Spy thrillers have always been popular because the public love diving into top-secret investigations and finding out how intelligence networks operate across the world.
Books in this genre frequently incorporate intriguing characters, complex and often confusing plot lines, and heaps of action-packed, intense scenes. Spy thrillers often contain a bit of everything ensuring that readers are kept entertained and engaged throughout the entire text.
Although many spy thrillers are fictional, these authors either come from backgrounds inside intelligence systems or do lots of research to ensure their books are as accurate as possible. Therefore, reading spy novels can not only provide you with a gripping story but can also help shed a light on how real intelligence systems work.
These novels will often be grounded in some kind of international conflict or national threat and some authors even use real historical events as the setting for their espionage thrillers. Merging both history and espionage can provide readers with an educational and intriguing experience, so many authors of spy thrillers choose to base their stories on real historical events to provide an extra layer of suspense and intrigue.
Jack Carr is an American author and former Navy SEAL who uses his previous experiences in warfare and international conflict as inspiration for his writing. He maintained several ranks during his time serving in the military and became a leader in warfare, assault, and sniper teams during his time in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also rose to the rank of platoon commander when he was working in the Philippines, responsible for leading and practicing counterinsurgency.
Carr was a stable and dedicated officer during the turbulent conflicts seen in U.S. history and as a result, has some fantastic stories to tell. His novels include both the political and physical sides of international conflict, all told through brilliantly written protagonists.
His work is authentic, powerful, and intriguing, offering a brilliant insight into the governmental and military reactions during international conflict. His major works include The Terminal List, True Believer, and Savage Son.
If you’ve enjoyed the work of Jack Carr and want to read something similar, stay tuned for a list of 20 authors who write similar spy thrillers.
Known as the man who brought James Bond to life, Ian Fleming is one of the most well-respected and well-recognized authors of spy thrillers in the history of the genre. His iconic character has become a staple figure in British culture and has been conveyed on-screen by a plethora of famous British actors such as Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig.
Fleming’s books have become some of the most sought-after books ever written, known for their action-packed plots, twists, and futuristic technology use. James Bond is one of the most well-known fictional spies in global literary and film history and continues to be adored by fans worldwide.
Fleming’s major works include Goldfinger, Casino Royale, and Dr. No. Please note that Fleming was writing in the 1950s and ‘60s, so his books include some outdated descriptions of women, sex, and masculinity.
Jason Matthews is predominantly known for his Red Sparrow series, which follows Russian state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova, who works under the strict control of Vladimir Putin. She is sent on a mission against her will, which leads her to become a double agent, working alongside the CIA.
Jason Matthews was a former CIA officer, who gained access to vital and top-secret information about Russia during the post-Soviet period. His books include intricate detail that can shed light on the Russian system, an insight that is extremely interesting and valuable under the current circumstances. If you are interested in Russian intelligence, history, or networking, you will love this series.
This author is versatile and well-known for his detailed and intriguing portrayals of international espionage systems. His works, including The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising, are military-driven and focus on the relationship between America and Russia.
They both incorporate nuclear tension, political turmoil, and detailed portrayals of military seizures and invasions. Again, a brilliant author if you’re interested in the current Russian conflict or have an interest in Cold War history.
Silva’s debut novel The Unlikely Spy took the genre by storm, set in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. This novel brilliantly merges history, romance, deception, and the impacts of war.
From there, he wrote two spy novels, The Mark of the Assassin and The Marching Season, which both followed his compelling protagonist, CIA officer, Michael Osbourne. However, Silva is best known for The Kill Artist, which concentrated on Israeli secret agent Gabriel Allon, who would become the basis for his following 21 novels.
Politician, historian, and former Governor General of Canada John Buchan utilized his governmental knowledge and keen interest in history and politics to create compelling and insightful novels following secret agents and governmental officials.
Jack Higgins is the pseudonym used by Harry Patterson, who wrote politically charged and military-oriented espionage novels that centered around real historical events. His best-seller The Eagle Has Landed is centered on the conflict and politics of the Second World War, focusing on the relationship between key European leaders, Mussolini, Churchill, and Hitler.
His other works include Angel of Death, which is based on the British-Irish conflict during the Troubles in the 1970s and ‘80s, and Thunder Point which delves into the aftermath of a German U-boat’s wreck.
Known predominantly for his international best-seller The Spy and the Traitor, Ben Macintyre has written a plethora of historically and politically charged novels that center around international conflict and relations.
He has received over 10 awards for his contributions to literature and his work has inspired multiple TV and film adaptations that have increased his readership significantly.
