33 Best Spy Thriller Books To Add To Your Library

If you love adventure, check out our round-up of the 33 best spy thriller books of all time.

Deception, mystery, and double-crossing are all parts of the best spy thriller books. Of course, they typically have a bit of murder and plenty of political intrigues. If you are a fan of this genre, you may wonder which books should be on the top of your list.

Unlike the works of the best science fiction authors, spy thriller authors have much of their writing set in reality. They often take real-life events and transform them into fictional works. Because of this realistic aspect, many readers appreciate the creativity that goes into these books. While several spy and crime thriller authors have set the tone for the genre, some newcomers are worth discovering.

If you are looking for a new spy novel to add to your bookshelf, this list of the best espionage thrillers is sure to have something that appeals to you.

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

Written in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold talks about Alec Leamas, a British agent sent to East Germany to pose as a defector. His goal is to spread disinformation, often using morally questionable actions. The book received excellent acclaim from critics and was named to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Novels from 1923 to 2010. It also won the 1963 Gold Dagger and the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

“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
Sale
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • le Carré, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 09/03/2013 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre

Also highly rated by readers, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy hit the bookshelves in 1974. This book is one of the George Smiley series and focuses on his work finding a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. Critics found the book an exciting social commentary on the political scene of the time. In 2022, the book was part of the Big Jubillee Read to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

“Dealing with beautiful women, Your Grace, Craw had warned, is like dealing with known criminals, and the lady you are about to solicit undoubtedly falls within that category.”

John le Carre
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A George Smiley Novel
  • le Carré, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 06/07/2011 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

3. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

Published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal is a political thriller by English author Frederick Forsyth. It follows a professional assassin tasked with killing Charles de Gaulle, the French president. While the assassination attempt was factual, the plot itself is fiction. In 1972 this book won the Best Novel Edgar Award and was part of the 2003 BBC The Big Read survey.

“Moonlight turns even the most civilised man into a primitive.”

Frederick Forsyth
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The Day of the Jackal
  • Forsyth, Frederick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 09/04/2012 (Publication Date) - G.P. Putnam's Sons (Publisher)

4. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy is among the best spy and crime thriller authors, and his first book was The Hunt for Red October, which he published in 1984. It follows Marko Ramius, a Soviet submarine captain who takes the Red October submarine on a rogue mission. This book introduces Jack Ryan, one of Clancy’s most famous characters, and the book’s publication placed Clancy at the top of the list of spy novel authors.

“It is a principle of diplomacy that one must know something of the truth in order to lie convincingly.”

Tom Clancy
The Hunt for Red October (A Jack Ryan Novel)
  • Clancy, Tom (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 656 Pages - 09/07/2010 (Publication Date) - Berkley (Publisher)

5. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Robert Ludlum published The Bourne Identity in 1980. It follows the story of Jason Bourne, a man who has the amazing ability to survive a disaster but then struggles with amnesia. The CIA seems to want him dead, and the book explores what happened to him as he tries to discover his top secret identity. Publisher’s Weekly named The Bourne Identity one of the best spy novels of all time, and it was the basis of a movie by the same name. This book is the first in the Bourne Trilogy.

“I mean, we’re all trying to find out who the hell we are, aren’t we?”

Rober Ludlum
The Bourne Identity: A Novel (Jason Bourne)
  • Ludlum, Robert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 608 Pages - 01/05/2010 (Publication Date) - Bantam (Publisher)

6. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale was Ian Fleming’s first book. The British author published it in 1953, and it is the first James Bond book, leading the way to the entire book and movie franchise that follows the famous spy 007. In the book, Bond, named 007, serves the British Secret Service in the attempt to bankrupt a Russian agent at a table. The mission goes south, leading to adventure, plenty of spy-related action, and a steamy romance in typical 007 fashion.

“Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.”

