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40 Best Spy Novels of All Time

40 Best Spy Novels of All Time

Lovers of spy fiction are some of the most devoted genre fans of all, and it’s easy to see why. The best spy novels are thrilling, dangerous, and often a little sexy. They explore politics and history through a unique lens (and we’re not just talking about night vision goggles). Their heroes speak seven languages and drive a minimum of four expensive cars — all well above the speed limit, might we add. Plus, admit it: you always secretly thought you’d make a great spy.

Well, good news! If you’re looking for vicarious fulfilment of those ambitions, we’ve got you covered in this post that lists the 40 best spy novels of all time. From oldie-but-goodie classics of the genre to cutting edge contemporary techno-thrillers, these books will have you time travelling and globe-trotting. You’ll be scaling buildings, defusing bombs, and toppling entire governments – all from the comfort of your favorite reading chair. 

Not sure where to start in your espionage reading journey? We've got you covered! Our 30-second quiz will give you a thriller recommendation, tailored to your tastes. 😉


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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels)

1. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

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Le Carré’s name has come to be synonymous with the spy genre, and it was this very book that propelled him to international acclaim. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the third of Le Carré’s spy novels centred on the activities of a British Intelligence unit known as ‘The Circus,’ inspired by le Carré’s own experiences working in intelligence for MI5 and MI6 in the 50s and 60s. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the story follows Agent Leamas, who is called to complete one final mission: he’s going undercover as a defector to East Germany in order to bring down the German Intelligence Unit. 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

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Another well-known title from le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy continues in the same fictional realm set up in le Carré’s previous spy books. As tensions continue to simmer between Soviet Powers and the West, we follow a now retired agent of The Circus, George Smiley, as he is thrust back into action on the hunt for a traitor in their ranks. As suspicions mount, Smiley must question everyone around him, including even his most trusted colleagues, to weed out the mole that has cost The Circus so dearly. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is peak le Carré at his best — one of the best spy novels to masterfully capture the peril and paranoia of betrayal.

The Bourne Identity

3. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

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Jason Bourne is rescued by fishermen, the sole survivor of an attack at sea. When he comes to, he’s suffering from amnesia, unable to remember anything about himself or his past life outside of the intermittent flashback. Armed with only the details for a bank account, he sets off to try to piece together his own identity. As the truth begins to unfold, panic mounts when it becomes clear that Bourne’s life was anything but quiet and ordinary. But is it his past he should be scared of — or what he must do next? 

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Eye of the Needle: A Novel

4. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

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This award-winning classic (and Ken Follett’s first bestseller) follows a German spy, nicknamed ‘The Needle’ due to his signature use of a needle-pointed blade when killing his victims. As the last remaining German intelligence agent, he has to try and save the Nazi forces from the Allies’ D-Day ploy. But when he makes a huge discovery that could jeopardize it all, he becomes MI5’s most wanted. With British intelligence hot on his heels, following the trail of victims he has left in his wake, The Needle flees — only to stumble into the only thing he hadn’t expected: an unforeseen romance that might be his undoing. In this nail-biting race against time, we are reminded that even stone-cold killers are not immune to afflictions of the heart.

The Innocent: A Novel

5. The Innocent by Ian McEwan

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Set in Cold War Berlin, The Innocent is the story of Leonard Marnham: a 25 year-old British post office engineer who’s whisked into a covert operation to help the Americans tap Soviet phone lines. While carrying out his mission, he meets the older, divorced Maria Eckdorf, and the two begin a relationship. But when a ghost from Maria’s past shows up, Leonard finds himself dragged into a complicated cover up. This once unassuming man now bears two deadly secrets — and one has got to give.

Red Sparrow

6. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

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After an injury cuts short her promising career as a ballerina, Dominika Egorova finds herself an unwilling student of Russia’s top secret “Sparrow School.” There, she learns how to seduce enemy operatives into compromising situations where she can then extract information from them. Her next target: Nathan Nash, a CIA handler. But Nash sees Egorova coming, and what results is a thrilling pursuit marked by seduction and deception. Written by a retired CIA operative, Red Sparrow is lauded as one of the most accurate literary portrayals of espionage. If you enjoyed the 2018 film of the same name, it’s well worth giving its source material a try.

