/ Classic spy thrillers - your recommendations please!
I've read a bit of John Le Carre (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold) and intend to read the Smiley trilogy. I'm currently reading The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. This 'escapism' malarkey is proving very relaxing for the ol' Tall Clare brain.
What other classic spy thrillers would you recommend?
Eric Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy is one of my favourites (beating only by Smiley's People) and for sometig a little less serious but still a 'ripping yarn', you can do worse than John Buchan.
Other highlights from Le Carre would be The Perfect Spy, A Murder of Quality, The Looking Glass War and The Homourable School Boy.
Little drummer girl's pretty good too but not quite up to his earliest stuff IMHO by the way...
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith was adapted into a good film. I did not read the book but after seeing the film, I read its sequel, "Polar Star", which I found to be very atmospheric and compelling. You may enjoy the setting on a Russian fish factory ship.
I once read a Jack Higgins espionage book. It was utter utter rubbish.
I'd recommend Len Deighton's 'Berlin Game', 'Mexico Set' and 'London Match' trilogy, followed by the 'Hook, Line and Sinker' books. The prequel 'Winter' is very good too. Actually he's a fine writer generally.
He also created Harry Palmer, although I've not read any of those books. Maybe I should.
I'd put him somewhere between Le Carre and Forsyth. A little more accessible than Le Carre but much more morally complex than Forsyth. I love the narrator, he's a great character.
On a tangent...John Le Carre's lad Nick Harkaway is proving to be a bit of whizz himself. Angelmaker, published last year and on offer in Waterstones is brilliant and bonkers and would tick the escapist box too.
"North Cape" by Joe Poyer. Top quality writing.
"Night Soldiers" by Alan Furst and the follow on books; though I didn't think the latest couple were up to standard.
He did, and it is.
Not EXACTLY spy thillers but sort of are:
SSGB by someone...think its Len Deighton
Fatherland and Archangel by Robert Harris (bloody awesome books)
I can second Gorky Park too...I have read the book and its brill
Gerald Seymor has written loads....they are a bit blokey and once you've read a few they can seem formulaic(in my opinion) but The Journeyman Tailor is great as is Heart of Danger.
LeCarre best of what I have read of spy stuff, and I guess I have read most of his books - relaxing as you say unhappy endings notwithstanding. Honourable Schoolboy's good (and avoid 'A murder of quality' - a not v good take on the murder mystery genre).
But anyway, reason for posting is to recommend some more mainstream 'literary' writers' take on this genre, if you've not read them
William Boyd's 'Breathless' (on telly recently and slightly if inevitably disappointing, but the book's excellent), and his recent 'Waiting for Dawn' (just really reliably good stuff.)
Ian Mcewan's 'the Innocent' (cold war Berlin. Top.)
Michael Frayn's 'Spies' (not really about spies, unfortunately, but a really really good book.)
(Longer reviews than 'good', 'top' and 'really good' available on request, tho I am typing with a broken thumb so not much longer.)
Not classiscs but try see if you can find any of the books by Leif Davidsen, think most of them have been translated into English.
I quite liked a murder of quality...
wanna make something of it?
(I quite liked it too as it goes but that does sound a bit damning with faint praise. I t was LeCarre's second book I think and to me read as if he's thinking he'd got lucky with a spy one as his first ala write what you know, thought he'd try a different genre and, having done so, correctly decided to stick with spies.)
I liked that it fleshed out more back story for Smiley and was entertaining in its own way- not a major classic but worth a read. Glad he stuck with th spies afterwards!
> I'd recommend Len Deighton's 'Berlin Game', 'Mexico Set' and 'London Match' trilogy, followed by the 'Hook, Line and Sinker' books. The prequel 'Winter' is very good too. Actually he's a fine writer generally.
> He also created Harry Palmer, although I've not read any of those books. Maybe I should.
'Ipcress File' is great of its genre; the start of the Harry Palmer books.
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Bourne series, just the Robert Ludlum books though, Eric Von Lustbader (sp?) Has managed to kill the series, last time I read one, Bourne was 75 a college professor and still kicking ass, which sounds better than it actually is. I do have a soft spot for any Robert Ludlum book though, pure escapism, generally unbelievable twaddle, but great all the same.
I'm going to throw a curveball in from left field outside the box, or some such muddled metaphor.
I really enjoyed "The Endless Game" by Bryan Forbes (better known as a film director). I am not sure whether he wrote it as a novel or as a screenplay first, but there was a great late 80s miniseries adaptation of it, and I much later read the book. I might have been biased toward liking it as the adaptation starred Albert Finney, George Segal and a fetching young Kristin Scott-Thomas, but I thought it was a cracking story. Lightweight fare and quite escapist.
That's good to know. Thanks for the suggestions everyone - quite a bit to go on here!
Some of Gavin Lyall's output is worth tracking down.
The Odessa Files
are very good
I'd second the Bourne suggestion, the Bourne Identity had me gripped from the start, the film is only loosely based on it.