Ian Fleming
Casino Royale (James Bond (Original Series))
  • Fleming, Ian (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 188 Pages - 10/16/2012 (Publication Date) - Thomas & Mercer (Publisher)

7. The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva

The Kill Artist is the first Gabriel Allon book by Daniel Silva. Allon is an infamous assassin who is a former Israeli intelligence operative. Though he wishes to keep his past in the past, Allon is called on again to get back in the game, this time to eliminate a zealot who has ties to his past. The book is popular partly for its colorful characters, which keep it engaging. Silva published the book in 2000.

“I suppose I needed to share it with her. I suppose I needed someone to forgive me.”

Daniel Silva
The Kill Artist
  • Silva, Daniel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 11/27/2022 (Publication Date) - Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) (Publisher)

8. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Published initially as Storm Island in 1978, Eye of the Needle was the first bestseller written by Ken Follet. The book is a spy story set in World War II, and the main character is Henry Faber, a German spy who regularly uses a stiletto to do away with people in his way. Weaving in plenty of action, and Hitler and Churchhill in 1979, it earned the Edgar Award, and in 1981 it became a motion picture.

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

Ken Follett
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Eye of the Needle: A Novel
  • Follett, Ken (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 10/17/2017 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

9. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Red Sparrow is the first in a trilogy by the same name. Jason Matthews introduces the world of intelligence in post-Soviet Union Russia with a female spy, Dominika Egorova, who is forced to become a Sparrow, a spy trained to seduce an enemy agent to become a mole. Armed with the unique ability to understand people by seeing the color of their emotions, Egorova romances Nathaniel Nash from the CIA. The book is full of intrigue. The book was published in 2013 and earned the Edgar Award for the Best First Novel by an American Author in 2014.

“I’ve always loved Russian humor,” said Nate. “It’s a shame there’s so little of it.”

Jason Matthews
Sale
Red Sparrow: A Novel (1) (The Red Sparrow Trilogy)
  • Matthews, Jason (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 12/09/2014 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

10. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Published in 1915, The Thirty-Nine Steps is a short novel by Scottish spy author John Buchan. It is the first of five novels featuring action hero Richard Hannay, known for his ability to escape difficult situations. Since its original publication, four movies have come from this book, including the most recent in 2008.

“A fool tries to look different: a clever man looks the same and is different.”

John Buchan
The Thirty-Nine Steps
  • Buchan, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 82 Pages - 02/15/2019 (Publication Date) - Digireads.com Publishing (Publisher)

11. American Assassin by Vince Flynn

Published in 2010, American Assassin is the first Mitch Rapp book by Vince Flynn. Rapp is a college athlete who trains to be a CA operative. American Assassin follows Rapp through his training and first job as a trained assassin. Throughout the book, the hunter becomes the hunted and must fight for his life.

“If you’re not busy living, you’re dying.”

Vince Flynn
American Assassin (Mitch Rapp)
  • Flynn, Vince (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 05/26/2011 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Ltd (Publisher)

12. Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Slow Horses is the first book in Mick Herron’s Slough House series. This Gold Daggar Award-winning series follows a team of M15 agents on the path toward redemption after making serious mistakes. The main character, River Cartwright, gets his chance when a young man is abducted and needs rescuing before the kidnappers kill him live online. Herron published Slow Horses in 2010.

“This was the blissful break when the world seemed a safer place, between the end of the Cold War and about ten minutes later.”

Mick Herron
Slow Horses (Deluxe Edition) (Slough House)
  • Herron, Mick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 408 Pages - 11/24/2020 (Publication Date) - Soho Crime (Publisher)

13. The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene

The Honorary Consul is a 1973 Graham Greene novel, one of the author’s favorite books. This book is set right before Argentina’s Dirty War of the 1970s. It follows depressed, alcoholic English doctor Eduardo Plarr who ends up amid a political kidnapping and spy adventure.

“I have to think of all the possibilities, doctor. Even a crime of passion is possible.’ ‘Passion?’ the doctor smiled. ‘I am an Englishman.”