The Sympathizer

7. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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This Pulitzer prize-winning debut novel follows a nameless protagonist: a captain in the South Vietnamese army, who flees to the United States during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Once in Los Angeles, the protagonist and his companions, including the General he advises, find that navigating American life is not quite what they expected. While the group grow weary of their new home and plan their return to Vietnam, the protagonist has good reason for wanting to stick around: he’s a communist informant, feeding back information to Vietnam on anti-Communist activities in America. The Sympathizer explores the duality of a protagonist perpetually straddling two sides, from his mixed Vietnamese and French heritage to his duplicitous espionage.

American Spy: A Novel

8. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

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Marie Mitchell, a young black FBI officer, is rescued from the monotony of endless paperwork when she is sent to destabilize the rise of communism in Burkina Faso in 1986. Her target? Only the charismatic revolutionary, Thomas Sankara — the real-life former president of Burkina Faso. Despite her discomfort with the mission's MO, she takes on the job — but she'll also have to deal with the eventual fallout, as she struggles to decide how far she is willing to compromise her principles in the line of duty. An artful mix of spy thriller and historical fiction, American Spy will introduce you to a complex and criminally overlooked face of the Cold War.

Casino Royale (James Bond (Original Series))

9. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

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Casino Royale, Fleming’s first book, marks the birth of the world’s favourite secret agent: 007. Bond is the name, and Baccarat is the game as he carries out his assignment to take down Le Chiffre, an operative for the Russian Secret Service. The stakes are in the millions as he plays with the sole aim of bankrupting Le Chiffre (which, as you can imagine, makes for some very sore losers).  And when attempts to settle scores are moved off the table, the stakes spiral ever higher into life-or-death territory. Bond himself is flirting with the "death" end of the equation when he's driven into the arms of a female agent — but is her warm embrace the haven he thinks it is? If you want to see how the man, the myth, and the legend all began, this is the best place to start.

The Hunt for Red October (Movie Tie-In) (A Jack Ryan Novel)

10. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

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The setting: the vast ocean. The players: Russia and America. The trigger? A Soviet submarine captain, who has suddenly and inexplicably veered The Red October off course to the West. What results is one of the greatest espionage chases in literary history, as the submarine quite literally slips under the radar and a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse ensues... except in this game there are two cats who want The Red October: Russia, and America. The debut novel that launched Tom Clancy's career into the stratosphere when it was published in 1984, The Hunt for Red October also marks young CIA agent Jack Ryan's first appearance — and it stands the test of time still today.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

11. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

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When an ennui-ridden young man who’s been hoping for a break from his boredom finds a corpse in his flat, he learns that you should always be careful what you wish for. Unsurprisingly, Richard Hannay is now suspect number one in the murder of the man found dead in his home. Slightly more surprisingly, he’s also now at the centre of an international assassination plot — one which could have seismic conseqences for the whole of Europe. Hannay goes on the run, fleeing to his native Scotland in an attempt to evade both the police and enemies of a more shadowy variety. Another genre classic, this pulse-raising adventure book is considered by many to be the ideal form for the ‘chase novel.’

Rogue Male

12. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

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In 1938, a British man sets out to kill an unnamed European dictator. This is no  political assassination, however. What he’s interested in is the thrill of the chase — and he doesn’t even know if he’ll go through with it. Sure enough, just as he finally gets close enough to strike, he’s caught at the last minute. Tortured and left for dead, the nameless protagonist soon realizes nowhere in Europe is safe for him now. This seminal spy novel redefined the genre, and has deeply influenced many of the most beloved stories written since. If you want to truly get familiar with thrillers, this is the ideal starting point.

The House of Fear

13. The House of Fear by Ibn-e Safi

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Ibn-e Safi is an acclaimed (and prolific) Indian writer, whose whopping series of 120 spy novels still enjoys cult classic status in South Asia. The House of Fear comes from this series and is the first of Safi’s spy books to have been translated from the original Urdu and published in English. At its heart is Ali Imran, the guy who’s always the butt of the joke at his job in the secret service. But little do his colleagues know that they are seriously underestimating him, for Ali is actually the perfect spy — a devastating combination of strength, wits, and agility. And his extraordinary talents will be put to work solving a set of mysterious murders as a string of dead bodies are found, all bearing the same meticulous wounds.

