We can not resist a dip into the mysterious world of the spy thriller. These Best Spy Books 2021 span the federal and the global, mixing the personal and the political and demonstrating how they’re inextricably linked with keys, lies, conspiracies, and secret plots abound.
From the classic to the modern, below are a few of the best spy thrillers book recommendations.
Top Rated Best Spy Novels Of All Time
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
In Casino Royale, Flemming’s first book marks the birth of the world’s favorite secret agent: 007, a match of cards will be James Bond’s sole opportunity to bring down Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Russian Secret Service murder company SMERSH. However, Bond soon discovers there is much more at stake than money.
This is one of the best spy thriller novels, it is packed with thrill and suspense. It is a remarkably satisfying read which showcases what we all know and enjoys the Bond tales – frightening, sadistic villains, sensual, emotional love affairs, along with the eloquent, sophisticated secret agent spy himself.
- 10/22/2021 (Publication Date)
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
This spy novel by a former RAF pilot and investigative journalist, Frederick Forsyth, is among the most renowned thrillers ever written. It is smart, frightening, and 100 percent unputdownable.
It’s 1963, and also an anonymous Englishman was hired from the O.A.S. to murder General de Galle. A failed effort usually means the goal will be almost impossible to reach.
However, this latest plot entails a deadly weapon: an assassin of mythical talent. Known just as The Jackal, this remorseless and mortal killer has to be stopped but how can you monitor a guy who is in name alone?
Agent Running in the Field by John le Carre
Nat, a 47-year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, considers his years as an agent runner is over. However, with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the workplace has one more job for him one that can take him down a path of political anger that will ensnare those nearest to him.
Agent Running at the Field by John le Carré is a chilling portrait of the time in part tragic, in part darkly humorous informed with unflagging tension by a few of the best storytellers of our era.
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
This is the way we meet Bourne a guy currently working for his life with an unknown past and an uncertain future, the goal of assassins and in the core of a deadly puzzle. He is fighting for survival, and nobody will help him accept the one girl who wanted him…
He had been hauled in the sea, his body riddled with bullets, a frame of microfilm surgically implanted under his skin, and signs that plastic surgery has altered his face. Some film negative leads to a bank account in Zurich, four thousand bucks, and a title for its amnesiac: Jason Bourne.
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Best spy novels
The heights of the Cold War and two women are given a dangerous task: smuggle a novel revolutionary into the USSR. The book has been banned because it contains subversive material. It is believed by the CIA to be the key to ending the Cold War. So secretary Irina is taken from the typing roster and given the task of getting Doctor Zhivago into the hands of the Russian people. She will be working under the guidance of Sally, a seasoned pro. This story of intrigue and female-driven suspense will keep you on your toes. It will make you truly appreciate the power of a good novel—an spy novel about spies and novels.
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
The Jackal. A tall, blond Englishman with opaque, gray eyes. A killer at the top of the profession. A man is unknown to any secret service in the entire world. An assassin with a contract to kill the world’s most heavily guarded man.
- Forsyth, Frederick (Author)
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
Paris, 1895: military officer Georges Picquart watches a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus, being humiliated in front of a baying audience. Dreyfus is exiled for life while Picquart is promoted to conduct the intelligence unit that tracked him down.
However, suppose Picquart discovers that keys are still being handed over to the Germans. In that case, he is drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit and corruption, which threatens his honor and his lifetime…
An Officer and a Spy is a gripping, unmissable thriller. Robert Harris manages to turn reality into fiction using extensive research and superior composing, producing an engaging, persuasive, believable narrative.
At-Risk by Stella Rimington
At Monday’s counterterrorism meeting, Liz Carlyle from MI5 can forget about the problems in her private life. An invisible person may have entered the UK. The danger grows with each hour. As Liz struggles to sort through all the information, she realizes that her only chance of avoiding disaster is her ability to enter the mind of her enemy.
The Other well-crafted Liz Carlyle novels by Stella Rimington:
- Secret Asset (Liz Carlyle #2) – An engrossing novel about British counter-espionage
- Illegal Action (Liz Carlyle #3) – An engaging spy novel from former MI5 director Stella Rimington
- Dead Line (Liz Carlyle #4) – Liz Carlyle stars in an outstanding British espionage novel
- Present Danger (Liz Carlyle #5)– Do all the best spy novels ever written come from Britain?