I've read all of Le Carres novels, the Karla Trilogy are the best three. Also good are The Perfect Spy, The Constant Gardner, The Night Manager, Looking Glass War, Little Drummer Girl, Our Game and The Tailor of Panama.
Naive and Sentimental Lover is a shocker, don't touch it.
Spycatcher by Peter Wright is as good as many of the above, and is true.
After I had exhausted Le Carre, I read all of Len Deighton and enjoyed them all, especially the three trilogies, Game Set and Match, Hook, Line and Sinker and Faith Hope and Charity. You must read all of Deightons novels in chronological order, failing that read the three trilogies in order, its more like a series in nine books.
When you've read all those, get back to me and I'll think of some more...
Fair enough. I only mentioned Polar Star because a) it's the only one I've read; b) although Renko is a detective investigating something, the backdrop is some neat Cold War espionage stuff and c) the setting is proper bleak and I think Clare likes a bit of that sort of thing :-)
To be honest , detective and spy fiction is not really my thing so I've just ended up listing the few that I've read and enjoyed in the genres and obviously I've failed to distinguish the two genres! Sorry everyone.
Excellent, thank you. It's a whole new genre for me and it sounds like there's lots to explore.
I've just read 'The File' by Timothy Garton Ash (not fiction, mind - it's about his time in East Berlin and the Stasi file kept on him) and he slates Spycatcher. I remember it being everywhere when it came out, possibly purely because it had been banned.
Probably too new to be 'classic', but for some escapism have a look at Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin series. Spy/government agent stuff set in Imperial Russia.
As others have said Robert Harris' stuff is great.
I found them great fun. I think Akunin's form dropped off a bit with some of the more recent books, but I'm now on to The Diamond Chariot and normal service seems to have been resumed.
If you like the Day of the Jackal, The ODESSA file and Dogs or War are both enjoyable and readable.
Ben MacIntyre books are good. They aren't novels, but they read like them. I supose the genre would be called popular history. Operation Mince Meat is very good.
Also worth a read is the Silence of the Lambs.
The James Bond books are also good. Moonraker, Casino Royale, From Russia With Love and On her Majesties Secret Service are all excellent.
OK, you have, repeat have, to read Rogue Male. Robert MacFarlane explained why in this Saturday's Grauniad, [available online, but url seems broken] So much follows on from this ... Day of the Jackal for one.
The classic Le Carre Smiley trilogy, where I've always thought Honourable Schoolboy is the best, with the sitauationally trapped protagonist. Pity they never filmed it (yet).
Try Eric Ambler, Mask of Dimitrios. Maybe Buchan, 39 Steps, Greenmantle, to fill in the building blocks of the genre.
Len Deighton, start at the beginning with the unnamed agent (Harry Palmer, from Bolton, insubordinate, Soho in the 60s, so very, very cool) in The Ipcress File and work forwards. I didn't particularly like the later trilogies, too many unconvincing double-bluffs, but each to his/her own. The later Spy Story stands nicely on its own.
These are reading very dated now, cold war - we knew who the enemy was then - but still work as cerebral rather than action pieces, Antony Price's David Audley/Col. Butler sequence. He manages, usually successfully, to place a cold war plot on top of genuine history (WW I, Roman Britain) raising old ghosts. The quality and the action comes in the precision of his dialogue, Oxbridge, civil service, old obligations, as the necessary betrayal goes in over MoD tea in a smoky conference room in Whitehall. He also manages the chronology of the sequence as the lead players become the old dogs, and the young guns are mentored in and tested under fire. Try Other Paths to Glory, or Our Man in Camelot. Old fashioned in the gender relations, but that was the 70s. Mostly on Kindle now, only a few in paperback.
To up the cultural ante: Jospeh Conrad, The Secret Agent.
Post 9/11 spy stories - I haven't come across any great ones yet (yes, I do spend too much time travelling for work, hanging around airport book shops). Unconvinced by Henry Porter's offerings (though his journalistic heart is in the right place). It all moves towards the action stereotype, and you end up hiding a copy of Andy McNab's latest inside the London Review of Books, wondering if you should take up camoflague and off-roading (no!).
Completely off topic, but to show life is stranger - and more moving than fiction - Orlando Figes' Just Send Me Word. True story of a young Moscow couple separated by war in 1941, and then by the Gulag for 10 years. She waited for him.
For more recent shenanigans, you might enjoy A.D. Miller's 'Snowdrops' - the murkiness of modern Russia...
Thanks for the recommendations - I'll get rummaging.
Sorry for the slight hijack but would anyone recommend Elleston Trevor's "Quiller" books? I loved the film The Quiller Memorandum but that's my only exposure to Quiller.