In a stroke of two-for-one luck, The House of Fear also includes a second novella, Shootout at the Rock, in which Imran is one man’s only hope of being saved from a murderous gang. 

Agents of Innocence: A Novel

14. Agents of Innocence by David Ignatius

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This American classic focuses more on the diplomatic side of spy work than the out-and-out action, but the depth and complexity of this fascinatingly plausible novel is more than enough to make up for the lack of motorcycle chase scenes. Ignatius’ spy book follows the story of a CIA agent Tom Rogers who has recently arrived in Beirut, and is working hard to cultivate connections within the Lebanese intelligence community. One of his new contacts is playboy Jamal Ramlawi, a valuable but slippery asset. Rogers soon learns that their lack of trust makes for a very precarious alliance. Combining an intricate plot with historical accuracy, Agents of Innocence may be a slow burn, but boy does it pay off.

The Alice Network: A Novel

15. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

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Charlie is a young American woman who has been sent, disgraced, to Europe by her wealthy but controlling family who wish to have her pregnancy discreetly ‘taken care of.’ Eve, once a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed recruit who was trained by the famous ‘Alice’ herself during the war, lives a life of seclusion in the UK, drowning her sorrows and nursing memories of the downfall of the spy network she had once devoted her life to. Two women, two very different pasts. But — when their paths cross in London —  they find themselves working together, chasing a common truth which might just end years of anguish for each of them.


16. Transcription by Kate Atkinson

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We’ve already raved about this spy book on our list of World War II books by female authors, but we can’t resist another mention. In Transcription, a blast from the past jogs Juliet’s memories of her experiences during the war and we’re taken back in time with her to 1940. Juliet, then just eighteen years old, is reluctantly recruited by MI5 to painstakingly transcribe recordings from surveillance of fascist-sympathizers. But this tedium is short-lived. Sent out undercover to find ‘the Red Book,’ a notebook containing the names of Nazi sympathizers, Juliet quickly becomes entangled in the action herself. Back in the present, the truth about her time as a spy starts to bubble to the surface. And it soon becomes apparent to Juliet that the past she thought she left behind is in fact creeping up right behind her... 

Codename Villanelle

17. Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

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You may have heard of the hit BBC show, Killing Eve. And by “may,” we mean you definitely 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). After coming across a particularly high-profile assassination, Eve embarks on her mission to find Villanelle, and a stunning game of cat and mouse ensues. Prepare to be gripped as you follow these two women, each so different to the other and yet each exceedingly good at what they do, closing in on one another.

Who Is Vera Kelly?

18. Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

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Vera Kelly has mastered the art of pretending, born out of years of hiding her sexuality in a world not ready to accept her. And yet her talents are wasted as she pulls night shift after night shift at the radio station, struggling to make ends meet. That is, until she’s scouted for the CIA and swept off to Argentina. Going undercover as a Canadian student, Vera has to conduct surveillance of student revolutionaries — a task fraught with danger and potential betrayals. But it’s Vera’s personal development that takes center stage, helped along by flashbacks to Vera’s past that let us slowly understand who she is. A subtle and engrossing piece of new LGBT fiction, Who is Vera Kelly? promises much more than your average espionage novel.

The Eagle Has Landed (Liam Devlin)

19. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins

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In an imagined 1943, Heinrich Himmler’s brainchild, Operation Eagle, is underway. The goal: kidnap Winston Churchill on British soil. It’s a long shot, but Himmler is determined to see his audacious plan through, and months of plotting and reconnoitering come to a head one quiet November evening in an even quieter English village. The stakes are almost impossibly high. But will the German task force be up to the job? An enduring piece of war fiction, The Eagle Has Landed remains as fresh today as it was in 1975 — perhaps because it is not just a story of subterfuge, but also a masterful exploration of the nuance and murkiness of war, in a world where being on the ‘wrong’ side doesn’t necessarily make you irredeemably bad.


