26 Best Spy Novels Adventure Lovers Must Read

Check out our list of the best spy novels to grab your next page-turner. If you love a good adventure tale with political intrigue, this list is for you!

From James Bond’s adventures to The Alice Network mysteries, the world of espionage is full of top-secret missions, double-crosses, and agents leading two lives. These factors are perfect for adventure-packed, page-turning novels. Classic spy novels like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are famous for their complex characters and exciting narratives.

“I have a theory which I suspect is rather immoral,’ Smiley went on, more lightly. ‘Each of us has only a quantum of compassion. That if we lavish our concern on every stray cat, we never get to the centre of things.”

John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Many of these novels are also a little risqué, as their protagonists find themselves amid a bit of romance on top of the politics and historical events they are unraveling. Spy books are loved by millions worldwide, with James Bond generating over 100 million sales since publishing. 

If you are a fan of the spy fiction genre, then grab one of the best spy books to explore some of the top stories of all time. If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll love the best Anthony Horowitz books!

Best Spy Novels Ranked

1. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow is a bestselling spy novel and was adapted into a major motion picture

In Red Sparrow, Jason Matthews tells the story of what happens when an injured ballerina becomes a top-secret Russian spy school member. She learns to use her beauty and grace to seduce her targets and get information from them. After training, she is sent to seduce a CIA handler, Nathan Nash. However, he sees her as a threat, and the book becomes the story of their pursuit of each other. This 2013 book is the first novel in a trilogy, and it is considered one of the best spy books to show what real-life espionage is like.

“Whatever he thought about her personally—she wasn’t sure—his fretting and worry were endearing. She realized that she herself was feeling the strain, living constantly with the ice-cold secret.”

Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow
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02/18/2024 07:45 am GMT

2. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a thrilling spy book everyone will love

In The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carre draws on his experience in the British Intelligence Service. The spy story tells the tale of the international espionage ring from the point of view of a British spy, George Smiley, who wants to take one last assignment before ending his career. 

The previous assignment becomes a doozie, as he must bring down the head of East German Intelligence by playing the role of a spy who has been shamed. Le Carre published this classic novel in 1963. This book was listed on Time magazine’s list of 100 best novels in the English language between 1923 and 2005. It also topped the New York Times bestseller list.

“It is said that men condemned to death are subject to sudden moments of elation; as if, like moths in the fire, their destruction were coincidental with attainment.”

John le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
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02/18/2024 07:26 am GMT

3. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

American Spy
American Spy is a heart-pounding espionage story set during the Cold War

American Spy is the story of an FBI officer who must go to Burkina Faso to fight communism in the early 1980s. She is targeting the former president of the country, a mission she feels uncomfortable taking on. This is a compelling spy novel because it is also a historical fiction novel showing keen insight into the Cold War. The main character must also face ethical questions as she moves from a desk job to being active in the field. This book was published by Lauren Wilkinson in 2019.

“The first few moments after you meet someone are precious, because the data on them is plentiful and your own subjectivity has yet to interfere.”

Lauren Wilkinson, American Spy
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02/18/2024 07:47 am GMT

4. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Identity is a bestselling novel and popular film franchise

Book one of the Jason Bourne series, The Bourne Identity, is claimed to be one of the best spy books of all time. It introduces a main character who doesn’t know who he is, creating a mystery from the first page. Not only is he a super spy, but he’s also trying to follow clues to find his identity.

Flashbacks give readers clues about his identity and the true threat to his life, but they must keep reading to find the true answer to these questions. This fast-paced novel was published in 1980 by Robert Ludlum and became a major motion picture starring Matt Damen. It has several sequels that follow Jason Bourne’s story.

“What a man can’t remember doesn’t exist for him.”

Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity
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03/07/2024 02:29 am GMT

5. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal is a popular political thriller novel

Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal is a great choice to add to a spy novel collection. It’s the story of an assassin known as “The Jackal,” who no intelligence agency or secret service knows of and is under contract to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France. Published in 1971, this is a thrilling read with many near misses and secrets that keep readers engaged.

“It is cold at six-forty in the morning on a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”

Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal
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02/18/2024 07:46 am GMT

6. Secret Service by Tom Bradby

Secret Service

Secret Service is an exciting espionage novel

Secret Service by Tom Bradby, which he published in 2019, is the first book in the Kate Henderson series. Henderson is secretly a top M16 officer, and she finds that an upcoming political leader is a Russian spy. She must find out who the spy is and take steps to stop them, but brutal murder puts a wrench in her plans. This exciting novel is full of twists and turns, ideal for fans of thrill-seeking adventure.