- Rip Tide (Liz Carlyle #6) – Somali pirates, Al Qaeda, and homegrown terrorists in England
- The Geneva Trap (Liz Carlyle #7) – Former MI5 Director spins a fascinating tale of espionage
- Close Call (Liz Carlyle #8) – The former MI5 director spins another great tale of espionage
- Breaking Cover (Liz Carlyle #9) – Russian agents undercover in the UK
- The Moscow Sleepers (Liz Carlyle #10) — An interesting new twist on Russian sleeper agents
Secret Service by Tom Bradby
MI6 officer Kate Henderson made an astonishing discovery. The Prime Minister is in grave peril, and one of his replacements is a Russian mole. Kate isn’t sure which, and her superiors doubt her claims. Or is she just paranoid? Is her paranoia playing into the hands of the enemy?
As Kate tries desperately to keep her family, career, and nation together, she begins to unravel. This Tom Bradby bestselling psychological thriller is so full of political power-play and fever-pitch tension, you’ll have to take up a permanent position on the edge of your seat.
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
Perhaps, than any other spy novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan has set the blueprint for the pursuit’s narrative to get a desirable person. Thirty-Nine Steps is a tense story complete with secret codes, undercover agents, and murder what you might want from a fantastic spy thriller.
Adventurer Richard Hannay is tired with his London life – before a spy is killed in his apartment, only days after having cautioned Hannay of an assassination plot which may plunge Britain into a war with Germany.
An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for those killers, Hannay picks up the road left from the assassins, visiting Scotland, where he should use all his wits to stay 1 step ahead of their match and also frighten the authorities before it’s too late.
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
BEST ESPIONAGE NOVELS
The setting: The vast ocean. The two leading players are Russia and America. What is the trigger? A Soviet submarine captain who suddenly and inexplicably diverted The Red Oct to the West. This leads to one of the best thrilling espionage pursuits in literary history.
The submarine slips under the radar, and high-stakes game cat-and-mouse ensues… except that two cats want Red October: Russia and America. The Hunt For Red October was the debut novel that launched Tom Clancy’s career into the stratosphere. It was published in 1984. This book also marks the first appearance of Jack Ryan as a young CIA agent. It has stood the test of time.
Russia’s secret missile submarine, the ultra-secret Russian Missile Submarine, is heading west beneath the cold Atlantic waters. The Americans want her. Russians want her back. The search for the highly sophisticated nuclear submarine has begun, and only one man can locate her. The superpowers race across the ocean to complete the most dangerous mission of their lives, with all-out war just seconds away. This work of Tom Clancy is the most thrilling chase in history.
Life Undercover by Amaryllis Fox
Amaryllis Fox’s riveting memoir tells the story of the ten years at the most elite covert ops unit of the CIA, searching the planet’s most dangerous terrorists in several states while marrying and giving birth to a girl.
The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
What do an art restorer and a highly skilled but deadly intelligence operative have in common? It might seem unlikely, but Gabriel Allon is quite good at both. Allon believed he was done with the fast-paced world of espionage and had settled for a quiet existence of paintbrushes, magnifying glasses, and books. With a gorgeous model, an Israeli diplomat, and a slew of paintings, you’ve got one of the best thrillers ever written.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
An African-American spy in the maelstrom of Cold War rivalry in Africa
Marie Mitchell, a young black FBI agent, is saved from the monotony and endless paperwork by being sent to Burkina Faso to stop the rise of communism. Her target? Thomas Sankara, a charismatic revolutionary and the former president of Burkina Faso is her target. Despite her discomfort at the mission’s methodology, she accepts the job.
But she will also have to deal with the inevitable fallout as she struggles with how much she is willing to sacrifice her principles for the sake of her duty. American Spy is a blend of spy thrillers and historical fiction that will expose you to the complex and criminally underrated Cold War.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre
Le Carré’s title has become synonymous with all the spy thriller genre, and it was this very spy novel that propelled him into international acclaim. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the third of Le Carré’s spy books centered on the actions of a British Intelligence unit called the Circus, motivated by Le Carthe’s own experiences working in brains for MI5 and MI6 from the 50s and 60s.
Set against the Cold War background, the narrative follows Agent Leamas, who’s calling plate one last assignment: he is going undercover as a defector into East Germany to bring down the German Intelligence Unit.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre
Another well-known name from Steam Carte, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, remains in the same fictional kingdom setup in Carthe’s past best espionage novels. As tensions continue to simmer involving Soviet Powers and the West, we follow a currently retired representative of The Circus, George Smiley, since he’s thrust into action about searching for a traitor in their positions.
