10 Spy Thriller Books to Pique Every Wannabe Secret Agent’s Imagination

There is nothing quite as exciting as reading about a secret agent’s mysterious adventures to foil an evil mastermind’s plan. Fraught with danger at every turn, a secret agent must be a quick thinker who is adept at navigating the trickiest of waters.

If you are fascinated by a secret agent’s way of life, the way they think and solve problems, then these ten spy thriller books are guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John Le Carré

First Published: 1974

What It’s About:

This timeless spy thriller follows a British spy, George Smiley as he embarks on a mission to uncover a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. The story is set at the height of the Cold War, and we follow the retired Smiley as he is approached by a former Civil Service colleague after the rumor of the presence of a Soviet mole emerges. To make matters worse, the mole is said to have been in the system for decades and has led to several top secret operations being compromised. Once George identifies the traitor, he also has to destroy them.

Why You Should Read It:

Said to be one of the best spy novels of our times, this John Le Carré’s masterpiece is a must-read. It’s also interesting to note that Le Carré was once, himself, in espionage, which is probably why he is able to recreate the atmosphere of each situation with great authenticity.

Best Quote:

“The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal.”

9. The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan

First Published: 1915

What It’s About:

Set in 1914, in a period when Europe is besieged by war, Richard Hannay returns to his new home in London after having spent most of his life in Rhodesia. He soon runs into a wealthy American who claims to fear for his life and seems to be aware of a plot to destroy Europe. The plan, he says, will begin with the assassination of the Greek Premiere during his visit to London. He also claims to be following a group of German spies called the Black Stone that plans to steal British intelligence. After Hannay let the man stay at his flat, the latter is found dead the next day. In fear of his own life, Hannay flees to Scotland, embarking on a thrilling and deadly chase.

Why You Should Read It:

Initially released in serialized form, this novel was later adapted into a movie by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. A man falsely accused of murder and a ring of deadly spies, all make for an excellent spy novel.

Best Quote:

“I believe everything out of the common. The only thing to distrust is the normal.”

8. Restless, by William Boyd

First Published: 2006

What It’s About:

Young Ruth is shocked to learn that she isn’t the daughter of Sally Gilmartin, a respectable widow living in the suburbs of the serene Cotswold village, but Eva Delectorskaya, a shrewd highly capable World War II spy. She was taught never to trust anyone and thirty years after this revelation, Sally finds that someone is trying to assassinate her. She desperately needs Ruth’s help to find the man who recruited her into the secret service all those years ago.

Why You Should Read It:

Ruth finds herself inextricably drawn into her mother’s mysterious past, including a secret romantic liaison and the death of her brother, which continues to remain a mystery. An exciting espionage story that focuses on the trials and tribulations of a female spy, this is a tense story with plenty of drama which you simply cannot miss.

Best Quote:

“People lead their real, most interesting lives under cover of secrecy.”

7. The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad

First Published: 1907

What It’s About:

The story revolves around a shopkeeper in London called Mr.Verloc, who is also a secret agent. He lives with his wife Winnie, mother-in-law, and uncle Stevie. Verloc is involved in an anarchist plot to blow up the Greenwich observatory and the plan was supposed to be a straightforward one. Unfortunately, nothing goes as planned and what was thought to be a simple plan seems to involve foreign diplomats, politicians, policemen and other members from the darkest corners of the city.

Why You Should Read It:

Conrad’s classic tale about a secret agent describes London as a ‘monstrous town’ full of criminals which have fallen in the wrong hands. With its discussion of anarchist activity in the UK, this novel is a great example of Conrad’s ability to capture the essence of a nation using his enthralling narrative.

Best Quote:

“We can never cease to be ourselves.”

6. Carte Blanche, by Jeffery Deaver

First Published: 2011

What It’s About:

This electrifying spy thriller takes a look at one of the literary world’s best loved secret agents: James Bond. The story follows Bond in his early thirties where he is a war veteran from the Afghan war and has recently been recruited to work with an organization that claims to function independently of MI5, MI6, and the Ministry of Defense. It’s a mysterious organization that most people don’t even know exists. The aim of the organization is simple: protect the Realm by any means required. During dinner with a beautiful companion, Bond receives an urgent Night Action message. Headquarters relay the message that they have decrypted, a message that indicates an impending attack in the same week.

Why You Should Read It:

With the attack estimated to cause thousands of casualties, James Bond is given Carte Blanche to do what it takes to bring this enemy down. This is a stylish and slick spy adventure, typical of the Bond way of dealing with enemies.

Best Quote:

“Bond.”

