The Best Classic Spy Novels 1903-1980
1. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, 1903. Childers was a pioneer of the genre and still ranks highly with the best. Is Germany set to invade England?
2. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, 1907. Ranked the 46th best novel of the 20th century by Modern Library.
3. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, 1908. Who’s a secret policeman and who’s an anarchist?
4. The 39 Steps by John Buchan, 1915. Richard Hannay is bored of London life, then a spy is murdered in his flat, and he’s flung into a world of whistle-wielding Bobbies and German spies.
5. The Mask for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler, 1939. Eric Ambler is the recipient of four Gold Dagger Awards and one Silver, given annually by the Crime Writers’ Association for the best crime novel of the year.
6. Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnes, 1939. One of the few female espionage writers in the 20th Century. Innocent couple finds themselves in a conspiracy.
7. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, 1955. Greene makes fun of intelligence services, especially the British MI6. The book predates the Cuban Missile Crisis, but certain aspects of the plot appear to anticipate that event.
8. From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming, 1957. Often cited as the finest book in the Bond franchise.
9. The Ipcress File by Len Deighton, 1962. This novel helped change the shape of the modern espionage thriller.
10. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre’, 1963. Said by many critics to be the best spy novel every written.
11. The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry, 1973. A mixed group of intelligence agents take a rode trip across Europe; is one a double agent?
12. The Defection of AJ Lewinter by Robert Littell, 1973. A black comedy; is the American scientist’s defection genuine?
13. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett, 1978. A brilliant aristocrat and ruthless assassin, code name: “The Needle” who holds the key to ultimate Nazi victory.
14. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, 1980. Ludlum’s masterpiece; the movie story line departs significantly from the novel.
Contemporary Espionage Novelists
Pam’s Favorite 9 Espionage Writers — with good book to start with (and in no order)
1. William Boyd –Restless, 2006 (British mother reveals to daughter she was a spy)
2. Charles Cumming—A Foreign Country, 2012 (female head of MI6 disappears)
3. David Downing –Zoo Station, 2007 (Brit in Germany 1939 with German son)
4. Dan Fesperman—Layover in Dubai, 2010 (intrigue for corporate auditor in in the UAE)
5. Alan Furst –Spies of the Balkans, 2010 (Greece 1940 – Nazis soon to invade)
6. Joseph Kanon – Istanbul Passage, 2012 (undercover agent in 1945 Istanbul)
7. Chris Pavone–The Expats, 2012 (Luxemburg; secrets unravel for ex-spy)
8. Daniel Silva – The English Girl, 2013 (Israeli Mossad spy)
9. Olen Steinhauer –The Tourist, 2009 (CIA dirty-work squad in Europe)
Women Espionage Novelists:
Aly Monroe – The Maze of Cadiz, 2008 (Spain, 1944) — BEST in this category
Stella Rimington –Illegal Action, 2007 (Russian spies in London)
Gayle Lynds – The Coil, 2004 (Ex-CIA agent to stop blackmail of world leaders)
Francine Mathews – The Cut Out, 2001 (VP kidnapped in Berlin)
Valerie Plame – Blowback, 2013 (CIA ops being assassinated)
Other Good Authors:
*** denotes favorites
Jason Matthews – ***Red Sparrow, 2013 (female Russian agent trying to defect)
Alex Berenson — The Faithful Spy, 2006 (CIA agent penetrates al Qaeda)
Henry Porter—***A Spy’s Life, 2001 (fascinating detail of covert spy operations)
Adam Lebor — The Budapest Protocol, 2009 (WWII Thriller)
David Ignatius – Blood Money, 2011 (female CIA agent in Pakistan)
Mark Henshaw – The Red Cell, 2012 (female CIA agent in China)
Jon Stock – ***Dead Spy Running, 2009 (spy on the run from CIA trying to kill him)
John Lawton –***Then We Take Berlin, 2013 (1960’s Berlin)
Thomas Murphy — Edge of Allegiance, 2005 (Cold War spy novel)
Tom Cain — The Accident Man, 2007 (action thriller, explores Princess Diana’s death)
Edward Wilson – The Darkling Spy, 2010 (London, 1956; thriller)
Jeremy Duns — Free Agent, 2009 (Nazi history comes back to haunt English spy)
Dan Mayland – Spy for Hire, 2014 (ex-CIA agent in Middle East)
Terry Stiastny – Acts of Omission, 2014 (late 90’s England and Stasi)
Colin MacKinnon – Morning Spy Evening Spy, 2006 (CIA Agent in Pakistan)
Andreas Norman – ***Into a Raging Blaze, 2014 (MI6 in Sweden; female hero; technology)
Brian Freemantle – Red Star Burning, 2012 (MI5 agent secretly married to Soviet spy)
Keith Thomson– Once a Spy, 2010 (old spy with Alzheimer’s)
Mick Herron– ***Slow Horses, 2010 (spies who have screwed up go to Slough House)
Dana Haynes – ***Ice Cold Kill, 2013 (female protagonist former Shin-Bet agent; more action than character)
Ted Bell – Hawke, 2003 (thriller set in the Caribbean)