Graham Greene
The Honorary Consul (Penguin Classics)
  • Greene, Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 09/30/2008 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

14. The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor

When 30 Secret Service agents are killed, and the President of the United States is kidnapped, Scot Harvath is one of the only survivors. This ex-Navy SEAL must escape to Switzerland to protect his life while also trying to figure out who was responsible for the crime. The 2007 novel The Lions of Lucerne introduced Scot Harvath to readers, and Brad Thor went on to write several sequels to the book.

“I know my limits. You don’t ever need to worry about me.” “Thanks, Scot. I’ll remind myself of that next time I see you looking like a flipped turtle.”

Brad Thor
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The Lions of Lucerne (Scot Harvath Series, The)
  • Thor, Brad (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 480 Pages - 06/02/2020 (Publication Date) - Emily Bestler Books (Publisher)

15. The IPCRESS File by Len Deighton

Len Deighton first published The IPCRESS File in 1962, but it has recently gained modern readership after a 2022 TV series by the same name. This book is written as if it were the protagonist’s report to the Minister of Defence. It starts with a straightforward mission to find a missing scientist but ends up with a deadly conspiracy that must be unraveled. This was Deighton’s first book, becoming a classic in the espionage novel genre.

“He had a long thin nose, a moustache like flock wallpaper, sparse, carefully combed hair, and the complexion of a Hovis loaf.”

Len Deighton
The IPCRESS File (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Deighton, Len (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 04/29/2021 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

16. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Originally published in 1959, Our Man in Havanna is a spy thriller and political satire work by Graham Greene. It follows the story of a vacuum cleaner salesperson approached by the British intelligence agency M16 to do some spy work in Cuba. Instead of sending real reports, the main character makes up fictional tales to send back to Great Britain. As the plot thickens, he must take extreme measures to hide his deception. This story has quite a bit of humor intertwined in the story as the scammer continues trying to protect his side income as a spy.

“You should dream more. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.”

Graham Greene
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Our Man in Havana
  • Greene, Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 07/31/2007 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

17. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

After World War II, The Alice Network follows two women, one a spy, as they work to figure out what happened to The Alice Network, a ring of female spies from 1915 that was eventually torn apart due to a traitor. This book is unique among spy books because it features a female lead. Kate Quinn published this book in 2017.

“Hope was such a painful thing, far more painful than rage.”

Kate Quinn
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The Alice Network: A Novel
  • Quinn, Kate (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 06/06/2017 (Publication Date) - William Morrow Paperbacks (Publisher)

18. Berlin Game by Len Deighton

With Berlin Game, Len Deighton introduces Bernard Samson, a new main character, a middle-aged intelligence officer working a desk job for M16. He gets pulled into action when one of his friends behind the German Iron Curtain signals he wants out, and Samson must head up the rescue. Deighton published this work in 1983.

“Perhaps all fear is worse than reality, just as all hope is better than fulfillment.”

Len Deighton
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Berlin Game (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Deighton, Len (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 05/27/2021 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

19. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

As its title implies, The Quiet American is not a loud and brassy spy novel. Instead, this book set in Vietnam is a quieter take on the spy novel genre. It was first published in 1956 and was the subject of two films. In the book, Alden Pyle, the main character, heads to Vietnam on a mystery mission to Saigon, only to fall in love throughout the short book. When it was published, the book was controversial because it questioned America’s involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. In addition, American readers were unhappy with the book because it appeared to paint the Americans as brutal murderers.

“Time has its revenges, but revenge seems so often sour.”

Graham Greene
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The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
  • Greene, Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 180 Pages - 08/31/2004 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

20. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Another spy novel set in Vietnam, The Sympathizer, was the first book by Viet Thanh Nguyen and came out in 2015. It became a bestseller and was given the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. It is a spy novel but also a war novel, mystery book, and historical fiction work following the South Vietnamese army and the role of a North Vietnamese mole during the Vietnam War. The narration style involves a series of flashbacks from an unnamed narrator, adding an extra layer of mystery.