5. The Human Factorby Graham Greene

First Published: 1978

What It’s About:

Maurice Castle is a soon-to-retire British secret service agent enjoying a quiet life. Unfortunately, a leak is traced to the African part of London where he works. This discovery causes his quiet life to be disrupted. Along with a young colleague named Davis, he attempts to solve the mystery. Davis, however, is disposed off, much to Castle’s dismay. He must now grapple with questions of conscience and morality while performing at his job as usual. Greene focuses less on the violence in this line of work, and more of the paranoia and the lack of trust that results from a society where secrecy is the norm.

Why You Should Read It:

Graham Greene was recruited by the MI6 during the Second World War and so, he brings his real life experiences into his writing. Combining this with his skills as an imaginative writer, Greene keeps the reader guessing with plenty of fast-paced action, making this a page-turner for everyone looking for an exciting espionage drama.

Best Quote:

“Hate is an automatic response to fear, for fear humiliates.”

4. The Rembrandt Affair, by Daniel Silva

First Published: 2010

What It’s About:

Gabriel Allon lives in the picturesque and secluded Cornwall after bidding his profession goodbye. He lives with his Venetian wife Chiara. Allon is called upon in Cornwall by an eccentric art dealer from London who needs his help. In Glastonbury, an art restorer has been found brutally murdered and a highly-valuable and long-lost Rembrandt portrait has mysteriously disappeared. Allon must now use his skills to find the thieves as well as the painting. On his journey to uncover the truth, Gabriel quickly learns that his path is fraught with danger, traversing exotic lands and coming in contact with a variety of fascinating characters.

Why You Should Read It:

Daniel Silva is known for his brilliant writing style that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. In this story of espionage, he weaves another intricate tale that is, at its heart, a fast-paced thriller.

Best Quote:

“The secrets of survivors are not easily surrendered. They are locked away behind barricaded doors and accessed at great risk to those who possess them.”

3. Dr. No, by Ian Fleming

First Published: 1958

What It’s About:

The novel revolves around Fleming’s most iconic creation, James Bond, investigating the disappearance of two fellow MI6 operatives in Jamaica. Bond finds that the two had been investigating a Chinese mine operator on the fictitious Crab key island. The operator is known as Dr. Julius No, a reclusive Chinese-German native, and Bond travels to the island to meet him. He also meets Honeychile Rider, and once in Jamaica, Bond notices that several attempts to poison him have been taking place.

Why You Should Read It:

An impressive feat of imagination, it is easy to see why Ian Fleming’s Bond books are popular around the world. In this novel, we see Bond up against an evil mastermind with links to the Russians, as well as deadly traps set at every turn, including a fight with a giant squid. If an exciting spy novel is what you are looking for, this Bond book is what you need.

Best Quote:

“Our prisons are full of people who think they’re Napoleon..or God.”

2. Red Rabbit, by Tom Clancy

First Published: 2002

What It’s About:

Jack Ryan becomes the head of the CIA, but the novel follows him from when he was a teacher (a recent ex-marine) temporarily living in England. After a series of deadly encounters with the IRA, Jack is brought to the CIA’s attention who asks him to work with them as an intern. One of his first assignments is to help debrief a high-level Soviet defector. The outcome is astonishing. The defector reveals that top Soviet officials are planning to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Ryan is now in a race against time, trying to confirm, and eventually prevent the catastrophe.

Why You Should Read It:

Can a novice CIA intern save the entire United States from impending doom perpetrated by the Soviet Union? This heart-stopping spy thriller answers that question. It’s a page-turner that’s not to be missed.

Best Quote:

“Courage is being the only one who knows how terrified you are.”

1. Jackdaws, by Ken Follett

First Published: 2002

What It’s About:

Felicity ‘Flick’ Clariet is a senior agent in the Special Operations Executive that leads attacks aimed to sabotage. Flick is one of Britain’s best agents working from Northern France. She is aware of Germany’s ability to stop any attack the British may be planning if lines of communications are breached. A few days before the invasion, the greatest concern for Flick is protecting the largest telephone exchange in Europe. Unfortunately, in her attempt to stop the Germans along with her husband, a resistance leader, disaster strikes and Flick’s life is upturned.

Why You Should Read It:

With her entire group destroyed and her husband nowhere to be found, Flick must attempt to attack again, but this time with a new, all-female team. None of the women are professional and Flick has only a few days to train them. The team’s codename is The Jackdaws and they must attempt to thwart the Germans once again. What Flick doesn’t know is that the Germans are prepared this time and won’t stop at anything to take her down. A secret agent thriller with several twists and turns, this exciting story is filled with unforgettable characters.

Best Quote:

“When people are perfectly polite, it usually means they don’t really care. A little awkwardness is more sincere.”

Conclusion

These ten spy thrillers shed light on the exciting and extremely dangerous lives led by courageous secret agents. With a combination of wit, deadly precision and plenty of tricks up their sleeves, these secret agents are not to be taken lightly. The above ten novels are guaranteed to supply you with your fill of spy thriller fiction.

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