Favorite Spy Books

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Favorite Spy Books

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set. 12, 2006, 2:01am

Just to get some posting going on in this group...

I don't know if it's my all time favorite but I like Eye of the Needle by Follett. His first book (I think) and his best. The next few weren't nearly as good.

set. 12, 2006, 5:33am

I look forward to gleaning recommendations on this thread; my own favorites would hardly get us far. ;) Interest and a paucity of books seemed as good a qualification for joining as quantity could be.

3williamc Primer missatge
set. 12, 2006, 7:50am

I recently read Eric Ambler's Cause for Alarm (1938) this year after a friend said in conversation that people can only write about history after they'd been separated from it. I never agreed with that comment, and I think Ambler's fun, almost Jeeves-like relectant spy disproves it (as does the newly found Suite Francaise). So, anyway, I'd recommend it as 'spy lite.' ;)

set. 12, 2006, 8:03am

I agree with you. And I look forward to reading both that particular Ambler, and Suite Francaise, which I've wanted to read very much. A prejudice toward buying books when possible has kept it out of my hands thus far.

Cause for Alarm sounds quite different from A Coffin for Dimitrios in tone - or am I remembering the latter wrong?

Editat: set. 12, 2006, 11:13am

Anyone read anything by Henry Porter? He is British, and has apparently written some spy stuff.

Was browsing in a bookstore recently and picked up a copy of his latest, called Brandenburg.

And what about Frederick Forsyth's new one The Afghan. Anyone read that yet?

I have a copy ready to read, but am wondering if it is worth it.


set. 13, 2006, 9:19pm

Is this a fiction site only? Because I love non-fiction spy books. A great one for booklovers is Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks. The author's family owned Marks & Co. the bookshop of 84, Charing Cross Road. Leo Marks worked as a code breaker during WWII and his book is an exciting and interesting read. Also I'll put in a word for The Spy Wore Red by Aline Countess Romanones and also The Spy Wore Silk. She wrote 2 more but haven't read them yet (perhaps BookMooch ?)

As for non-fiction I loved Eye of the Needle. Also Gorky Park, Polar Star and anything else by Martin Cruz Smith.

set. 14, 2006, 11:16am

Well as I was settling to bed last night reviewing my day and trying to figure out how to get to an appt. on time after work today, I suddenly realized that Martin Cruz Smith actually writes murder mysteries not spy stories. Must have been my Cold War childhood that automatically associated "Russia" with "spy". (Still well written and v. enjoyable books).

set. 14, 2006, 11:44am

I don't think including Martin Cruz Smith is going to get you any dirty looks in the group. I enjoyed Gorky Park, and really liked the film, so I can back you up on it.

Paul Watkins' The Story of My Disappearance is a novel more about the Cold War than spying, but I'd definitely include it in a list of great spy books.

set. 14, 2006, 3:17pm

For me The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are the gold standards for spy novels. Alan Furst regularly reaches that territory. I also have a soft spot for some books by Helen MacInnes ranging from Above Suspicion to The Venetian Affair.

Editat: set. 15, 2006, 1:50pm

Eric Ambler's book A Coffin for Dimitrios is a wonderful classic that Alan Furst cites as a powerful influence on his writing. You will not be disappointed.

set. 16, 2006, 12:34am

I actually got rid of my copy of A Coffin for Dimitrios - one more of those impulses we live to regret. Now I have to re-acquire it, and branch out...

Sherubtse: great questions. They bring the state of ignorant interest with which I joined from mildly embarassing, to minorly maddening. I wish I could answer, and hope someone else does.

Katbook: thanks for the mention of Between Silk and Cyanide. My copy of 84, Charing Cross Road arrived today, via BookMooch. It's one of those books I've wanted for years, and never quite found at the right moment. Marks' book sounds like a marvelous follow-up - and complement - to it.

oct. 3, 2006, 3:00am

Frederick Forsyth has a new book? I am interested in hearing about that, too.

I was very into Ian Fleming at a younger age. Some John Le Carre, and a lot of earlier Robert Ludlum, and still like to pull out Modesty Blaise books for that Zen close combat zone thing Peter O'Donnell does.

Speaking of this though, has anyone read anything by E. Phillips Oppenheim?

oct. 4, 2006, 7:29am

Incidentally, I did just trade for Between Silk and Cyanide, via BookMooch. Now waiting for it to arrive. An episode of Foyle's War interested me in the SOE, and between one thing and another, I decided I must have it. - Promptly!

oct. 4, 2006, 7:31am

Bluetyson: no, I haven't, but that means next to nothing. This isn't a genre I've explored; only an interesting one. Can anyone describe E. Phillips Oppenheim's merits for me?