20. Ultimatum by Frank Gardner

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Amid mounting tension, an insider agrees to give up information to British intelligence regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. But when a rendezvous at a remote mountain monastery ends in disaster, MI6 realize they need a change of approach. They have to find a new insider — and fast. Enter Agent Luke Carlton, who’s instructed to bring a new contact on side.. until the kidnapping of a senior British government minister throws everything into a tailspin. Written by a former BBC Security Correspondent, Ultimatum reaps all the benefits of its author’s first-hand knowledge of international relations, taking the reader on a thrilling ride with one foot firmly planted in reality.

The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics)

21. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

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Published in 1907, The Secret Agent may very well be the most timeless spy novel on our list. In London, 1886, we are introduced to Adolf Verloc, a man who lives a seemingly banal life as a shop owner. The operative word here is “seemingly”: behind this facade, he’s in bed with the anarchists and is a bumbling secret agent, working for an unnamed country. When Verloc is summoned to carry out an attack on the Greenwich Observatory, he makes the decision to betray his family — setting in motion a sequence of events that may well be the undoing of them all. Based on the real bombing in Greenwich in 1894, Conrad provides an imaginative and classic backstory for a crime that remains unexplained to this day.

I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller

22. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

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A series of grisly crimes. A secret plot so destructive that it would devastate humanity forever. The two are connected, but how? Only one man can find the answer: Pilgrim, a young, mysterious intelligence agent of many names who had gone into early retirement, only to return when he finds that he just can’t seem to stay away from the fast life. Cue a whirlwind hunt around the world, as I Am Pilgrim takes you hurtling around continents following a trail of gruesome clues that Pilgrim hopes will uncover the origin of the threat. Time is of the essence, and Terry Hayes's debut novel truly puts the thrill in spy thriller.

The Quiet American

23. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

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British journalist Thomas Fowler is feeling pretty world-weary. Years living in Saigon, chronicling the conflict between Viet Minh communists and France’s colonial forces, have left him a staunch pessimist. Enter Alden Pyle, a young CIA agent new to Saigon. While Pyle — the eponymous Quiet American — may be mild-mannered, he’s nevertheless a devout patriot, and every bit as idealistic as Fowler is cynical. But his attempts to covertly propagate American-style democracy have disastrous consequences for the locals. As the bodies pile up, Fowler cannot continue to sit back and watch Pyle careering from disaster to disaster. But is it his own morality, or an affair of the heart, that leads him to intervene? A deeply controversial and razor-sharp examination of American exceptionalism and colonialism, Greene’s novel remains one of the true classics of the genre.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (2001-07-30)

24. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

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Very different in tone from Greene’s other entry in our list The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana tells the satirical story of James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman turned unlikely spy. When his sixteen-year-old daughter Milly’s extravagant tastes start to run him into debt, James has no choice but to take on a side hustle: espionage. The thing is, he doesn’t actually feel like doing any of the work. Instead, James fabricates his reports back to London, cobbling together Shakespeare plots, the names of acquaintances, and some complex-looking vacuum cleaner blueprints. Everything’s going off without a hitch — that is, until those made up dispatches start coming true...

The Expats: A Novel

25. The Expats by Chris Pavone

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Meet Kate Moore: stay at home mom, devoted housewife, and former spy. After fifteen years with the CIA, Kate decides to put family first and follow her husband to start a new life in Luxembourg. Sure, she struggles to deal with the occasional culture shock after trading in undercover operations for bathtime — but Kate soon realizes that playdates are the least of her problems when the arrival of two very suspicious neighbours has her worried. Is Kate’s past about to catch up with her? And if it does, what will come of the very family she gave it all up to protect? Very few authors hit a home run with their first novel, but Chris Pavone does just that with the captivating The Expats.

The Day of the Jackal

26. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

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A botched assassination attempt has left the French President on red alert. He’s now the most heavily guarded man in the world and a seemingly impossible target  — that is, until his enemies set the Jackal on him. An English undercover operative whose true identity is a secret even to those who have hired him, the Jackal may be the only person able to cut through the President’s impenetrable defenses and alter the course of the world as we know it. Inspired by the real-life assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle, this incredible speculative spy novel is a nail-biting race against time and a giant in the spy thriller genre.

