The Spy Novel

As some of you already know, I’m on a big spy kick right now. I’m currently reading Tim Powers’ Declare and watching a bunch of spy movies, but I’m wondering about more spy novels. I’ll likely read something by Le Carre next, probably The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I’m sure that a bunch of spy fiction is crap, and i’d rather avoid the James Bond-y stuff, so tell me what is good!

I enjoyed Le Carre, Len Deighton, The Company by Robert Little, but not his other stuff.

Most of Le Carre’s novels will do in one way or another.

Craig Thomas’ work are primary spy books of a slightly different vein, which are more often thrillers/political intrigue type and even venture into the techno-thriller area (Firefox for instance). I think I’ve read all of his books, except for the recent one (about Gant being an airline pilot).

Alan Furst of course writes very noirish spy-oriented WW2 novels. Great, great stuff usually.

The book (and movie, forgot to mention in the other thread) Hopscotch is a somewhat humorous and sarcastic look at a retiring spy, writing his all-revealing memoirs and attempting to avoid everyone.

Ludlum’s books are probably better overall than the on-screen equivalents.

— Alan

Alan Furst is a very competent writer. I’d second that recommendation.

For Le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is certainly a good choice, but my favorite has always been Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. That said, you really ought to just indulge yourself with a Le Carre marathon.

I’d also recommend Ludlum’s Day of the Jackal, Follett’s Eye of the Needle, Deighton’s Berlin Game, (and the sequels, Mexico Set and Paris Match) and Littel’s The Sisters. It’s been years since I did a lot of reading in the genre, so I’ll have to dig pretty deep to come up with more recommendations.

Fredrick Forsythe wrote Day of the Jackal. The only reason I nitpick is because I can’t stand Robert Ludlum, total hack, and I’d hate to have him credited with the enjoyable Jackal. Some of his other books (Forsythe), such as The Odessa File and The FOurth Protocol, are fun reads. I also somewhat enjoyed early Clancy (Red October, Cardinal in the Kremlin, and Clear and PResent Danger).

You’re right. Brain Fart.


If you want another very easy read James Bond style but a bit bleaker try the Quiller series by Adam hall

Read the other 7 books in Deightons game set and match series as well. Spy Hook, Spy line, Spy sinker, Faith, Hope, Charity, and one sort of prequel that I can’t remember the name of offhand.

ALso sort of spy stuff by Alistair Maclean, Breakheart Pass and the Way to Dusty Death.

Daniel Silva’s “The Unlikely Spy” is also good.

I read my first and only Frederick Forsythe book this year, “The Afghan”. Cracking premise - a British soldier with Indian heritage on his mother’s side (giving him an Asian appearance) and command of Arabic and Pashto is selected to infiltrate Al-Qaeda in order to figure out what their latest plot entails.

The only problem is that the prose itself is sterile and almost completely lacking in tension and although Forsythe appears to be extremely knowledgeable about his subject matter you often get the feeling that he’s determined to use every bit of information that he uncovered during his research.

The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell was a lot of fun, but I was pretty young. More about coolio spy tricks and uber-ninja moves than tradecraft.


While Ross Thomas’s work in general is not spy fiction, he did write a couple of spy pieces like the Cold War Swap. If you like that, you can go on to his other books, some of which have some spy stuff in them without really focusing on espionage.

His work is really good – good characters, fun action, mordant dark humor.

I absolutely agree with the earlier recommendation of The Company. I’m a huge fan of Declare as well, and apart from Powers’ use of the supernatural, there are a lot of similarities between the spycraft in the two novels.

Seconded. Brotherhood of the Rose and Fraternity of the Stone are great action-packed reads. Morrell is no master of prose but his books are fun.

I would claim that the Karla trilogy is the best written during the Cold War era spy novel(s) without any real competition. It’s so good that it might even be more “literature” than “spy novel”. Like Hammet was a Pinkerton, John le Carré was a spy.

The Karla trilogy consist of:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Honourable Schoolboy
Smiley’s People

le Carré is the only spy writer who has survived the end of the Cold War with quality intact and even improved. His best to my mind are:

The Night Manager (utterly brilliant)

Single & Single (fantastic first chapter and we get to know what happened to most of the billions that left Russia)

Absolute Friends (You might not watch or read terrorist news reporting in the same way afterwards. )

The Perfect Spy

I hear The Mission Song is great too.

The other Cold War era writers I enjoyed were Len Deighton and Gavin Lyall. Len Deighton:

The Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match trilogy. Continue with the others if you enjoy these.

His first were:

The Ipcress File
Horse under water
Funeral in Berlin

And lesser known Gavin Lyall. European hardboiled pulp spy/post-WW2 stories. I liked them.

The Secret Servant
Midnight Plus One
Blame the dead

Not exactly a spy novel but rather a novel about spies: Graham Greene’s The Human Factor. Easily one of his best.