Editat: oct. 4, 2006, 11:07am

An all-time favorite espionage novel of mine is The Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903. The writer, Erskine Childers, was a yachtsman who used his experience sailing in the canals and coastal waterways of northern Germany to spin his tale of spies that foretold a German threat of war with the British. Some say that The Riddle of the Sands is the first spy novel (others say the first was actually Rudyard Kipling's Kim -- I like Kim, too). Childers was executed as a traitor by firing squad in Ireland in 1922.

oct. 4, 2006, 3:10pm

I believe I have read some E. Phillips Oppenheim, the exact titles escape me and I have to say they did not make a strong impression on me. From what I do recall, they are bit clunky and very old-fashioned but interesting if you like to see the roots of the genre and some of its conventions, or if you just like old-fashioned stuff.

oct. 5, 2006, 12:15am

Thanks. There are a bunch of E. Phillips Oppenheim at Project Gutenberg, so was wondering if someone had one to suggest, etc, out of that large list.

Actually saw the Michael York Riddle of the Sands movie late at night a couple of weeks ago, too.

oct. 5, 2006, 2:16am

Quartzite: thanks. I do like to see the roots of a genre, and do enjoy older books. Bluetyson: Glad to hear the suggestion. At the very least, I can try before I go off and buy. :)

oct. 5, 2006, 5:43am


If you read one from there you like, please let us know, then I can give it a shot, too.

oct. 5, 2006, 8:35am

In my husband's youth, he read espionage almost exclusively and so we've got a bunch of 70s and 80s paperbacks. I've read a little spy fiction in my day and George Smiley was my favorite spy. Good to hear things about A Coffin for Dimitrios - we have a copy and I can add it to my to be read pile. If anyone is brave and wants to recommend others out of my library, feel free to search using the tag espionage or Ken (husband's name).

Editat: oct. 5, 2006, 10:08am

Other early espionage thrillers I've enjoyed are John Buchan's "Richard Hannay" quartet:
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) - memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935
Greenmantle (1916) (can't get a touchstone for this one)
Mr Standfast (1919)
The Three Hostages (1924)

Actually, there are five books featuring Hannay, but The Island of Sheep was published long after the other four (in 1936). I haven't read it, so I don't know if it holds up.

oct. 5, 2006, 4:11pm


Looked at your espionage collection and I would recommend trying the Alistair MacLean. First, I'd say Where Eagles Dare, and also Bear Island, Ice Station Zebra, especially if you like submarine stories, and Circus.

oct. 5, 2006, 4:23pm

Thanks much quartzite. I will add them to my ever growing pile of to be read books. My husband told me that Circus is a hoot.

oct. 5, 2006, 8:45pm

Eurydice- I'm glad you were able to mooch Between Silk and Cyanide. I remember it being a very good read. As for myself I just mooched My Father the Spy by John H. Richardson. It is a memoir by the son of a CIA spy and have heard good things about it. I'll report back once I get it and read it.
This site is very educational because I just realised that I have a copy of Eric Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy which I haven't read yet and I had it in my non-fiction section. Maybe I confused it with Epitaph for a Peach which was a memoir about organic farming. Perhaps I should read it.
I also enjoyed Riddle of the Sands, Kim and Ice Station Zebra.

oct. 29, 2006, 12:00am

Hello everyone.

I must confess that find the distinction between thrillers, espionage, and mystery to be blurry sometimes. Quite a few of the classic mystery writers included characters who were in the Secret Service or Intelligence or MI5 or something similar, especially the novels written during and after WWII.

My tagging may be a bit inconsistent, but here are a few other authors and works I have labelled "espionage", which have not been referenced in Touchstones here yet.

Tom Clancy in most of the Jack Ryan series.
Richard Condon in The Manchurian Candidate
Len Deighton
Ian Fleming of course
Jack Higgins in The Eagle has landed
Geoffrey Household in The watcher in the shadows
Macdonald Lloyd in A winter spy
Robert Merle in The Day of the Dolphin
William Stevenson in A man called Intrepid
Maureen Tan in "AKA Jane" and "Run Jane Run"
Craig Thomas in The bear's tears

I am surprised that so many of our Touchstone authors don't show up in the shared books list. Maybe it's the weighting that's causing the error, since many of these were best-sellers and are probably widely held.

