I find it extremely difficult when people approach me and ask for a book recommendation. It’s an impossible task because the sheer number of books in each genre is mind-boggling! And to pick one at random and tell someone to read it is akin to a crime in my head.
So I’ve decided to share my must-read book collection with the world in a very methodical way. Every month, I will pick one category and share some of the best books I’ve read in that genre. So anytime you feel the craving to read a book and are looking for some help, you know where to find it!
And the category I’m going to start off with is: Spy Novels
A good spy novel is one which grips you from the get-go. A lot of writers have tried their hand at this genre but few manage to make a mark. The reason behind this is a good spy novel combines elements of heavy research, good story and solid characters. This combination takes a writer who is super-smart, tenacious and has a solid writing style.
Across the years, I have read a lot of spy novels which attempt to take the reader into the cloak and dagger world of espionage. But only the following novels managed to capture my entire attention and transport me to the realm of secrecy, shadows and suspense!
1. The Deceiver
A classic spy novel by the legendary Frederick Forsyth. The Deceiver takes the reader into the life of a British Secret agent by the name of Sam McCready and his most successful missions.
This spy novel is a particular favorite of mine because the four missions of Sam in the book show the different skills and tactics required from an actual spy who works undercover. The author doesn’t mince words when describing the ethical dilemmas and the cold inhuman decisions which are a part and parcel of a spy’s life.
Another interesting theme described is the importance of relying on human intelligence as opposed to gadgets and drones. Sam in his various missions demonstrates how a superior human agent can always exploit the loopholes in technology and thereby makes a strong case for using humans in covert operations.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Fist of God , The Afghan )
2. The Matarese Circle
The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum is a lesser known spy novel by the legendary author who created the Bourne series. This spy novel pits the protagonists Brandon Scofield (US Intelligence) and Vasili Taleniekov ( Soviet KGB) against a mysterious organization called Matarese.
Matarese is a dynasty which has it’s secret origins around 100 years back and is led by an evil mastermind. The natural enemy spies who hate each other must combine forces to save their respective nations from falling prey to Matarese!
I love this book because it is a solid example of spy fiction which transports you to the Cold-War era and the filled with suspicion and a wariness resulting from long battle. And it’s one of the few books which forces the natural enemies in the spy world to collaborate towards a common goal!
I remember losing all sense of time when reading this novel and having a grim look on my face till I reached the end of the novel. Action, superior intelligence strategies and amazing characters make this an unputdownable book!
PS: Ludlum is extra awesome because he follows this novel with a sequel called Matarese Countdown which is equally gripping with a CIA protagonist and a ruthless new villain!
Rating: 4 / 5
(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Ambler Warning, The Covert-One Series )
3. The Company
Don’t read this book unless you are a serious espionage fan and can spare a week. Because it’s extremely addictive and is a mammoth read (900 pages!) which can piss off your near and dear ones as they try to get your attention.
The Company is a definitive novel by Robert Littell about the infamous CIA(Central Intelligence Agency) which showcases its history from 1950 to 1995. This is a must-read for all those wanting to understand the dynamics of intelligence history and the moves of the big players following World War-II.
The CIA’s involvement in the defection of Burgess and MacLean from Britain to the Soviet Union(thus ending Britain as a superpower), the Suez Canal crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis are covered extremely well. Also the arming of rebels in Afghanistan to combat Russia and the Gulf War are featured with a very good amount of detail.
The best part of the novel is that you end up learning all these things without realizing them as you are caught in the gripping story-line and associate yourself with many characters as the novel progresses. You get to know a large number of young men and women recruited while still in college and their battle with themselves and the world as they rise through the ranks of the Company.
Don’t miss the character called The Sorcerer (Harvey Torretti), a heavy-drinking chief of the Berlin office in the early Cold War days. He re-defines the trope of badass spy who can be drunk as a fish while carrying out super-complicated covert operations.
Rating: 5 / 5
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
George Smiley: Short, fat and boring.
Atleast that’s what James Bond fans would call him. This John LeCarre novel is close to my heart because it sheds all the fancy glamorous bits of what we associate with the world of spies.
The hero of the novel is a disciplined intelligence professional who was forced to retire. He is called upon to hunt down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
This is not an easy book to read as you don’t have all the answers to the puzzle before the characters. The timeline is non-linear, and contains many subplots. As a reader, you will be left observing the actions of the characters and you must put together the pieces yourself!
But at the end of it, you’ll realize it’s totally worth it. You learn the psychological approaches to interrogation along with many intelligence operations details which other novels never capture. And of course you’ll fall in love with Smiley, the legendary spymaster as he battles his way through the darkness cast by the shadows of his enemies.
Rating: 4 / 5
(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People)
5. The Key to Rebecca
The Key To Rebecca is my most favorite Ken Follett book. The novel starts in 1942 as the World War II is raging, and the now legendary German general Erwin Rommel is having success after success with his famous Afrika Corps.
The Nazis are planning to invade Cairo and Rommel wishes to urgently hack into the British intelligence from their Headquarters in Cairo. So Rommel sends a master spy known only as the “Sphinx,”into British occupied Egypt. Then begins the roller coaster ride as the Sphinx tries to outwit his opponents and faces many obstacles.
I absolutely love this book because it was the first ever spy novel which kept me up all night! It’s a fantastic thriller which keeps you on edge as you start rooting for the anti-hero Sphinx as he devilishly wades through dangerous waters. A must, must-read indeed!
Rating: 4.5 /5
(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: Eye of the Needle, Triple)
Over to You
Hope this post introduced you to some books which were new to you. Don’t forget to give them a try and let me know what you thought of them. And if you have any favorite spy novels which you think are a must-read, tell me about them in the comments!