Trust is a thing earned with great difficulty between two regular human beings, never mind when it comes to two opposing organizations or even governments. As a matter of fact, I think it’s safe to say there are very few, if any international allies which completely trust in each other without reservations.
This is a truth which goes back so far in human history we could probably trace it to the earliest forms of government, where it was likely pushed to an even greater extreme. The concept of espionage might carry with it high-tech implications today, but in reality it’s something which has always existed in one shape or another.
The concept of spying is one which has been thoroughly developed, romanticized, and in some cases, butchered, over the course of its depiction in various forms of art and pop culture. There exist so many different approaches to and takes on the genre of espionage thrillers, there is bound to be something for every taste out there.
Here I’m going to be reviewing the espionage thriller novels which I personally found interesting and entertaining, from lighter and more action-oriented materials to methodical slow burners filled with technical details.
Jim Popkin might have waited a fairly long time to write his first novel, Code Name Blue Wren, but his vast experience as a journalist certainly helped to make it a deserved bestseller. The non-fiction book tells the true story of Ana Montes, who spent 17 years working as an expert on Cuba for the government by day, and transmitting classified information to that very same country by night.
Dan Fesperman has gained immense amounts of knowledge from his work as an international reporter, and he has put it to excellent use for his career as a writer, penning one bestselling thriller after the next. In his latest novel, Winter’s Work, he tells the story of two agents on different sides of the Cold War, each tasked with their own dangerous assignment, and the unexpected ways in which their fates intersect.
Paul Vidich has a keen mind for weaving together complex and captivating espionage stories, and in The Mercenary he takes us towards the end of the Cold War, a time of uncertainty and shifting allegiances. The story follows a KGB agent who got his hands on some top secret weapons intelligence and is attempting to get exfiltrated by the CIA. They’ve taken up the task, but are cautious in their approach, fearing he might be playing a game a lot more complex than he’s letting on.
Paul Vidich has become an expert at writing espionage novels loosely-based on real facts, and with The Matchmaker he returns to what he does best, taking us towards the end of the Cold War and sending us on a hunt after a high-ranking East German counterintelligence officer. Simply known as the titular Matchmaker, he is desperately sought-after by the CIA, being helped by the one woman who knows his face, having once seen it on a photograph.
Carol Leonnig has been reporting on matters of national security for over two decades now, and in her recent work, Zero Fail, she puts all her years of learning and experience to use in an attempt to not only chronicle the development of the American Secret Service, but to also explain its more recent deluge of failures. Interviewing dozens of current and former agents, Leonnig tries to paint as clear a picture of a topic many would rather be swept under the rug.
Ben Macintyre has an evidently profound interest in the world of espionage, as evidenced by his large number of non-fiction books in the matter. In A Spy Among Friends, one of his bestselling books, he explores the life, relationships, thoughts and actions of Kim Philby, a British MI6 agent who spied for the Soviet Union for over three decades before being successfully extracted.
Alistair MacLean is one of those authors whose works were begging to be adapted to the silver screen, something he helped realize with his screenwriting talents. Where Eagles Dare is likely his most acclaimed work, following the story of Major Smith and his tiny group of commandos, parachuted behind enemy lines to break a general out of a Nazi fortress in the mountains. However, the mission is just a cover, and a much more insidious game is being played by both sides.
John le Carre understood like few others the ins and outs of espionage, having personally stewed in it for a number of years. In A Small Town in Germany, perhaps one of the lesser-known novels in comparison to his famous ones, tells the story of a hunt for an embassy worker, Leo Harting, who goes missing with a briefcase stuffed with confidential documents.
Larry Loftis is quickly becoming a voice worth listening to in the realm of biographies, and he has recently reinforced this notion further upon publishing The Princess Spy. Mixing small bits of inconsequential fiction with hard, cold facts, it recounts the life of Aline Griffith, a regular girl from suburban New York who really wanted to do her part and serve her country during World War II.
John Le Carre is a man whom I believe needs little introduction at this stage, having authored so many international bestsellers, some of which found their way on our television and movie screens. Already fifty years have passed since he published his first bestselling novel, the one to really launch his career, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
Kate Quinn has a penchant for writing historical novels of a generally more complex nature, and she further reinforced this notion when she published The Alice Network. Taking us through two stories happening in 1915 and 1947 respectively, we witness both a British intelligence network operating in Germany-occupied Northwestern France, as well as a young American girl’s search for her roots in the battered country.
Elisabeth Elo went an extra few miles when writing her latest novel, Finding Katarina M., and actually travelled to Siberia in order to recreate it as the master setting for a tale of family and intrigue from the deep past. The story acquaints us with Natalie March, a successful surgeon in Washington , who sets out on a journey to Russia in order to reunite with her estranged grandmother, Katarina, thought to have died long ago. Faster than she can blink, Natalie finds herself in the throes of dark family secrets and an international plot, one bound to change her life forever.
Many are the people eager and willing to forget the history of yesteryear, but thankfully there remain authors such as Larry Loftis who believe in the importance of knowing about our past and the heroes in it. In Code Name: Lise, Loftis returns once again to the Second World War to tell the story of Odette Sansom, a mother of three daughters who became an invaluable Allied intelligence officer and perhaps one of the most celebrated members of the British Special Operations Executive. Sabotaging, spying, and surviving torturous imprisonment, she became the first woman to be awarded both the George Cross and appointed as a Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur.
Andrew Turpin introduced us to Joe Johnson, a war crimes investigator with a penchant for some of the most extravagant cases known to man, hunting in his last time out after a lost Nazi train full of gold.In his second adventure, titled The Old Bridge, Joe Johnson sets out to find some documents lost twenty years ago from the president’s office in Sarajevo for they contain some incriminating links to the White House. Needless to say, the chase after these papers turns bloody and troublesome as a bigger conspiracy looms above Johnson and more parties than he expected have a vested interest in it.
Sean Parnell certainly knows how to draw readers into the intrigue of war and espionage with his novels, and he does so again with great ambition in his latest novel, Man of War. In it, we follow Eric Steele, an elite clandestine operative assigned to a secret US intelligence unit known only as the “Program”. His abilities are put to the greatest test yet as he sets out to recover a nuclear weapon stolen from a military convoy… with the man behind it being a former brother-in-arms of Steele.
Larry Loftis has written a number of legal books and articles, but it is only with Into the Lion’s Mouth that he decided to venture into a narrative. More precisely, he decided to tell the sadly-overlooked story of Dusko Popov, a young Serbian playboy who arguably became the greatest spy in human history and without a question served as the inspiration for James Bond. This book is a completely factual narrative that seeks to transpose a true life in all of its veracity into a thrilling story that will hopefully enlighten the world about a historical figure whose world-shaping actions remain largely in the shadows today.
Paulo Coelho takes his crack at unveiling the secretive and mysterious life of Mata Hari, a Dutch courtesan and exotic dancer who was accused of spying for Germany during the First World War. Out of the few facts and many speculations that have originated around the exceptional and empowered woman Coelho weaves a narrative where he tries to demonstrate her strength of will, the power of her conviction, and the price she paid for leading a daring life.