Thanks for all the ideas for more reading. I must raid my dad's collection again!

oct. 29, 2006, 1:56pm

So many books to add to Wish List/To-be-read List!

I have one more, because I always loved spy books and also anything to do with Houdini. On Tuesday, Halloween, which is the anniversary of Houdini's death, a new book is coming out called The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. Apparently, there is reason to believe that he worked as a spy for Scotland Yard.

Haven't read it, obviously, but am anxiously awaiting my copy.

oct. 30, 2006, 6:20am

I like the works of real life spy catcher Lt Col Oreste Pinto

nov. 13, 2006, 8:04am

This is somewhat trashy,but I like Ludlum's stuff: The Bourne trilogy, the Rhineman Exchange, the Chancellor Manuscript, and a few others. Also, Ian Fleming is awesome: my favorite is "From Russia from Love."

Editat: nov. 13, 2006, 8:19am

I'll throw in one more recommendation for Erskine Childer's 'Riddle of the sands'. It's a great book. Various of Graham Greene's books might also be counted for instance the often hilarious 'Our man in Havana' but also even 'The Quiet American' in some respects. Le Carre's Smiley books and Alan Furst are also worthwhile. One other might be 'The Ultras' by Eoin McNamee which is based on a true story and concerns the life and death of a mole that British Intelligence infiltrated into the IRA.

nov. 19, 2006, 3:48pm

I really enjoyed The Innocent by Ian McEwan

Editat: gen. 7, 2007, 10:24am

I have to say that my favourites bar none are Len Deighton's Game/Set/Match/Hook/Line/Sinker/Hope/Faith/Charity series about Bernard Sampson. SS-GB also is the finest alternative-history thriller of WWII

Next would be Le Carre's Smiley books.

Stella Rimington's two novels about MI5 are probably next (although having run the place you might say she has an unfair advantage).

Gerald Seymour's 'Journeyman Tailor'

Derek Robinson's amusing and yet realistic 'The Eldorado Network'

David Ignatius books, particularly 'A Firing Offence'.

gen. 7, 2007, 2:53pm

If you like your spy novels with a little bit of humor, the Tommy Hambledon books by Manning Coles are good. Serious times (WW 1 and 2), but there's wonderfully funny dialogue in all of them.

35dougwood57 Primer missatge
gen. 19, 2007, 9:19pm

I enjoy Le Carre, Furst, as others have mentioned. I would add a strong recommendation for Charles McCarry and his book Tears of Autumn, a great novel with an idea about the JFK assassination...

Has anyone read The Company: A Novel of the CIA by Robert Littell? Is it worth the nearly 900 pages?

gen. 19, 2007, 11:43pm

Anything by Fleming and Ludlum-- the latter, in particular, really gets into the mindset of a someone whose sole purpose in life is to kill . Bourne would be the best known examples, but most of characters follow that template....

gen. 20, 2007, 2:59am

The single greatest spy novel may be LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Eric Ambler is a giant among the earlier writers. Not mentioned so far, I think, is his Journey into Fear.

Not long after Kipling and Childers, there was Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (1915?). A powerful psychological study of an anarchist agent, and those around him unaware of his secret mission. The ending is stunning. Made into a film by Hitchcock, retitled "Sabotage, during his English period; not one of his best and changes Conrad's ending for the worse.

gen. 23, 2007, 7:27pm

Somerset Maugham's Ashenden is one of the early classics, originally published in 1927. (Side note: I just paid $0.95 for a 1951 paperback copy which originally sold for $0.35.)

gen. 24, 2007, 5:13pm

Adjusted for inflation, you got a great bargain.

Editat: feb. 19, 2007, 3:50pm

I agree with Linkmeister about Maugham's Ashenden. I also like Michael Gilbert's Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens stories.

Thanks, Iriley, for reminding me there are Graham Greene novels I've been meaning to get to.

feb. 19, 2007, 3:50am

Ashenden is a favorite of mine, spy fiction or otherwise.

Much as I generally like Graham Greene, I was disappointed with The Human Factor, which I finished early this month. Was it just me? It felt like I'd read it all before. Whether this is a signal of too much Greene, a fault in the writing - which I wasn't glad to be reading 'again' - or the literal truth, is beyond me. It's not the kind of book I would have gravitated to when a teen, but at that time I also didn't know his name, and could have picked it up without remembering, later, when the names did mean something. At any rate, it hasn't dulled my desire to read The Quiet American, which I hope to get to this summer.

feb. 19, 2007, 10:31am

Dunn's conundrum by Stan Lee was very entertaining w/a twist ending that I didn't see coming ...

feb. 23, 2007, 11:12pm


I liked the human factor - but I am not sure whether Greene knew any real Black women from southern Africa. It might have added something.

