10 Best Espionage Books Update 05/2022

Best Espionage Books

Kathy Wang, Impostor Syndrome (Custom House)

Kathy Wang, Impostor Syndrome (Custom House)

As a side dish, there is a lot of sarcastic humor and fierce feminist activism in this book. As a child in 2006, Julia Lerner is an orphan from Moscow who has a computer science degree. Then, 12 years later, she’s one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley. She sends sensitive information to her Russian handlers when she’s not crushing the competition for her social media company employer or being the keynote speaker at yet another conference on work/life balance. As soon as an underling notices a suspicious use of data, things start to heat up. The two play an epic game of cat-and-mouse with gasp-worthy consequences. CrimeReads Senior Editor Molly Odintz says this:

Paul Vidich, The Mercenary (Pegasus)

These are some of the best spy novels written today. This year, Paul Vidich comes out with a real stunner, with a well-researched and heartfelt look at one of the most important people in the world. The Mercenary takes us back to the last years of the Soviet Union, when both sides were suspicious of each other and every interaction seemed to be a plan. One of the top KGB officers has been talking to the CIA about defecting. He needs to be taken out of Moscow, which has never been done by the CIA. And the CIA wants someone who used to be a defector to lead the team. All of this means that no one can be trusted, and no one can be trusted at all. They’re supposed to pull off a daring operation that has never been done before in the history of the FBI. Vidich pays close attention to every person who moves through the pages of this vivid, compelling book. – Dwyer Murphy is the editor-in-chief of CrimeReads.

Timothy Schaffert, The Perfume Thief (Doubleday)

During World War II, this is the book about a queer spy in Paris that I didn’t know I needed but now can’t live without. Clem, a seventy-year-old perfume artist, is sent on a mission by her songbird client to find a book of perfume recipes that is important to reuniting the chanteuse with her father, a perfumer who is hiding from the Nazis. Clem looks great in men’s clothes. In The Perfume Thief, the publisher says it’s “a Gentleman in Moscow meets the Moulin Rouge.” This is a great way to describe the book. –MO

Flynn Berry, Northern Spy (Viking)

Flynn Berry, Northern Spy (Viking)

It’s both a portrait of a close-knit family and a complex picture of Northern Ireland’s divided loyalties and ambitions today. Flynn Berry wrote Northern Spy. A young mother who works for the BBC in Belfast sees news footage of a robbery by an underground offshoot of the IRA. She recognizes her own sister, who is supposed to be on vacation on the coast, in the grainy footage. What starts out as an uncanny, unsure recognition quickly turns into a life-changing dilemma. Berry skillfully manages the conflicting loyalties in the situation and brings out the humanity in all of her characters as they try to make sense of an impossible decision. –DM

Mick Herron, Slough House (Soho)

If you like spy shows, you’ll love Mick Herron’s. They keep up with the wild (and very cynical) times in modern Britain. In this book, the writing has a new, darker tone to it. The spy lives are more in danger than ever. Because of Brexit and populism, washed-out spies are now up for sale. It looks like someone paid for the right to kill them one by one. In modern literature, there’s nothing like the Jackson Lamb novels, and there’s nothing in the history of espionage literature that is like them. Slough House is a great addition to the series, and it’s one of the best spy stories that has come out in a while. –DM

Sergei Lebedev, Untraceable Translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (New Vessel)

The book “Untraceable” by Sergei Lebedev is a good reminder that strongmen, not revolutionary ideals, were the ones who used secret weapons against people who didn’t want to follow them. He is one of the most important writers in Russian literature, and Untraceable is both a spy story and a powerful look at the rise of authoritarianism in the former Soviet Union and around the world. –MO

John le Carré, Silverview (Viking)

John le Carré, Silverview (Viking)

In le Carré’s last novel, a Londoner leaves the city to run a bookshop in a small coastal town. He soon meets a mysterious Polish émigré living in the town’s grand house, Silverview, who seems to be trying to get into the other man’s business. After a senior intelligence officer starts paying attention to the interactions, things get even more complicated because they’re so interesting and weird. The result is a heady, enthralling story that makes us think that the world of intelligence and spy games is going on all around us, even in our small town book stores. Silverview is a fitting end to one of the most successful and ambitious careers in espionage stories. –DM

Jean-Patrick Manchette, The n’Gustro Affair (NYRB)

The Manchette revival is going strong this year, with American readers finally getting to read his first thriller, the story of Henri Butron, who the French secret services want to kill because he was involved in the extrajudicial arrest and torture of an opposition leader in an African country that France is always trying to help. This is the first book in the series. Almost everyone who is in the story is tainted by it, as Manchette weaves a complex web of intrigue in the mid-1960s French political scene that is very interesting. Donald Nicholson-Smith did a great job translating Manchette’s work into English. He has been working for years to get more English readers to read his work. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of espionage and political fiction. –DM

Karin Tanabe, A Woman of Intelligence (St. Martin’s Press)

In this book, there are so many ways that it works. In the 1950s, a former UN translator is married with young children to a controlling husband who doesn’t understand why she needs to be free. When the secret service comes to the young mother with a very important job, she accepts. It doesn’t take long for her new job to give her a sense of self-worth that isn’t tied to having kids. When the pandemic hit, Karin Tanabe wrote for CrimeReads that it no longer felt like she was just writing about the 1950s and the domestic cage. It felt like she was living it. There are a lot of undercurrents and power differences in domestic suspense novels, like in a spy novel. This book makes that point even more clear than in any other. –MO

Daniel Silva, The Cellist (Harper)

Few things make me happier when I open up a new Gabriel Allon book every summer than when I read one. This year, Silva takes us to a posh neighborhood in London, where Victor Orlov, a Russian oligarch who lives in exile and is a Kremlin dissident, gets a mysterious file from an investigative reporter. It includes documents that appear to contain the poison that will kill him. People in charge are ready to say that the reporter is a Moscow agent. Allon doesn’t believe the story, so he goes on a European capital-hopping trip to find out for himself. Some plot twists will be straight out of the news, and there will be a lot of new information about how intelligence agencies work today. –DM

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