“The Liar” tells the story of Karel Koecher, second from right, seen here being exchanged on the “Bridge of Spies” in Berlin in 1986.

“The Liar” tells the story of Karel Koecher, second from right, seen here being exchanged on the “Bridge of Spies” in Berlin in 1986.

Photo from the State Security Archives of the Czech Republic

Writer’s odyssey to published author began in Novi

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published September 22, 2022

 Author Benjamin Cunningham grew up in Novi and graduated from Novi High School. Hatchette Book Group has published his first book, “The Liar.”

Author Benjamin Cunningham grew up in Novi and graduated from Novi High School. Hatchette Book Group has published his first book, “The Liar.”

Photo by Edu Bayer


NOVI — A journalist with roots in Novi and its school district is making headlines around the world after successfully penning a book that details the story of a couple of double agents during the Cold War.

Author Benjamin Cunningham, who now resides in Spain but grew up in Novi and graduated from Novi High School in 1998, has seen his first book, “The Liar,” published by Hachette Book Group. “The Liar” tells the story of “how a double agent in the CIA became the Cold War’s last honest man,” according to the book’s dust jacket.

Cunningham, who has written for numerous publications around the world and teaches journalism to American students studying abroad, said he didn’t always aspire to be an author. In fact, he recalled that he used to aspire to play for the Detroit Pistons as a child.

“I guess I always liked writing and reading and all that sort of stuff, but I think when I was a kid, I loved sports and all that sort of stuff,” said Cunningham. “I’m not sure that I had a clear, realistic vision of the world or my place in it.”

He took some Advanced Placement English courses at Novi High School and fondly recalled some of his teachers. He said that, in particular, Kathy Pasquantonio and Martha Franchi had helped to shape his love of writing. He credited them with showing him that “writing can be fun.”

“They were encouraging and made me feel that I knew what I was doing,” Cunningham said of his high school AP English instructors. “They gave me some confidence.”

His advice to students who aspire to go into writing is that it is possible, but it can be quite a long journey.

“If it is something you care about, even if it seems like an abstract goal or something like that, it’s possible. The other side of it, though, is you really have to really want to do it. Everything’s possible with hard work. You really have to kind of, like, grind it out.” Cunningham said.

He said that he didn’t decide to make a career of writing until he was nearing the end of college.

“At some point, it kind of clicked that I should probably do something that I love. You know, I’m going to be working for probably 50 years. I should probably do something that I like, so (college) is kind of where it came together,” Cunningham said.

He said that while many people helped to shape his writing career, the editors at the newspapers he wrote for as a young man helped him to cement his place in the industry.

“When you’re 22, 23, and the first article you turn in, they end up editing the hell out of it, and so you learn and you kind of understand that these people have been doing it for 20 years or something like that; they kind of know,” Cunningham said. “The first week when you are an intern, they are expecting you to write a story a day or something like that, so you can kind of learn by trial by fire. You kind of have to put sentences together and you learn pretty fast.”

Cunningham decided to move to Europe in 2006 to earn his master’s degree in international relations from the University of Amsterdam. He said he decided after working for many Michigan newspapers that he wanted to do international journalism and had the idea to get his higher education outside the United States.

“It was sort of like, if you want to write about international stuff, why not study international things internationally?” he said.

He said he never intended to stay in Europe, but one thing led to another and he met his wife overseas. He said he originally intended to return to the United States and continue his journalism career.

For “The Liar,” Cunningham said he heard pieces of the story, which would later become the book, while working as a journalist in Prague. He described the story as somewhat of an urban legend there and said he had been in journalism long enough to think that it was a story worth writing.

He was able to track down and interview Karel Koecher, who had embraced New York life with his wife, Hana, while working as a double agent in the CIA. The story started off as a 6,000-word article that was published in the Guardian in the United Kingdom several years ago, but Cunningham said that the story was so good and that there was so much more to the story that he felt he needed to turn it into a book.

“I always knew Ben would do big things,” said Kristin Tyll, of Beverly Hills, formerly of Novi. Tyll has been friends with Cunningham since they were in kindergarten. “I remember reading the piece that started this all in the Guardian and thinking, ‘This is going to be a book someday, and it’s going to be a movie, too.’ It has to be. There’s so much in that story woven in. So, it has been fun to follow.”

She described Cunningham as someone who can form a well-crafted argument and who knows how to find the facts.

Cunningham said that during the process of finding an agent who would help him to get a book deal, which took a couple of years, he was able to look through a vast array of archived files, which had been made public after communism collapsed.

“I ended up going through, like, 30,000 pages. So, it was like a crazy amount of material,” he said. “That sort of pause in between actually was a little bit of a blessing in disguise. I was slowly able to go through all this stuff.”

  He said that the book took him 10 months to write, the last four months of which he worked on the book for eight to 10 hours per day.

“At that point, it was like a full-time job, but it was more than a full-time job; it was like Saturday, Sunday, that sort of stuff, too, because there was a deadline. In some romanticized version, you’d love to be working on your book all day, every day, but I am not rich, so I kind of had to do other stuff,” Cunningham said. While writing the book, he continued working as a freelance journalist and writing instructor.

  “Good or bad, at least I did what I wanted to do (with the book), but it is satisfying to see it out there,” said Cunningham.

  He said the book is currently being looked at to possibly become a movie. Even before the book was out, he said people from the motion picture industry were asking for advance copies to consider it for film.

“I think the story is really well suited for (film), and I think the response has been pretty positive from people in those industries. So, we are very optimistic that something is going to come of it,” Cunningham said.

  He said that he hopes people enjoy the book as a good, true story and acquire a feel for the characters and put themselves in their shoes. He also said that as this book is from the communist side of the Cold War, where most books and movies are told from the American perspective, he hopes that it brings to life the viewpoint of the people who were on the communist side.

“It is not to glorify their side of the Cold War, but it hopefully gives a different angle and perspective on real world events, and it makes you think about them in a different and more rounded way,” said Cunningham.

  “It’s just a really, really interesting look at that relationship between what was going on in the Cold War between the communists and us here in the U.S.,” said Tyll. “I’m just loving it. Every night, I’m devoting at least a good half hour or so before bed. … It’s pretty intriguing.”

Although this book was just published, Cunningham is already back at work seeking a deal for a book about bullfighting and politics.