Thanks - yes, Snowdrops is OK, but not I suggest actually worthy of the place on the Booker shortlist which it got (but that was a lowbrow year [intellectual snob alert]).
another vote for William Boyd's Restless (it's not Breathless as above tho) fab book
I've only read Billion Dollar Brain - but have seen the film at least five times - and the book is very good, and did make me go "a-ha!" as it explained things that the film skipped over...
Clare, if you can find them, then I really, really recommend Manning Coles
The first five deal with stuff from World War One to World War Two, and I have to wonder whether Le Carre had read Drink To Yesterday
There is a Le Carre collection - The Quest for Karla - that has "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy", "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "Smiley's People" which are the classic "Smiley" trilogy. You should at least read those three in that order, but I also suggest that you look out Manning Coles' "Drink to Yesterday" first, if you can...
I'm surprised, by the way, that no one has mentioned Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene, yet
Classic Cuban Missile Crisis stuff, taken with a pinch of SALT
The Karla trilogy are the three I'm most likely to start with. I too am a bit surprised at the lack of Graham Greene.
Here's a question for the assembled throng - can anyone name any female spy thriller writers?
Len Deighton - Funeral in Berlin - a bit dated maybe but good
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers - classic and even older and wonderful! (and the lefe of the author was even more colourful)
I enjoyed the Robert Littell novels that I've read: The Once and Future Spy, An Agent in Place and The Company. The latter covers about fifty years of espionage.
Some of Graham Greene wrote some great spy novels, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Third Man among others.
I think a lot of crime novels such as those by James Ellroy,Philip Kerr and even William Gibson cross over into the spy genre.
One last one Agent Zig Zag is a great true story with more twists than most novels.
> I'm surprised, by the way, that no one has mentioned Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene, yet
That's what happens when I make a cup of tea half way through writing a reply.
I'd suggest that you plan on Our Man in Havana between some of the Karla trilogy, they're a bit heavy going, and OMiH is a bit of light relief, and a really excellent book.
In certain ways that book does remind me of the relationship that MI5 have with Harry Palmer / Michael Caine in the three classic films (The Ipcress File, Funeral In Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain)
I suspect you've already read Our Man In Havana, already, though?
But it's well worth another read (or two) - it just seems to get better, every time...
Perhaps a miniature bottle of Johnny walker, next time?
Stella Rimington, I haven't read any of her books but it looks like she's done her research.
Well Stella Rimington was the first female head of MI5 in real life, and she has written several spy thrillers. No idea how good they are, but they must be worth a try.
> Stella Rimington, I haven't read any of her books but it looks like she's done her research.
What would she know!?
And what's she ever done on Grit? ;)
I was pondering throwing some Greene into the mix but I'm not so well read and I kind of got to thinking that Greene's stuff is not so much "spy thriller" in the (say) Le Carré mould, but more "portrait of a troubled hapless chap in a desperate situation and downward spiral", sometimes with a bit of an espionage backdrop but just as often with a "murder/detective" aspect and I got my wrists slapped for mentioning Martin Cruz Smith because of that :-) But as I say, I know not of what I speak :-) Only read Brighton Rock and The Heart of the Matter, and seen the film of The Tailor of Panama.
> Here's a question for the assembled throng - can anyone name any female spy thriller writers?
(I did that with one point of aid...)
> Here's a question for the assembled throng - can anyone name any female spy thriller writers?
Oh! Does "Baroness Orczy" count?
It will be interesting to see whether those thread contributors who are far more qualified than I am, are familiar with MacInnes or Lynds.
I had half-thought Alma Reville for some of her screenplay work but that was a stretch, and Patricia Highsmith is more "skulduggery on a personal level for revenge or personal financial gain" isn't she...
Well, can I recommend Our Man in Havana to you, as well?
It's not a "serious" book like the Quest for Karla trilogy, but it is an utter, utter classic, and I'd hate to be parted from my copy of it.
I wonder if the fact that Alec Guiness was in the 1959 film of OMiH made him the prime candidate to play Smiley in the BBC serialisation of the Le Carre books?
Clare- you need to drop everything and read the Karla Trilogy.. (Smiley trilogy) If you enjoyed 'Spy who came in' then you will be blown away by Tinker, Tailor, its a masterpiece even if you have seen the film already it has so much more to offer the reader.. Recently discovered, its now my favourite book and Im a big fan of the film and the 70's series, each 'hold their own' in their own right. Currently glued to the sequel 'Hon. Schoolboy'
Also loved 'Spycatcher' by Peter Wright, a very good read and a real eye opener into real life cold war espionage.. and the backdrop to le Carres world.
> Well, can I recommend Our Man in Havana to you, as well?
> It's not a "serious" book like the Quest for Karla trilogy, but it is an utter, utter classic, and I'd hate to be parted from my copy of it.
Yeah, brilliant stuff.
> Well, can I recommend Our Man in Havana to you, as well?
You can! Thanks. I need to start reading novels again and I know I like Greene so this is a good start. I'll see if there are some paperbacks at the library for me to take on my holiday.
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