“In my youth I looked for answers with a terrible urgency. I craved certainty. Then I started telling myself that, in the end, we have to accept there’s a vast amount we just don’t know.”

Tom Bradby, Secret Service
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02/18/2024 07:56 am GMT

7. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

The Hunt for Red October
The Hunt for Red October is a world-famous spy novel loved by millions of readers

The Hunt for Red October was the first book Tom Clancy wrote in the famous Jack Ryan series. This New York Times bestselling book was called one of America’s best-loved novels by The Great American Read. It tells of the chance to capture Red October, a highly advanced nuclear submarine that the Americans and Russians want. Jack Ryan is a CIA analyst on the scene to help find the vessel to avoid a war. Dive into this novel for an on-the-edge-of-your-seat masterpiece. You might also be interested in our list of the best Karl May books.

“Being a victim is more palatable than having to recognize the intrinsic contradictions of one’s own governing philosophy.”

Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October
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02/18/2024 07:56 am GMT

8. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Eye of the Needle
Eye of the Deelde is a spy novel set during WWII

A German spy named “The Needle,” due to his needle-point blade, is the star of this story. He is the last remaining officer of the German intelligence agency, and Eye of the Needle focuses on his work trying to save the Nazis from the Allies on D-Day. However, he makes a dangerous discovery, and M15 is sent to chase him down. He ends up embroiled in a romance that brings some humanity to the killer. Ken Follett published this classic spy book in 1978.

“The trouble with being inspired to perform the impossible was that the inspiration gave you no clues to the practical means.”

Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle
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02/18/2024 07:56 am GMT

9. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

Rogue Male
Rogue Male involves assassination, betrayal and complex conflict

Rogue Male is the story of an assassin who fails to kill the dictator of a European country. Instead, he finds himself in the hands of a group determined to torture him for information. He escapes, finding himself on the run to escape the people who want to see him dead. The Rogue Male set the stage for the spy novel genre after its publication in 1939.

“I have never taken sides, never leaped wholeheartedly into one scale or the other; nor do I realize disappointments, provided they are severe, until the occasion is long past. Yet I am ruled by my emotions, though I murder them at birth.”

Geoffrey Household, Rogue Male
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02/18/2024 08:01 am GMT

10. Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton

Funeral in Berlin
Funeral in Berlin is an exciting and devious Cold War espionage novel

Funeral in Berlin is a 1964 spy novel by Len Deighton that takes place in 1963 in the heart of the Cold War. It involves an unnamed protagonist sent to help a Soviet scientist defect to West Berlin. The title Funeral in Berlin comes from the fact that the Russian spy is sent to freedom in a coffin under the guise of a funeral. Every twist and turn of this book seems to bring new deception and allies that become enemies.

“Here in Prague they say that although the traffic police are communists, the drivers are fascists, which would be all right if it were not that the pedestrians are anarchists.”

Len Deighton, Funeral in Berlin
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02/18/2024 08:11 am GMT

11. A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

A Coffin for Dimitrios
A Coffin for Dimitrios features protagonist Charles Latimer who investigates the life of an infamous criminal

In A Coffin for Dimitrios, author Eric Ambler introduces Charles Latimer, a mystery novel writer who finds success in the midst of a sinister criminal world. Initially, the author tries to retrace the steps of the infamous criminal Dimitrios, only to find himself in the middle of an actual crime.

The original 1939 edition was called The Mask of Dimitrios, but other than the title, little has changed in this book since its initial publication. It remains one of the best examples from an early spy novel and holds the distinction of offering a protagonist who did not intend to be in the middle of a spy ring

“In a dying civilization, political prestige is the reward not of the shrewdest diagnostician, but of the man with the best bedside manner.”

Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios
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02/18/2024 08:20 am GMT

12. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy became a major motion picture and was a New York Times bestseller

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy could be one of the best espionage novels by John le Carre and is another George Smiley book. In it, Smiley gets word that a mole from the Moscow Centre has gotten into British Intelligence, and he must figure out which one is the double agent. Once found, the agent must be destroyed. This is a fantastic chess game as Smiley strives to find traitors and bring them to justice.

“There was nothing dishonourable in not being blown about by every little modern wind. Better to have worth, to entrench, to be an oak of one’s own generation.”

John le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
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02/18/2024 08:17 am GMT

13. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale
Casino Royale is the first novel in the infamous James Bond series

The list of best books for spy novel fans is not complete without a James Bond novel, and Casino Royale is the first in the original series by Ian Fleming. This book introduces 007, who is sent to France to take down a financier for SMERSH. He partners with a beautiful M16 employee, who brings romance to the book. If you are ready to enter the world of Bond, this 1953 novel is where you want to start.

“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.”

