Monday, February 27, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Spy Fiction Authors


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's topic is a Genre Freebie (pick any genre and build a list for that genre). 

I picked espionage fiction and I am listing my favorite authors in the genre. I limited the list to eight authors. The first two authors are my top two spy fiction authors but beyond that it is hard to decide and the order could change at any time. 

The number of books by the author's name is the number of books that I have read by them.

Charles McCarry (10 books)

I discovered the spy novels of Charles McCarry in 2009 and read them all in a few months (including the two political thrillers that are only peripherally related). Most of the novels written by Charles McCarry are about Paul Christopher, an intelligence agent for the CIA (called "the Outfit" in his books). Some of them go back and forth between events around the World War II years and the 1960's, exploring Christopher's youth and family history. Those nine books were written between 1971 and 2007. McCarry also published The Shanghai Factor in 2013 and The Mulberry Bush in 2015.

Len Deighton (16 books)

Deighton has written two spy fiction series. My favorite is the Bernard Samson series. I have read all nine books in that series, plus Winter, a historical novel which features characters from the Samson series. Deighton is probably best known for his Nameless Spy series (also known as the Harry Palmer series, because of the film adaptations). I have read four of those and I like them, but they are not my favorites of his books. And the great thing about him is I still have at least ten books of his to read.

Anthony Price (5 books)

Anthony Price only wrote 19 novels, all about David Audley, a British spy. I love this kind of spy fiction, which TV Tropes describes as the Stale Beer flavor: more realistic, not romanticizing the subject, grittier. The focus in these books is on characterization and intellect, not action, although there is some of that present. Most of the books in this series have historical events infused into a present day story. In Other Paths to Glory it is World War I and the battlefields of the Somme. In Colonel Butler's Wolf, the site of the story is Hadrian's Wall.

Mick Herron (9 books)

Mick Herron is best known for the Slough House series about MI5 spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs, and are now working under Jackson Lamb. The first book was Slow Horses. I have read 7 books in that series, and the stories get better and better. I still have the last two books in that series to read, plus a stand alone book (set in the same universe as Slough House). And some novellas that are related to the series.

Olen Steinhauer (11 books)

Olen Steinhauer has written twelve full-length novels and I have read all but one of them. His first five novels were historical novels (the Yalta Boulevard series set in a fictional Eastern bloc country) and not strictly spy fiction but there were some espionage elements. After that he began the Milo Weaver series. Weaver is in the CIA; in the first book he is in the "Tourist" division, a group that does dirty work for the CIA. He also wrote a couple of very good standalone novels.

John le Carré (8 books)

I could not do a list like this and not include John le Carré. I don't know exactly how many novels he has written, somewhere between 25 and 30? I have only read 8 of his books, and most of the ones I read featured George Smiley, his best-known character. However, my favorite book by le Carré is A Perfect Spy, about a British spy assigned to an important post in Vienna who disappears after he gets a call that his father has died. It is around 600 pages long and I loved every page of it. John le Carré writes eloquently; he develops his characters bit by bit and pulls me into the story. 

Charles Cumming (5 books)

Charles Cumming has been publishing spy fiction novels since 2001 but his books are relatively new to me. I have only read five of the eleven books he has published. The books I have read and enjoyed are A Spy by Nature (Alec Milius #1 and his first novel), A Foreign Country (Thomas Kell #1), A Colder War (another Thomas Kell book), and Box 88, the beginning of a new series. Box 88 features Lachlan Kite, an agent for a covert spy agency. Kite is abducted, possibly by terrorists, after leaving the funeral of an old friend from boarding school. It turns out that the abduction is related to an event in the late 1980s when Lachlan was just out of boarding school, visiting his friend in France. At that time Lachlan began spying for the Box 88 group, and there are flashbacks to his introduction to the craft of spying. It was an excellent book.

Dan Fesperman (5 books)

I debated whether I should include Dan Fesperman or not. He has written thirteen books, but I am not sure how many of them are spy fiction. I have read several of his books which are combinations of spy fiction and adventure. Examples are The Small Boat of Great Sorrows (set in Bosnia, 1998) and The Arms Maker of Berlin (two time lines, one in 2009, the other in World War II). His most recent series is definitely spy fiction; both Safe Houses and The Cover Wife feature female CIA agents in Germany. And I was very favorable impressed by those books. 