“Nothing . . . is ever so expensive as what is offered for free.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen
Sale
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
  • multi-award winning novel of a Vietnamese-American douible agent during and after the end of the Viet Nam War by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 04/12/2016 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

21. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy, published in 2013, weaves a thrilling spy story around the Dreyfus affair and the story of Alfred Dreyfus and the French officer Georges Picquart. The latter tried to free him in light of the falsified evidence brought against him. This book is particularly popular because it is based on true events. This book became a movie in 2019.

“There is no such thing as a secret—not really, not in the modern world, not with photography and telegraphy and railways and newspaper presses.”

Robert Harris
Sale
An Officer and a Spy: A Spy Thriller
  • Harris, Robert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 429 Pages - 10/28/2014 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

22. Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Transcription tells the story of 18-year-old spy Juliet Armstrong who is sent to work for M15 during World War II, followed by events a decade later that tied into her work in M15. This book is filled with double-crosses and intrigue, which makes it a popular spy novel. It is also an excellent story because many of the tidbits came from true happenings, making it believable. Atkinson published this book in 2018.

“Do not equate nationalism with patriotism… Nationalism is the first step on the road to Fascism.”

Kate Atkinson
Transcription
  • Hardcover Book
  • Atkinson, Kate (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 09/18/2018 (Publication Date) - Bond Street Books (Publisher)

23. The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett

Ken Follett, a British author, published The Key to Rebecca in 1980. This bestseller is based on the Nazi spy Johannes Eppler, the person who inspired the book’s main character. In the book, a Nazi master agent is sending secrets to the German army, and only an English officer and a young Jewish girl have the information to stop him. Unfortunately, no one will listen to either of them, and a spy adventure begins.

“Ishmael said: “The sun rises, and the sun sets. Sometimes it rains. We live, then we die.” He shrugged.”

Ken Follett
The Key to Rebecca
  • Follett, Ken (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 02/04/2003 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

24. Agent Running in the Field by John le Carre

Yet another John le Carre book on the list, Agent Running in the Field, follows a veteran British Secret Intelligence Service officer named Nat and a friend, Ed, who is a secret double agent. The novel pokes fun at Brexit and President Trump while showcasing a devious plot. It was the last book le Carre published before dying in 2020, hitting the bookshelves in 2019. Critics indicated it was a good novel among espionage thrillers because it shed light on modern spy methods.

“We are a divided nation, Nat, as you will have noticed. The divisions between us across the country are neatly reflected in the divisions between our masters. No two ministers think the same way on the same day.”

John le Carre
Sale
Agent Running in the Field: A Novel
  • Hardcover Book
  • le Carré, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 10/22/2019 (Publication Date) - Viking (Publisher)

25. The Innocent by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s The Innocent is part spy thriller, part psychological thriller. It is set in Berlin during the Cold War. It talks about a secret tunnel under the Soviet sector that British and American spies used to access the Russian communication network. The story follows a young English post office worker who finds himself amid political intrigue and forced into the world of espionage. It has a twist ending that keeps readers guessing through every page.

“He needed that time edged with boredom in which fantasy could flourish.”

Ian McEwan
The Innocent: A Novel
  • Ian McEwan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 12/29/1998 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

26. The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

The Secrets We Kept, like many of the best spy novels, is based on true events. It follows a CIA plot that sends secretaries into Russia with the mission of using their charm to get in with powerful men as they seek to get Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR so it can be published in the West. Prescott released this book in 2020.

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

Lara Prescott
Sale
The Secrets We Kept: A novel
  • Prescott, Lara (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 06/30/2020 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

27. Real Tigers by Mick Herron

Real Tigers is the third book in the Slough House series. It tells of disgraced M15 operatives pushing paper in the slough House. When one is kidnapped, the disgraced agents must get to work to free him, and in the process, they uncover a very serious and hidden problem that travels up to the Security Service. This book came to market in 2017.

“Like most forms of corruption, it began with men in suits.”

