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?
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'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.
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.)
In reply to Tall Clare: A very readable older one is 'The Riddle of the Sands' by Erskine Childers - raising awareness in Britain of the menace of Germany before WW1. The author supported the cause of Irish independence and was executed by the British, and only (as far as I know) wrote the one novel.
(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.)
> (In reply to Tall Clare)
> 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.
In reply to Tall Clare: I think they've been mentioned, if they have I second Fatherland and Archangel, also, Ghost. Not really spy novels, but worth a read.
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.
In reply to SuperstarDJ: I'd recommend Len Deighton too, and add that the two trilogies mentioned were followed by a third trilogy comprising 'Faith', 'Hope' and 'Charity' and finishing off the overall story.
In reply to CarbonCopy: I'd agree with the Bourne suggestion too - I was very surprised at how different the story is to the film. I'd also agree with sticking to the Ludlum ones only though - I'm listening to the audiobook of the Bourne Betrayal at the moment - it's cack in comparison.
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...
> (In reply to Tall Clare) The Martin Cruz Smith books are good, especially Gorky Park, but they're more detective fiction than spy thrillers IMO.
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.
In reply to Tall Clare:
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.
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 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.
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...
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.
> (In reply to Blue Straggler)
> 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.