These are not the only authors of espionage fiction that I enjoy, but for many of the authors I have only read one book or their focus is on other types of fiction.

I would love to hear from anyone who has opinions about these authors or suggestions for other authors I should try.


Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

I nearly chose Spy Fiction this week too. You listed some I haven't come across so some for me to check out. I've read some of John le Carré's books, most of them featuring George Smiley. I've not read A Perfect Spy, although I have a copy on Kindle.

Michael @ The Book Lovers' Sanctuary said...

I've enjoyed Spy Fiction when I've come across it - the odd Le Carre and The Slough House series - but I've not read that many. This is a great reminder to read some more!
This was my list of favourite crime novels.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Whenever I come to spy fiction genre, John Le Carre is always on top of my mind. I haven't read spy for ages, though.

Lydia said...

Spy fiction is fun for sure!

My post:

iloveheartlandX said...

I can't say I've really read much spy fiction, I've read WWII historical fiction with spies in it if that counts ha ha!

TracyK said...

Margaret, Thanks for checking out my post. A Perfect Spy is such a great book, but so very long. I have several more of le Carré's books on my TBR, and I need to try some more of them.

TracyK said...

Michael, Thanks for stopping by. Crime fiction is my preferred reading although I am getting more interested in other genres and even non-genre fiction more lately. I will be visiting your blog to check out your crime novels list.

Stephen said...

I haven't heard of these! I've read spy fiction but it's always by Harris or Kerr, set mostly in WW2.

Kay said...

It's a funny thing. If you asked whether I 'read' spy fiction, I would likely say 'yes', but...I really don't that much. Or haven't for a long time. I've not read much that you listed and certainly not recently. Good topic, Tracy.

TracyK said...

Fanda, le Carré is certainly a big name in spy fiction and he writes the type of spy fiction I like, more thoughtful and a slow build up to the climax. I was surprised I haven't read more of his books outside of the Smiley series.

I see your list is crime fiction authors and I will be over there soon to read it.

MI6 said...

Do read and where possible view on screen these best in class espionage thrillers:
Fiction - Len Deighton - Funeral in Berlin - shame they chose The Ipcress File for a remake rather than this
Non-fiction - Bill Fairclough - Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series - a raw noir sui generis novel but read this MI6 intriguing news first -
Fiction - Mick Herron - Slow Horses in The Slough House series - an anti-Bond masterpiece laced with sardonic humour
Non-fiction - Ben Macintyre - The Spy and The Traitor + A Spy Among Friends - must reads for all espionage cognoscenti

Margot Kinberg said...

I couldn't agree more about le Carré, Tracy. He set the standard for spy fiction in my opinion. And Herron is quite good, too, so good to see him on your list. Thanks, too for mentioning Safe as Houses. I've been wanting to read that one, and it's very good to be reminded of it.

TracyK said...

Lydia, reading more spy fiction is one of my goals this year, partly because I have too many unread on my shelves and partly just because it is comfort reading for me. I will come check out your post on xenofiction, now that I have looked up the meaning of that genre.

MI6 said...

Most of us like John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots but some equally thrilling stuff is now out there. For example, if you love Mick Herron's Jackson Lamb et al, do read and where possible view on screen these best in class espionage thrillers:
Fiction - Len Deighton - Funeral in Berlin - shame they chose The Ipcress File for a remake rather than this
Non-fiction - Bill Fairclough - Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series - a raw noir sui generis novel but read this MI6 intriguing news first -
Fiction - Mick Herron - Slow Horses in The Slough House series - an anti-Bond masterpiece laced with sardonic humour
Non-fiction - Ben Macintyre - The Spy and The Traitor + A Spy Among Friends - must reads for all espionage cognoscenti

TracyK said...

Yes, IloveheartlandX, I think WWII historical fiction with spies counts. I was thinking about putting John Lawton's books on my list. His books are historical fiction about a Scotland Yard detective but he often gets involved in espionage. The first book is set in London in WWII but others are set later than that.

I enjoyed your "If You Liked This Book……Try This Book post".

TracyK said...

Stephen, Thanks for checking out my list. I have read some books by Philip Kerr. I have only read the first six 6 books in the Bernie Gunther series.

I like just about anything set during WWII but some of the Gunther books are grim and depressing.

TracyK said...