Mick Herron
Real Tigers (Slough House)
  • Herron, Mick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 01/03/2017 (Publication Date) - Soho Crime (Publisher)

28. From Russia, with Love by Ian Fleming

From Russia, with Love is the fifth James Bond book. It follows Bond’s fight against the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH. In the book, Tatiana Romanova is sent on a mission to seduce the famous spy and destroy him. This particular novel set the stage for the spy novel genre decades after its publication in 1957. This book was one that President John F. Kennedy called one of his favorites.

“Hope makes a good breakfast. Eat plenty of it.”

Ian Fleming
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
  • Hardcover Book
  • Fleming, Ian (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 226 Pages - 04/08/1956 (Publication Date) - Sahara Publisher Books (Publisher)

29. At Risk: A Novel by Stella Rimington

At Risk is the first book in the Liz Carlyle series. When a terrorist targets Britain yet travels under a British passport, Liz Carlyle, a counter-terror agent, must track them down. This book is suspenseful from the first page until the last, making it stand out. Rimington published the book in 2004.

“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.” They examined the menus. Leaning forward confidentially, Mackay told Liz that he could predict what she was going to do.”

Stella Rimington
Sale
At Risk
  • Hardcover Book
  • Rimington, Stella (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 01/11/2005 (Publication Date) - Knopf (Publisher)

30. The Billion Dollar Spy by David Hoffman

Even though The Billion Dollar Spy is a true story of the spy world during the Cold War, not a fiction work, it is full of top-secret missions and engaging intrigue. People who love spy thrillers will love this book which is written like an espionage thriller. If you didn’t know that it was a true story, you might think it was an engaging work of fiction. Hoffman published the work in 2015.

“This is a country that can’t even make toasters,” he said. “And while they can make missiles, they can’t feed their population.”

David Hoffman

31. The Travelers by Chris Pavone

Your pulse will race as you read The Travelers, which Chris Pavone published in 2016. This book takes a writer for a magazine and thrusts him into a spy tale. one bad choice after another takes him deep into an international deception. While the ending of the book is excellent, it is the main character’s experiences on the journey that make it an enduring read.

“For a long time she thought of life as an accumulation of experiences, but recently she’s realized that it’s also the opposite: a narrowing. Living the same day, over and over.”

Chris Pavone
Sale
The Travelers: A Novel
  • Pavone, Chris (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 640 Pages - 06/05/2018 (Publication Date) - Ballantine Books (Publisher)

32. The Moscow Club by Joseph Finder

The Moscow Club opens in the streets of Moscow with the death of a chauffeur working with a spy ring. CIA agent Charles Stone gets pulled into the mystery when he receives a tape that shows a hidden problem within the Kremlin. This launches a mystery that has surprising connections to the agent’s family history.

The Moscow Club
  • Hardcover Book
  • Finder, Joseph (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 56 Pages - 02/01/1991 (Publication Date) - Viking Adult (Publisher)

33. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

The final book on this list is I Am Pilgrim, a book by Terry Hayes published in 2013. The book starts with the murder of a young woman in a creepy hotel and quickly introduces additional murdered characters that are seemingly unrelated. However, as the book unfolds, a tangled web is revealed that shows how they are all intricately connected.

“If you want to be free, all you have to do is let go.”

Terry Hayes
Sale
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller
  • Hayes, Terry (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 624 Pages - 12/02/2014 (Publication Date) - Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Publisher)

Best Spy Thriller Books FAQs

What is the best spy thriller book of all time?

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, George Smiley’s book number three, regularly tops the best spy thriller books of all time. In many ways, it sets the tone and style of the genre.

Which writers were considered to be the best spy thriller authors?

Robert Ludlum, the creator of the Jason Bourne books, John le Carre, creator of the George Smiley books, and Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, are considered the top three spy thriller authors. A more modern author, Tom Clancy, also hits the top spy thrillers authors list for his Jack Ryan books.

If you want to try writing your own novel, check out our guide on how to write a thriller!

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