There are two film versions of the Quiet American out.

The original from the 1960s was actually filmed in South Vietnam, but the end is a cop-out that was imposed by the studio, a condition imposed by the RVN in exchange for the right to film. Also irritating because the lead woman isnt even East Asian!

The Brendan Frasier/Michael Caine film is really very good, out of touch idealism vs. rooted cynicism. But the old one remains interesting.

feb. 24, 2007, 1:29am

I've read lots over the years, and have never enjoyed any as much as the Quiller series by Adam Hall.

45ainsworl Primer missatge
feb. 24, 2007, 2:18am

Sam Llewellyn wrote a sequel to The Riddle of the Sands called The Shadow in the Sands - it is more of a thriller, but still excellent.

46Senala Primer missatge
març 5, 2007, 7:08pm

Cause for Alarm is indeed very different from Coffin. In Coffin, the story is told slowly and the narrator does not realize his danger until the end. Cause for Alarm is much more like a thriller with mysterious elements and danger appearing from the beginning. Highly recommended!

47elizabethinhayfork Primer missatge
març 22, 2007, 7:29pm

I'm recommending Kipling's Kim to friends who have missed it--it's a pure evocation of the "Great Game."

març 22, 2007, 7:34pm

The March Book of the Month offering is their best spy novels: The Little Drummer Girl, The Jackel, one more I can't recall.

abr. 19, 2007, 1:52am

Hey,has anyone read Body of Lies
It's by a new author,said to be like LeCarre

Editat: maig 19, 2007, 2:58pm

The very presence of this group AND this thread is overwhelming me in a good way. But for now, I'd like to throw in a couple of genre-bending titles that some of you might get into.

My top-of-mind favorite spy novel is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I've loved every single Le Carre novel that I've read.

A close second would be the first of my two recommendations, genre-bending novels for those who don't mind their spy fiction with touches of the fantastic: Declare by Tim Powers and The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.

The former is a tour-de-force of "secret history," in which our knowledge gaps concerning certain historical events and personae (Kim Philby!) are filled with a supernatural element, which the author presents as surprisingly logical and plausible.

The latter is more a fun read--"Lovecraft meets tradecraft" is how it's often described. Stross has since followed up on the characters in this Len Deighton tribute with an Ian Fleming tribute called The Jennifer Morgue, but I don't have that yet. Rumor has it that the next novel is a tribute to Adam Hall's Quiller novels.

maig 19, 2007, 4:03pm

Just read The Eighth Dwarf by Ross Thomas and it is classic WW2 spy fiction. Crosses, double crosses, secret identities, hidden agendas and loads and loads of irony. Absolutely great. I love Thomas and he's at his best when he does espionage with a heavy dose of the long con. : )

maig 19, 2007, 10:45pm

It begins and ends with Le Carre.

maig 20, 2007, 6:10am

Err.. no, and extremely unlikely, unless he invented immortality recently.


Editat: juny 2, 2007, 8:31pm

recently picked up Disorderly Elements by Bob Cook. Very very good IMO.

55DannyS Primer missatge
Editat: oct. 10, 2007, 8:55pm

Anything by Anthony Price. His David Audley character is up there with George Smiley. Just finished his first novel, 1970, The Labyrinth Makers.

oct. 11, 2007, 7:56am

I've always wanted to read Anthony Price, and I will as soon as I find that first book. Or maybe reading order doesn't really matter?

oct. 11, 2007, 1:22pm

I think it iss helpful to read Price in order, at least the earlier ones, mainly to understand the realtionships between various team members, but it is probably not crucial.

oct. 11, 2007, 9:03pm

I have ended up reading the first one last;-) It might be good to read in order as Audley does age through the books. I'm not sure though whether they were all written or published in order.

jul. 8, 2012, 7:41pm

My husband just discovered Anthony Price with a pre-quel about the young Audley during WWII A New Kind of War and now wants to read 'em all.

set. 3, 2012, 3:17pm

I've liked all of the above, but for 'spy lite' and a bit of 'humour' my favorite spy is Appleton Porter. The series is by Marc Lovell. The first is The Spy Game.