operative who previously worked undercover, suffered in the field and now suffers from Multiple Personali
Clint Harman
Great book.

Great book.

I had just seen the 1st episode of Legends.
I thought I was reading a current story and would be projected into post 911 paranoia.
I found myself reflecting on memories of the 90's and my experience with Russians and and found the so plausible behavior of the characters refreshing.
By the way, some of the typos were blatant. its lineman not lineSman. great book.
Ein verwirrender, sehr toll geschriebener Agententhriller, der den Leser bis zum Schluss zweifeln lässt, ob Martin Odum, ein New Yorker Privatdetektiv (oder vielleicht doch nicht?), nur eine Person ist oder nicht, ob er verrückt oder einfach wahnsinnig gerissen ist. Dabei reist er einmal um die ganze Welt, was mir, neben den sehr geschickt eingebauten Wiederholungen, am besten gefallen hat, denn alle Hintergrundinformationen über geschichtliche Abläufe, Orte und Sprachen (z. B. die Zeichen eines ...more
First, let me say I don't usually read espionage novels. That said, I found this book tedious. The plot was convoluted, and strained credulity. I did not care about any of the characters, and found the protagonist to be rather unappealing. I also didn't appreciate the gratuitous romance thrown in. The writing, however, was very well done and the descriptions were great.
In this spy novel, Littell introduces the reader to one main character, who drives the story. The character is a retired CIA agent. During his career, he had to assume many false identities (legends). After suffering psychological trauma during this undercover career, the agent can no longer recall his true identity. He leaves the CIA and begins a "retirement" career as a private investigator. While following clues on one case in particular, he begins to uncover clues that could lead him back to ...more
Robert Littell is often categorized as a writer of “literary spy fiction,” but don’t let that fool you. His latest novel, LEGENDS, which recently has been reprinted in trade paperback form, is another masterpiece, with the detail and realism of John le Carré (without the boredom) and the action and intrigue of Robert Ludlum (without the B-movie dialogue).

LEGENDS is the story of Martin Odum, a former CIA deep-cover operative now living as a private eye in Brooklyn. Martin isn’t quite himself thes
Brad East
Unpredictable and fast-moving plot; great characters; surprising overlap with real-world persons and events; lovely prose that itself becomes a plot point when styles of description start repeating themselves and throwing a monkey wrench into the narrative. If Le Carre is A+ and McCarry A-, Littell (here) is B/B+.
Jeff J.
Robert Littell reinforces his reputation as one of the greatest contemporary espionage writers. While not the classic The Company was, Legends is a fascinating psychological study of the burdens of living life undercover. Recommended!
Diane Mckinnon

Disturbing beginning that takes ahold and doesn't let go...twists and turns all from within one man, yet living so many lives. The ending will surprise you.
After reading this I want to read more Robert Littell. I've been watching the TV series Legends and while it's based on this book it is based very loosely on it. I'll be interested to see how it plays out.
John Questore
I watched the first season of the TV show based on this book and really enjoyed it - so I thought, "The book HAS to be even better. The book is ALWAYS better". Well, I was wrong.

The book is nothing like the show. I was getting sick with all the flash-backs, flash-forwards, and I really think there was a flash-sideways at one point.

There were too many characters to keep track of - it's no wonder why the titular character is confused as well.

It took me almost two months to finish this book. I just
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An American author residing in France. He specializes in spy novels that often concern the CIA and the Soviet Union. He became a journalist and worked many years for Newsweek during the Cold War. He's also an amateur mountain climber and is the father of award-winning novelist Jonathan Littell.
More about Robert Littell...
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