The Secrets We Kept

27. The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

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It’s the height of the Cold War, and two women have been entrusted with a dangerous task — smuggle a revolutionary novel into the USSR, where it has been banned for its subversive content. The CIA believe it may be the key to turning the tides of the Cold War, so secretary Irina is plucked from the typing roster and tasked with getting Doctor Zhivago into the hands of the Russian people under the tutelage of seasoned pro Sally. This female-driven tale of intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat, and make you really appreciate the power of a good book. A spy novel about spies and novels? Sign us up.

Berlin Game by Len Deighton (2015-11-19)

28. Berlin Game by Len Deighton

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Bernard Samson has been on desk duty in London for years, until an important assignment unexpectedly calls him back out into the field. A high-ranking spy working out of East Germany has had enough — he wants to come to the West. The extraction won’t be easy, but Samson is indebted to the agent on the other side of the Iron Curtain: that same operative once saved Samson’s life, so it’s time for him to return the favour. If, by the end of this nimble tale of treachery (a personal favorite of Quentin Tarantino!), you find yourself growing rather fond of  Samson, you’re in luck —  there are 8 more books waiting for you in the series.

Secret Service

29. Secret Service by Tom Bradby

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MI6 officer Kate Henderson has made a bombshell discovery: the Prime Minister is dying, and one of the candidates to replace him is a Russian mole. The trouble is, Kate doesn’t know which — and her superiors are sceptical about the veracity of her claims. Is she simply being paranoid? And is that paranoia playing right into the hands of the enemy? Kate begins to unravel, as she desperately tries to hold her career, her family, and the nation together. This 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 Mask of Dimitrios

30. The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

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The body of an infamous murderer has been found floating in the Bosphorus. Charles Latimer, a former lecturer turned would-be mystery writer, goes to visit the body in the morgue. From there spans an obsession that will take Latimer across continents, painstakingly tracing the tangled web of betrayals and deceptions that the dead man left in his wake. His desire to understand the deceased killer, Dimitrios, is so consuming that he's at risk of becoming the killer’s next victim in a new, disturbing sense. Fun fact: The Mask of Dimitrios is James Bond’s vacation read of choice — he’s seen reading it on the plane in From Russia, With Love. Talk about a busman’s holiday.

The Kill Artist

31. The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva

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What does an art restorer have in common with a highly-skilled (and deadly) intelligence operative? You might think not much, but it turns out Gabriel Allon is pretty good at being both. Having long since given up the fast-paced world of espionage for a quiet life of paintbrushes and magnifying glasses, Allon thought he had put that all behind him. That is, until he’s called out for one final job — isn’t that always the way? His mission is to take down a terrorist who’s every bit as expert as he is, and with whom Allon shares a complex and tragic history. Throw in a glamorous model, an Israeli diplomat, and a whole bunch of paintings, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the best spy novels.

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave

32. Diary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing

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When Walter finds the diary of a former lodger hidden in his family home, he isn’t prepared for what he discovers within its pages. Despite his unassuming demeanour, there was more to Josef Hofmann than he had let on. He had not found his way to Walter’s German hometown five decades earlier by chance. In fact, he was on a top secret mission: to seek out the surviving members of the town’s pre-War communist party one by one, and determine where their loyalties now lay. The constant threat of discovery by the Nazi authorities makes this task a suicide mission — one that’s complicated even further when Josef’s glimpse at another possible life in the form of Walter’s family makes him question his priorities…

An Officer and a Spy: A Spy Thriller

33. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

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Author Robert Harris has produced no fewer than thirteen bestsellers, in genres spanning historical fiction, techno-thriller, and political fiction. So it’s no real wonder that when this jack-of-all-trades turned his hand to an espionage novel, he smashed it out of the park. An Officer and a Spy is a story of intrigue and suspicion set within the ranks of the 19th century French Army. On its surface, it seems like an open and shut case: military officer Alfred Dreyfus has been accused of espionage, convicted of treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment. But Georges Picquart, a fellow soldier who witnessed Dreyfus’ dramatic fall from grace, has a sneaking suspicion that they may have got the wrong man.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

34. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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A wealthy young woman disappeared from her family’s estate on a private island forty years ago. But with the scene of the crime being a family gathering, the suspect list is a little too close for comfort. After decades without any progress, her despairing uncle hires Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced former journalist, to reopen the case. His unlikely partner is Lisbeth Salander, troubled computer genius, and the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo. As the two start digging into the estate’s history, they uncover a trove of wicked secrets. The level of detail Larsson packs into this tour-de-force of a espionage/suspense hybrid is truly astonishing: you’ll have to crack out a family tree to follow this one.

