Spies are a staple of the thriller genre. They get to do all the cool stuff, from infiltrating enemy lines to using all the best gadgets.
But what makes them truly enjoyable to read is their ability to blend in with everyone else and remain practically invisible. Resourceful, intelligent, and often daredevils, these men and women are the epitome of the game of espionage.
6 Best Fiction Books About Spies
If you’re a spy buff, then you’ll definitely like this selection of books I’ve listed here. Though fictional, these narratives successfully capture the razor-edge tension commonly seen in real-life spy stories. Enjoy!
1. Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré
Forty-seven-year-old Nat believes his spying days are over and is set on living a quiet life with his wife. But with the growing threat of the Russians, there’s one more job left for him to do: take over The Haven, a disused substation of London General, and lead a bunch of misfit spies.
When he’s not doing espionage work, Nat is an avid badminton player. But never did he imagine that his regular opponent, the solitary Ed, would be the conduit to his own buried anger.
2. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
James Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana, struggling to make ends meet until the British intelligence recruits him as their undercover agent. To keep the money flowing, he starts to create fictional codes, designs, and a fake network of spies.
But now an agent is on the way to supervise him. Worse, he seems to have become the target of an unknown assassin. To survive, he just might need to do some real spying.
3. The Moscow Club by Joseph Finder
Charlie Stone is one of the CIA’s most brilliant analysts, having made a name for himself during the Cold War. But a top-secret tape smuggled out of Moscow draws him to the game once more, enticing him with the truth about his father’s imprisonment.
A conspiracy that frames him for murder forces him into a cat-and-mouse game across Europe, finally ending up in the Soviet Union. There he must outmaneuver the most brutal of men, not only to solve his father’s mystery, but also to preserve the fragile balance between the world powers.
4. The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
Milo Weaver tries hard to leave all the secrecy and lies behind. He’s given up his job as a “tourist,” a spy with no home or identity, and contents himself with a desk job in New York City.
Lying low becomes impossible when a high-profile investigation begins to look into his old cases. With his past at risk, he has no choice but to return to the field and sniff out the person who’s pulling the strings.
5. The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming
Renowned author Kit Carradine has an adventurer’s soul. When an MI6 officer approaches him to go undercover, he’s all but jumping for it. His mission: find a girl hiding in the city of Marrakesh.
The excitement soon turns stale when Carradine experiences the fear and betrayal that accompany the mission. And when he does find his objective, he must make a decision: abandon the girl, or risk everything to save her.
6. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
James Bond is assigned to play against and bankrupt Le Chiffre, a high-ranking officer of a Soviet organization, in a high-stakes game. The stakes grow more dangerous as both find themselves playing with their lives to win.
This is the book that gave birth to the 007 craze, and the first of many appearances by the spy extraordinaire. Here we learn of his favorite martini, gambling prowess, and skills as a secret agent for the British Crown.
6 Best Nonfiction Books About Spies
If you’re more interested in reading about historical spies, then the following books are the perfect books to read. Some of these are first-hand accounts by real spies, while others are biographies written after tons of research to create an accurate story.
1. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
Virginia Hall was a Baltimore socialite who worked with the UK and American espionage agencies. She was the first Allied woman to be sent behind enemy lines, working to establish information, supply, and rescue networks for the Allies.
She was so successful in her job that the Gestapo reportedly called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” This book chronicles her journey from an ordinary woman to one of the spies most wanted by the Nazis.
2. Open Secret by Stella Rimington
Stella Rimington was many firsts for the British MI5. She was the agency’s first female Director-General, the first to have her name publicized upon appointment, and the first to willingly pose for the cameras. During her time as DG, she pursued a policy of openness to the public, giving out lectures and publishing a booklet about the service.
In Open Secret, she continues her work to demystify the public’s perception of the secret service, shedding light on many of the agency’s inner workings and activities.
3. Hitler’s Spy Chief by Richard Bassett
Wilhelm Canaris was a German admiral and leader of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Initially a supporter of Hitler, he turned against the Nazi regime near the war’s end.
Bassett takes us through Canaris’s activities throughout the war, from when he was still a believer to his turning against the regime and subsequent execution for high treason. Here, Bassett reveals how one Admiral’s actions may have changed World War II.
4. A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
Kim Philby was known as a loyal friend and staunch patriot. Charming and brilliant, he steadily worked his way into the heights of British intelligence. His closest friends, a fellow MI6 agent and the CIA’s head of counterintelligence believed him to be an absolute ally — but he wasn’t.
He was secretly a double agent employed by the Soviets, supplying them with British intelligence and leading MI6 and CIA missions to failure. In this book, Mcintyre details how Philby survived for so long and what happened when he was finally unmasked.
5. Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA by Morten Storm
Morten Storm is an odd sight for a jihadist, standing more than six feet tall with flaming red hair. Starting as a troubled youth in Denmark, he found peace in radical Islam. Soon, he found himself mingling with many famous terrorists.
This autobiography details his conversion and falling out with militant Islam and collaboration with Danish, British, and American intelligence services to undermine terrorism.
6. The Spy’s Son By Bryan Denson
Jim Nicholson was a highly successful CIA operative, having completed missions all over the world, achieved the rank of branch officer, and taught spycraft at the Farm, the CIA’s covert training facility. But Nicholson was a double agent, supplying the Russians with information, including the identities of those he taught.
Caught and convicted twice, he still found an opportunity to sell information despite his incarceration. His son, Nathan, continued his espionage work, repeatedly meeting Russian officials in different countries.
Here, Bryan Denson narrates a father and son’s career in betraying the United States.
Who Is the Most Famous Spy?
It is difficult to assess who is the most famous spy in the real world. Much like their careers, these individuals are shrouded in secrets and mysteries. What we know about them and their works is hardly complete, and there is a possibility that what we do know are whitewashed or handpicked facts. After all, espionage is largely about the acquisition and manipulation of valuable information.
If based on their known exploits, perhaps the most famous spy of contemporary times is former CIA analyst Aldritch Ames. He is possibly the most successful Soviet double agent during the Cold war.
Using his status in counterintelligence, he crippled espionage efforts in the Soviet Union, compromising virtually all the CIA and foreign operatives he knew about. This, along with passing them huge amounts of information, allowed the Soviets to start a campaign of disinformation against the U.S. for nearly a decade.
In the fictional world, however, James Bond is indisputably the most famous spy. The franchise, which spans books, movies, comics, and video games, has enthralled generations of fans and has set many standards of what spy fiction should be.
Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!