Ian Fleming, Casino Royale
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02/18/2024 08:21 am GMT

14. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps
The Thirty-Nine Steps is an adventure novel featuring an international spy ring

The Thirty-Nine Steps opens with a young man hoping for adventure, which he finds in the story of a mysterious American claiming an assassination plot is in the works. The adventure gets even more intense when he comes home to his flat to find the American’s dead body in his home. He is the obvious suspect, which causes him to flee to Scotland, where he can work on the mystery and figure out who is behind the murder and the assassination plot. This is the first in a series by John Buchan featuring Richard Hannay, originally published in 1915.

“I am an ordinary sort of fellow, not braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed, and that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I could play the game in his place.”

John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps
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02/18/2024 08:17 am GMT

15. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The Secret Agent
The Secret Agent was adapted into a successful TV series in 2016

Published in 1907, The Secret Agent is one of the oldest books on this list. It follows Mr. Verloc, a secret agent living in London’s Soho district, who finds himself in the middle of an anarchist plot. In addition to showing the dark side of society and how a spy has to navigate, Joseph Conrad’s book also shows the seedy side of historical London and the anarchist activities rampant in the 1800s. In the middle of the exciting spy tale, astute readers will pick up quite a bit of satire.

“Madness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it by threats, persuasion, or bribes.”

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
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02/18/2024 08:22 am GMT

16. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Quiet American
The Quiet American is narrated in first person, creating a gripping narrative

The Quiet American is the title given to this 1956 book about Alden Pyle, a young man who is bold and idealistic, sent by America to Saigon during the Vietnam conflicts of the first Indochina War to perform a mysterious mission. Pyle has one blunder after another, and this causes quite a bit of bloodshed, and a British reporter decides to interview him.

The result is a novel that fits the spy book genre but is also an allegorical look at the unnecessary involvement of the British and American troops in what was not their fight. The book explores themes of innocence, morality, and ignorance, and author Graham Green beautifully weaves these into an intriguing story.

“That was my first instinct — to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was a greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

Graham Greene, The Quiet American
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02/18/2024 08:27 am GMT

17. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network
The Alice Network is a New York Times bestseller and thrilling spy novel

Both a historical novel and a spy novel, The Alice Network pairs a disgraced socialite who is sent to Europe in shame after an unwanted pregnancy and a female spy who was part of the real-life Alice Network in France. The two seemingly unconnected women come together on a mission and mystery that will help both of them solve their inner turmoil. This 2017 Kate Quinn book is appealing because of the strong female main characters, and it won spots on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

“I will not tell you one single solitary fact about my work, my friends, or the woman I was arrested with. But I will tell you this, Rene Bordelon. You’re a gullible fool. You’re a terrible lover. And I hate Baudelaire.”

Kate Quinn, The Alice Network
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02/18/2024 08:27 am GMT

18. Berlin Game by Len Deighton

Berlin Game
Berlin Game is the first novel in a gripping espionage trilogy

Another spy thriller set in the aftermath of World War II when the Iron Curtain is strong, Berlin Game sends Bernard Samson behind the Iron Curtain to get an agent out. He soon discovers that there may be a defector and traitor amid the move, and he must figure out who it is. This sends Samson into a deep web of traitors that moves from London to Berlin, resulting in a startling and intense collision. The original edition of this national bestseller by Len Deighton hit bookshelves in 1983.

“I’ve been taking things too seriously for years,’ I said. ‘I’m afraid it makes me a difficult man to live with. But I’ve stayed alive, sweetheart. And that means a lot to me.”

Len Deighton, Berlin Game
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02/18/2024 08:31 am GMT

19. The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

The Secrets We Kept
The Secrets We Kept is a thrilling story revolving around a banned book, Russian spies, and the Cold War

Lara Prescott published The Secrets We Kept in 2019. The book tells of secretaries who are turned into spies to infiltrate Soviet Russia through romantic attachments. The female CIA operatives are trying to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the Soviet Union to print it globally. This book was nominated for Best Debut Novel by Goodreads in 2019. It was also a New York Times bestseller. The story is powerful because it is inspired by a true story.

“We unveil ourselves in the pieces we want others to know, even those closest to us. We all have our secrets.”

Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept
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02/18/2024 08:31 am GMT

20. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer is a debut novel from Viet Thanh Nguyen, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize

The Sympathizer takes place in Los Angeles, where an unnamed former South Vietnamese army captain is taking refuge after the fall of Saigon. Soon, the captain and his fellow South Vietnamese find living in America more challenging than they thought and start planning their return home.

However, the main character is a communist informant, which gives him an excellent reason to want to stay. The book skillfully looks at what a spy has to do when they embrace two sides of a battle, making it a popular choice. The Sympathizer was published in 2015.