American Assassin: A Thriller (The Mitch Rapp Series) by Vince Flynn (2013-01-08)

35. American Assassin by Vince Flynn

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Irene Kennedy has been keeping a close eye on Mitch Rapp. He’s a brilliant college student and all-star athlete, and she’s an up and coming CIA analyst who wants to recruit him for a top secret project. She knows that Mitch’s vengeful anger over his tragic past provides the perfect ammunition to turn him into a super-soldier. And when he agrees to undertake intensive training, he quickly shows himself to be the perfect secret weapon. Now he’s out in the field, and while his first mission goes well, he quickly realises that taking out the target is just the beginning. A globe-trotting military thriller, action movie fans will get a lot out of this one.

Gorky Park (1) (The Arkady Renko Novels)

36. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

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A grim crime thriller, Gorky Park is not for the faint-hearted: the novel opens with the discovery of three bodies in a Russian amusement park. Three bodies minus their fingers and faces, that is. The impossible task of identifying the victims is up to Arkady Renko. His sole clue? A pair of ice skates. This police procedural plumbs the murky depths of law enforcement corruption, a conspiracy which has spread far beyond the usual remit of Renko’s work. Will the detective follow the trail of deception til the bitter end? Or is this case simply too far above his pay grade?


37. Deadlock by Catherine Coulter

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The newest release in ultra-prolific bestselling author Catherine Coulter’s FBI thriller series (the 24th installment, to be precise). Deadlock explores two parallel mysteries: one, a young woman confronting long-forgotten family secrets that have been stirred up by a psychic reading; the other, a cryptic jigsaw puzzle, sent to the agents by an anonymous observer who seems to know more than they should. Agents Savich and Sherlock, a crime fighting duo who also happen to be husband and wife, have a lot on their plate, but Coulter masterfully interweaves her various storylines in this intricately plotted novel.

The Ipcress File

38. The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

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Published at the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, you would be forgiven for thinking The Ipcress File was a real dispatch from a British secret agent, packed as it is with meticulous detail. What starts out as a straightforward mission to find a missing biochemist erupts into an international affair after a fateful trip to a seedy nightclub. What follows is a tale of brainwashing, submarines, and nuclear weapons in this classic cold war thriller. Fun fact for the film lovers: this was one of three of Deighton’s spy thrillers which were adapted into movies starring Michael Caine — the very movies which launched Caine to stardom.

At Risk: A Novel

39. At Risk by Stella Rimington

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If you want a realistic look into the life of a secret service agent, look no further than author Stella Rimington. After all, she was the real-life head of MI5. In her debut novel, Rimington introduces us to Liz Carlyle, an MI5 Intelligence Officer whose private life almost rivals her work in complexity. When we meet her, Carlyle is trying to track an ‘invisible’ — a native Briton with terrorist intent, whose local status means they can move unchecked through the country. Is there any hope of tracking down such a well-camouflaged killer? And is there anything Liz can do to prevent him from slipping through her fingers time and again?

Restless: A Novel

40. Restless by William Boyd

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Picture this: your mother sits you down one afternoon, and informs you that you know nothing about her. She’s not just your mom — she’s a brilliant Russian spy who has been living in deep cover since World War II. Oh, and she’s not done yet. She needs your help to complete one last assignment and track down the man who recruited her all those years ago. Yeah. It’s a lot. It’s no wonder Ruth is a little blindsided. But she decides to accept the task, and agrees to enter the world her mother was first immersed in four decades ago. A thoughtful thriller about motherhood and identity, William Boyd’s award-winning novel will sit with you long after you turn the last page.


Keen for even more thrills? We recommend checking out our list of the best psychological thrillers for some more hair-raising reads!

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