Kay, I suspect that there are many books that sort of fit the spy fiction category but are blends with other genres. I have some science fiction books that are like that. Chris Pavone's novels are not all strictly spy fiction but seem to have elements that feel the same.

Pam said...

Thank you for the suggestions! I have read some spy thrillers in the past and enjoyed them, and this year I want to read a few more. The only authors I can easily remember reading are Tom Clancy and Ian Fleming.

Pam @ Read! Bake! Create!

MeezCarrie said...

spy fiction sounds right up my alley but i actually haven't read many. Will need to change that! :) My TTT

Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse said...

I don't know that I've read spy fiction yet. I'll have to check these out.

Lark said...

Great choice for this week's TTT! I read a Len Deighton book years ago and really liked it, and I have Slow Horses on my TBR list. I really want to read that one. And I might have to check out a few more of these titles. :D

Poinsettia said...

I've not read any of these authors' works, but they sound intriguing! Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!

Cath said...

I hardly read any spy fiction, just not really my thing, but I do like the sound of the Mick Herron series.

TracyK said...

Margot, I don't know why I haven't read more le Carré lately. I did try The Night Manager, but I had some issues with that book and did not finish it.

TracyK said...

MI6, Thanks for all the suggestions. I do want to read more nonfiction by Ben Macintyre.

TracyK said...

Pam, The only book I have read by Clancy is The Hunt for Red October, and I loved that one. Maybe I read one more after that. Not sure. I also love the film version of The Hunt for Red October. The two stories are very close and that is unusual in adaptations.

Todd Mason said...

I think I've read more espionage short fiction than novels at this point, despite really liking Len Deighton, "Le Carre" and some of the other Necessary writers in the field.

Brian Garfield, Robert Arthur, Bill Pronzini (as editor as well as writer), Mignon Eberhart, Edward Wellen, Ed Hoch, and others come to mind first when I think of spy fiction of previous-years' reading, along with writers on the edge of the field, such as Algis Budrys (his WHO? being one his most relevant works...and a novel!).

Thanks for encouraging thought in this direction!

TracyK said...

MeezCarrie, thanks for stopping by. I hope you do try some spy fiction and find some you like.

TracyK said...

Deanna, thanks for checking out my Top Ten list. I enjoyed your post on "if you liked this" suggestions.

TracyK said...

Lark, I love spy fiction and have so many more on my TBR, it was a natural choice. I hope you like Slow Horses. I think the author does really well with the characterizations.

TracyK said...

Poinsettia, I checked out your top ten post and it is very unusual, Books about Pets. Cats Can’t Shoot by Clea Simon sounds very interesting.

TracyK said...

Cath, the Slough House series by Mick Herron is one I have done fairly well at keeping up with. It is not quite as thrillerish as some other spy series I read. Some quirky characters. And stays mostly in the UK if I am remembering correctly.

But spy fiction is not for everyone. Although there are tons of variations on the main theme.

TracyK said...

Todd, that is interesting. I do have some books that have short stories related to espionage, but haven't read many of the stories. I definitely have at least two books of Edward D. Hoch's spy-related short stories, maybe more. I have Cloak and Dagger edited by Pronzini. And The Big Book of Espionage edited by Otto Penzler, from which I have read one story by Brian Garfield and one by Hoch. I also have Checkpoint Charlie by Brian Garfield (which I had forgotten about).

I will have to look into the other authors you mentioned.

Terrie said...

My interest in espionage stories waxes and wanes - however, I noticed one was set in Bosnia and that caught my eye because I'm trying to read something set in every country in the world so I'm actively looking for books set in unusual locations. This one seems perfect.
It's hard to visit all the sites on Tuesday when I work all day, so I'm a little late to the game.....Happy Reading!
Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

TracyK said...

Terrie, Dan Fesperman wrote two books set in Bosnia featuring Vlado Petric. The first one was Lie in the Dark, and Vlado was a policeman at the time. It is set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict, and it is very good but also somewhat depressing. Both books are very good and either can be read as a standalone.

I understand about the difficulty with visiting a lot of sites especially when you work. I am retired but I have a hard time visiting all the blogs I want to also.

TracyK said...

Todd, I forgot to include on my list of espionage short stories... two books by Michael Gilbert, of short stories about Calder and Behrens, British counter-intelligence agents (Game Without Rules and Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens).

Actually, I wanted to put Michael Gilbert on this list because of those two books, but it is only a small part of his output.