“We don’t succeed or fail because of fortune or luck. We succeed because we understand the way the world works and what we have to do. We fail because others understand this better than we do.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
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02/18/2024 08:31 am GMT

21. Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Slow Horses
Slow Horses is the first book in a series by Mick Herron that won the Crime Writers of American Dagger Award

Slow Horses follows a team of M15 agents who have messed up and must do what they can to redeem their reputations. They end up in Slough House, a place in London where disgraced agents live out their days in disgrace.

River Cartwright is one of these agents who ends up with a job transcribing phone conversations, only to find himself amid a kidnapping case and a chance to redeem his reputation. Though the clock ticks quickly in this fast-moving spy novel, River must find the kidnappers before it is too late.

“Fear lives in the guts. That’s where it makes its home. It moves in, shifts stuff around; empties a space for itself—it likes the echoes its wingbeats make. It likes the smell of its own farts.”

Mick Herron, Slow Horses
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02/18/2024 08:31 am GMT

22. The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva

The Kill Artist

The Kill Artist is the first novel in the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva

The Kill Artist follows an assassin who has the job of eliminating the terrorists who want to see harm come to Israel. When his family falls in the line of fire, he quits and takes on a less risky job restoring famous works of art. Yet he gets drawn back when Middle East peace negotiations are at risk, leading to a thrilling cat-and-mouse game with potentially deadly consequences.

“For every terrorist we kill, there’s another boy waiting to step forward and pick up the stone or the gun. They’re like shark’s teeth: break one and another will rise in its place.”

Daniel Silva, The Kill Artist
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02/18/2024 08:31 am GMT

23. At Risk by Stella Rimington

At Risk
At Risk is a heart-pounding story about terrorism and counterintelligence

In At Risk, Stella Rimington introduces the world to Liz Carlyle, a resourceful counter-terror agent who is part of British intelligence. She is tasked with tracking down an invisible, nearly impossible-to-find, with nothing known other than the terrorist traveling on a British passport. Part of what makes this book so engaging and believable is the fact that the author herself was once the head of Britain’s M15. She draws on her experience working as a spy to create a fascinating, suspenseful, but quite realistic story.

“I’m assuming a fair few of these people are your lot?” “One or two of them are, and when you walked across the room just then, you enhanced my standing by several hundred percent. You will note that we’re being discreetly observed.” She smiled. “I do note it. You should send your colleagues downriver for one of our surveillance courses.”

Stella Rimington, At Risk
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02/18/2024 08:36 am GMT

24. The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming

The Spanish Game
The Spanish Game is a grippy spy thriller set in the 21st century

Named one of the sixth finest spy novels of all time by The Times, The Spanish Game was published in 2006. It is the second novel of Charles Cumming from the series about Alec Milius, a disgraced M16 agent who has built a life for himself in Spain. 

Yet once a spy, always a spy, and when a politician goes missing, Milius finds himself amid the mystery. This time, however, he works alone and, as a result, is in increasing danger. Loved this? Check out our round-up of the best spy thriller books!

“The first thing you should know about people is that you don’t know the first thing about them.”

Charles Cumming, The Spanish Game
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02/18/2024 08:42 am GMT

25. The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

The Ipcress File
The Ipcress File is a classic spy novel set during the Cold War

The Ipcress File is a riveting spy novel that was published in 1962, with themes of war, adversity and betrayal. When a high-ranking scientist is kidnapped, a secret British intelligence agency is tasked with discovering why. The protagonist, Harry Palmer, becomes entangled in the dangerous mission where he uncovers bizarre brain-washing techniques and Cold War secrets that create sharp twists and turns in this complex plot. 

With a unique and thrilling narrative, readers have a front-row seat to the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind. Deighton’s debut novel was so successful that it became a defining novel of 1960s London and was adapted into a film in 1965. 

“But after a little while I got used to the tedium, understanding that these parts of my work were as essential to the arabesques of the final pattern as the rest bars are to a symphony.”

Len Deighton, The Ipcress File
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02/18/2024 08:37 am GMT

26. Restless by William Boyd

Restless
Restless is an espionage novel that won the Costa Prize for fiction

Restless was published in 2006 and tells the story of Eva, a young woman with a complicated history. The British Secret Service recruits Eva during WWII, and she becomes a skilled (and dangerous) spy. Eva leaves her espionage career behind, and three decades pass, but her past secrets come back to haunt her. With the help of her daughter Ruth, Eca embarks on a new adventure full of drama, emotion and thrilling tension.

“Happenstance intersecting with received wisdom produces something entirely new and significant.”

William Boyd, Restless
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02/18/2024 08:42 am GMT
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