As suspicions mount, Smiley should query everybody about him, including his most trusted colleagues, to weed out the mole which has price The Circus so reluctantly. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the summit of his slightest one of the best spy novels to capture the danger and paranoia of desperation.
The Innocent by Ian McEwan
Place in Cold War Berlin; The Innocent is the story of Leonard Marnham: a 25-year-old British post office engineer who is whisked to a covert operation to assist the Americans to exploit Soviet telephone lines.
While carrying out his assignment, he matches the elderly, divorces Maria Eckdorf, and begins a relationship. However, if a ghost out of Maria’s previous shows up, Leonard finds himself dragged into an elaborate cover-up. This unassuming man currently bears two deadly secrets – and you have to give.
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
This entry is very different from Greene’s The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana is Wormold; a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant spy from financial necessity. He documents bogus reports according to Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and fantasies up military installations from vacuum-cleaner layouts to keep his job. Subsequently, his stories start coming true…
Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
His code name was “The Needle.” Ken Follett had been a German aristocrat of superior intelligence-a master spy using a heritage of violence in his bloodstream, and also the thing of the very desperate search ever. However, his destiny lay in the hands of a young and vulnerable British girl, whose devotion, if swayed, could guarantee his liberty – and then win the war for the Nazis.
Crisis by Frank Gardner
Introducing Luke Carlton – ex-Special Boat Service commando, currently under contract to MI6 for a number of its most dangerous assignments. Sent to the Colombian jungle to look into the murder of a British intelligence officer, hunted, captured, tortured, and also on the run from among South America’s most powerful drug cartels, Luke is at a life-or-death race to avoid a tragedy on a frightening scale.
Fly-on-the-wall insights, coupled with a fast speed and electric tension, guarantee Frank Gardner’s introduction a location in our listing.
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad set in 1907. It is one of the most timeless spy novels on our list. We meet Adolf Verloc – a Russian spy – in London, 1886. He lives a simple life as a shopkeeper. The keyword is “seemingly.” He’s actually in bed with the anarchists and is a bumbling secret agent working for an unknown country.
The Greenwich Observatory summons Verloc to attack it. He decides to betray his family, setting off a series of events that could lead to their demise. Conrad’s 1894 Greenwich bombing provides a classic and imaginative backstory to a crime that remains unsolved.
Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
Vivian Miller. High-powered CIA analyst happily married to a guy she loves, mom or mother of beautiful kids. Until the minute she’s a shocking discovery which makes her question everything she considers. She thought she understood her husband indoors and outside. But today, she wonders whether it was a lie. Just how much will she go to find out the facts?
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The classic Vietnam novel by Graham Greene
Graham Greene (1904 -91) hovers near the top of any list of the twentieth century’s most readable and insightful spy novelists.
Thomas Fowler, a British journalist, is feeling quite world-weary. Fowler has lived in Saigon for years, documenting the conflict between Viet Minh communists and France’s colonial troops. He is a staunch pessimist. Alden Pyle is a young CIA analyst who has just arrived in Saigon. Although Pyle, the Quiet American, may seem mild-mannered at first, he is nevertheless a dedicated patriot and just as romantic as Fowler.
However, his efforts to secretly promote American-style democracy have devastating consequences for the locals. Fowler can’t continue to watch Pyle slide from disaster to catastrophe as the bodies pile up. Is it his morality or an affair of the heart that drives him to intervene? Greene’s novel is a controversial but sharply written examination of American exceptionalism/colonialism. Quiet American remains one of the great classics in the genre. This is a multi-layered story about love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam that will linger with you long after you’ve finished reading the final page.
SS-GB by Len Deighton
The BBC recently accommodated this is a spy story quite different from any other, imagining Britain under German rule after World War Two.
In February 1941 British Controllers surrendered to the Nazis. Churchill has been implemented, the King is at the Tower, and the SS has been in Whitehall. But it is business as usual’ in Scotland Yard operate by the SS if Detective Inspector Archer is delegated into a typical murder case.
However, while SS Standartenfuhrer Huth arrives in Berlin with requests from the fantastic Himmler himself to oversee the evaluation, the resourceful Archer finds himself caught in a maximum degree, all actions, espionage battle.
More famous for the Michael Caine fronted film spun from its pages, this original novel involves Cold War brainwashing, a United States atomic weapons test, and an extended sequence in Lebanon while also using a yet-to-be-popular spy novel trope: that of the nameless protagonist.
