A couple days ago, I finished Ian McEwan’s newest novel, Sweet Tooth. It’s a different, more literary spy novel than I’m used to. Full disclosure: I find many spy movies and TV shows hard to follow. I can’t keep up with all the espionage. So I was grateful that Sweet Tooth had, in addition to the spy intrigues, a story line that I can more easily relate to — the complexity of relationships, romantic and platonic. And, I don’t want to give too much away here, but, the ending! It was pretty remarkable. It was one of those books that made me want to go read the whole book over from the start. Like you feel after watching Memento (but much less depressed).
So, in the spirit of great spy books, here are 4 more that my colleagues and I have read and loved:
Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. Inside the traitor was a man of loyalty; inside the villain was a hero. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters, and his lovers was to know where one persona ended and the other began. Based on recently declassified files, Agent Zigzag tells Chapman’s full story for the first time. It’s a gripping tale of loyalty, love, treachery, espionage, and the thin and shifting line between fidelity and betrayal.
Mission to Paris: A Novel by Alan Furst
From Alan Furst, the bestselling author, often praised as the best spy novelist ever, comes a novel that’s truly hard to put down. Mission to Paris includes beautifully drawn scenes of romance and intimacy, and the novel is alive with extraordinary characters: the German Baroness von Reschke, a famous hostess deeply involved in Nazi clandestine operations; the assassins Herbert and Lothar; the Russian film actress and spy Olga Orlova; the Hungarian diplomat and spy, Count Janos Polanyi; along with the French cast of Stahl’s movie, German film producers, and the magnetic women in Stahl’s life, the socialite Kiki de Saint-Ange and the émigré Renate Steiner.
Once A Spy: A Novel by Keith Thomson
Drummond Clark was once a spy of legendary proportions. Now Alzheimer’s disease has taken its toll and he’s just a confused old man who’s wandered away from home, waiting for his son to fetch him. When Charlie Clark brings Drummond back to his Brooklyn home, they find it blown sky high—and then bullets start flying in every direction. At first, Charlie thinks his Russian “creditors” are employing aggressive collection tactics. But once Drummond effortlessly hot-wires a car as their escape vehicle, Charlie begins to suspect there’s much more to his father than meets the eye. He soon discovers that Drummond’s unremarkable career as an appliance salesman was actually a clever cover for an elaborate plan to sell would-be terrorists faulty nuclear detonators.
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
A chance encounter with a Turkish colonel with a penchant for British crime novels leads mystery writer Charles Latimer into a world of sinister political and criminal maneuvers throughout the Balkans in the years between the world wars. Hoping that the career of the notorious Dimitrios, whose body has been identified in an Istanbul morgue, will inspire a plot for his next novel, Latimer soon finds himself caught up in a shadowy web of assassination, espionage, drugs, and treachery.
*This post was originally published on August 27, 2012.