Diary of a Dead Man Leave by David Downing
In April 1938, a guy calling himself Josef Hofmann arrived in a boarding home at Hamm, Germany, also allowing a space out of the window for the woman who possesses it. Fifty decades later, Walter Gersdorff, the widow’s son, who was twenty years old in the spring of 1938, discovered the closely concealed journal the border had kept during his life, although he should not have written some of its contents down.
Walter finds a scathing chronicle of the one oft tumultuous years at German history, narrated by a spy on a deadly mission. Josef Hofmann wasn’t the returned immigrant he had said he had been – he had been a communist spy beneath Moscow’s control to attempt and reconnect with any remnants of Germany’s suppressed communist party.
Hofmann’s bosses believe the usual employees are the only means to prevent the German war machine from within. Posing as a railwayman, Hofmann lays out his game of “Russian roulette,” approaching Hamm’s ex-party members at a time and feeling out their allegiances.
He always understood his assignment would likely end in his death, and he had been satisfied to make that sacrifice to the revolution when it may help prevent Hitler and his ideology.
However, as he grows near the Gersdorffite, inadvertently stepping into the part of the daddy Walter never needed, Hofmann begins to desire for one more sort of trust in his lifetime.
Night Soldiers by Alan Furst
Bulgaria, 1934. The regional fascists kill a young man. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet Union secret intelligence agency, and sent into Spain to function at its civil war. Warned that he’s going to be a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris.
Night Soldiers by Alan Furst masterfully re-creates the European universe of 1934-45: the battle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the final desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris guerrilla operations together with the French underground in 1944.
Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic spy novel, a work on a grand scale.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Charlie is a young American girl delivered, disgraced, to Europe with her wealthy but the commanding family who would like to possess her pregnancy subtly carved for. Eve, after a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed recruit who had been educated with the famous Alice herself throughout the war, lives a life of seclusion in the united kingdom, drowning her sorrows and nursing memories of this downfall of this spy community she’d formerly committed her entire life to.
Two women, two entirely different pasts. But if their paths cross London they find themselves working collectively, pursuing a frequent fact truth that must end years of distress for every one of them.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
We’ve already raved about this best spy book on our list of World War II books by female authors, but we can’t resist another mention. Transcription is a blast from the past that jogs Juliet’s memories of the war. We are taken back to 1940. Juliet, just eighteen years old, is reluctantly recruited by MI5 to transcribe recordings from surveillance of fascist-sympathizers painstakingly.
This redundancy is brief-lived. Juliet is sent undercover to search ‘the Red Book,’ a notebook that contains the names of Nazi sympathizers. She quickly gets entangled in all the actions. The truth about her past as a spy begins to surface back in the present. Juliet soon discovers that her past is creeping back behind…
Restless by William Boyd
Your mother sits down with you one afternoon and tells you nothing about her. She’s more than your mother. She’s also a brilliant Russian spy who has been living undercover since World War II. She’s not finished yet. Your help is needed to complete one more assignment and find the man who recruited you all those years ago. Yes. It is a lot. Ruth feels a bit confused.
She accepts the challenge and agrees that she will enter the world where her mother lived four decades ago. William Boyd’s award-winning novel is a thoughtful thriller about motherhood, identity and will stay with you long after the last page.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen has won numerous literary awards for her remarkable debut novel follows a nameless protagonist, The Sympathizer. It was also a finalist in several prestigious awards. The Sympathizer has been named Best Book of the year on more than twenty lists, including the New York Times Book Review and Wall Street Journal. This book could be considered a candidate for a Great Vietnamese Novel.
The Travelers, Chris Pavone (2016)
This is a more recent addition to this genre, but it’s still worthy of being on the list. The Travelers is a story about Will Rhodes, a travel writer. He heads out on assignment in Argentina for Travelers magazine. A beautiful woman offers him a job. This is a standout thriller in an age of disposable poolside paperbacks that have him drawn into a tangled web of international intrigue, just like many thriller protagonists before.
- Broadway Books
Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings
You might have seen the BBC’s hit show Killing Eve. We mean that you most likely have. Well, this is where it all started as a self-published series of four novella ebooks in which Eve, an unassuming but tenacious agent, finds herself up against the alluring and ruthless Villanelle, an expert assassin (who’s allegedly based on the real-life ‘Tigresa,’ a Basque hitwoman).
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
Sonia Purnell, based on extensive research, has discovered the entire secret life of Virginia Hall. It is an inspiring and inspiring tale of heroism and spycraft, resistance and triumph over unexpected adversity. A Woman of No Importance tells the incredible story of one woman’s perseverance that helped win World War II.
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Red Sparrow does not tell a traditional spy story. It’s well-written and intricately plotted. And it’s suspenseful. Fans of Joseph Kanon and John le Carre should appreciate the book on this basis alone. But the book rises above the level of the genre because the author has infused it with detailed, intimate knowledge of authentic espionage tradecraft employed both by the CIA and by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR.
Red Sparrow reveals much about the structure and practices of the SVR. I was stunned by the amount of detail. I tried to verify a few details randomly; all of them were correct. This novel could quickly be passed around at the CIA training facility known as the Farm to give a fictionalized account of what an officer might face in the field.
The other brilliant Red Sparrow Trilogy by Jason Matthews
- Red Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1) – Authentic espionage tradecraft in this gripping novel by a CIA veteran
- Palace of Treason (Red Sparrow Trilogy #2) – Nonstop action in the sequel to the bestseller Red Sparrow
- The Kremlin’s Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy #3) – The gripping conclusion to the Red Sparrow Trilogy
The Ipcress File by Len Deighton
Like Tom Clancy, the debut spy novel of Len Deighton is also his finest. With its careful detail and publication during the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, you’d be forgiven for believing The Ipcress File was a true dispatch from a British secret agent.
Paul Vidich, The Coldest Warrior
Paul Vidich was a pioneer in espionage fiction with The Good Assassin and An Honorable Man. He is a complex voice that takes the place of the genre’s greats, telling rich, emotional stories that celebrate the profession’s moral ambiguity. His latest book, The Coldest Warrior, is a postwar American novel that focuses on the mysterious death of a CIA agent who “jumped or fell” from a window in a hotel.
The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
Charles Latimer, the crime novelist, is on a trip to Istanbul when he hears about Dimitrios, a master criminal long sought by law enforcement. His body had just been taken out of the Bosphorus.
Latimer is fascinated by the story and decides to trace Dimitrios’ tangled web across Europe searching for material for a new novel. As he learns more about the dark history of his subject, Latimer becomes obsessed, and his life is at stake. This classic is clever, authentic, and full of intrigue. It’s a great example of the best espionage thrillers.
Other Best Espionage Novels Ever Written:
- The Star of Istanbul (Christopher Marlowe Cobb #2) by Robert Olen Butler—An American spy in World War I takes on the German Empire
- I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
- The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre
- Leaving Berlin – One of the best of today’s spy novels
- A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming
- Spymaster (Scot Horvath #18) by Brad Thor—Brad Thor showcases his anti-Russian perspective in this novel
- Berlin Game by Len Deighton
- Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
- American Assassin by Vince Flynn
- Agents of Innocence by David Ignatius
- Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht
- Red Widow by Alma Katsu—A poisoned CIA asset, and a hunt for a CIA mole
- The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
- Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry
- A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
Espionage thrillers from Joseph Finder
- High Crimes – A taut thriller about Special Forces running amok in El Salvador in 1983
- Extraordinary Powers – A standout among espionage thrillers
- Paranoia – A devilishly clever tale
Mick Herron’s clever Slough House novels
- Slow Horses (Slough House #1) – British satire about misfit spies in MI5
- Dead Lions (Slough House #2) – Russian sleeper agents and the misfits of MI5
- The List (Slough House #3) – Bumbling spies again in Mick Herron’s Slough House series
- Real Tigers (Slough House #4) – Slough House spooks are on the loose again
- Spook Street (Slough House #5) – MI5’s Slough House spies uncover a decades-old conspiracy.
- London Rules (Slough House #6) – MI5’s misfit spies outdo themselves in this very funny novel
- The Marylebone Drop (Slough House #7) – Mick Herron scores with another entry in the Slough House series
- Joe Country (Slough House #8)-Mick Herron’s latest spy thriller will keep you guessing
- The Catch (Slough House #9)-About that billionaire who committed suicide in prison
- Slough House (Slough House #10)-British secret intelligence muddles through a crisis of its own making
By oldie-but-goodie classics of this spy thriller genre into cutting modern edge techno-thrillers, these best spy novels will have you time-traveling and globe-trotting. You are going to be scaling structures, defusing bombs, and whole toppling authorities – all from the comfort of your favorite reading chair.
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Last update on 2021-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API