This American writer is fairly new to the literary scene in comparison to some of the other names on this list but her work has been highly praised and as she continues to write work, her success grows.
She is predominantly known for her best-seller American Spy, which is set during the Cold War and follows a female intelligence officer in the FBI. She is challenged with a task in Burkina Faso, aiming to suppress the growing support of Communist ideology in the area. This novel is inspired by a true story and has received a variety of awards and nominations.
Known for his iconic The Bourne Identity series, Robert Ludlum is the American author of 27 thriller novels, which all encapsulate action, crime, or espionage.
The Bourne Identity is made up of 18 books and follows Jason Bourne, a former CIA agent who wakes up on a boat with no recollection of his identity or former life. He spends a significant amount of time trying to figure out who he is and what happened to him, while also carrying out top-secret espionage missions for the American special forces.
This is a very varied author, having written a plethora of wide-ranging novels that span across genres. He is famous for writing Atonement, the love story based in England during World War II but his novel Sweet Tooth gave him the spy-related reputation he now holds.
Sweet Tooth is set in 1972 just as the world starts recovering from the Cold War. It follows a young girl, Serena Frome, who is being trained for MI5, Britain’s internal intelligence organization.
With a background in journalism, reporting on key movements of the American Justice Department, the CIA, and the Senate, David Ignatius is well-equipped to write intriguing and accurate espionage novels.
He applies his interest in foreign affairs to his fictional works, writing best-sellers such as Agents of Innocents, The Sun King, and Body of Lies. The last was adapted into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, encouraging many viewers to return to the literary original and explore more of Ignatius’s novels.
Ibn-e Safi was the pen name used by Asrar Ahmad, a fictional novelist who used his real experiences in British India as inspiration for his novels.
He wrote two huge and wide-ranging series, the 125-book Jasoosi Dunya series and the 120-book Imran series, both of which incorporate suspense, espionage, adventure, romance, mystery, and even humor, and became hugely popular across Southern Asia. Don’t be put off by the Urdu seen on the front pages of many of these publications, they have been translated into English, so there won’t be any language barrier.
Ibn-e Safi is perhaps not a name you’ve heard of but his work is both gripping and entertaining, and there’s a huge amount to get through, so you won’t get bored anytime soon!
Ken Follett is perhaps better known as a leading author in the historical fiction genre, however, Follett has written his fair share of espionage novels which shouldn’t be overlooked.
Covering military, political, and international affairs, Follett creates brilliantly gripping, complex, and well-written novels that are predominantly grounded in historical accuracy. His most successful espionage works include Eye of the Needle, The Man From St. Petersburg, and On Wings of Eagles.
Frank Gardner is a British journalist who currently works for the BBC as the Middle East correspondent. In 2004, while reporting in Saudi Arabia, Gardner was critically injured in an attack carried out by al-Qaeda gunmen and has been left paralyzed since.
Utilizing his in-depth experience in the world of foreign affairs, Gardner wrote a series of espionage novels following MI6 officer Luke Carlton. The most successful novels in this series are Crisis and Ultimatum.
John le Carré
Arguably the giant of this list, John le Carré is one of the most successful and well-recognized authors in the espionage genre. He worked with both MI6 and MI5 during the 1950s and ‘60s and draws on his own experiences and knowledge gained from this time to fuel his protagonists and their missions.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
American professor Viet Thanh Nguyen has written a plethora of thrillers, all of which toy with military, spy, political, war, and mystery genres. His debut and best-seller The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and follows a Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army.
Thanh Nguyen has written fiction, short stories, and non-fiction books that incorporate his Vietnamese heritage and closely follow the inner workings of governmental and military systems.
She incorporates several genres within these books, toying with espionage, war, military history, and even science fiction to create gripping and politically charged novels.
With a plethora of experience throughout his time working in British Intelligence during World War II, Geoffrey Household wrote accurate, engaging, and insightful novels that are most definitely worth the read.
He spent time serving in Romania, Greece, and the Middle East and additionally traveled to South America through other roles. His spy thrillers include Rogue Male and Fellow Passenger, both of which concentrate on political conflict and detail top-secret missions.
Fans of Conrad may be surprised to see this name on the list because of Conrad’s contribution to modernism and many of his early works covered themes of individuality, morality, colonialism, and psychology.
However, one of his most notable works The Secret Agent follows a Russian spy navigating international concern and anarchism. This novel interestingly and satirically criticizes English society in the Victorian era and provides heaps of accurate historical information regarding this period.
Famous for her Vera Kelly novels, Rosalie Knecht is a fantastic writer whose series, set in the Cold War, tackles the Argentinian political response and uncovers the often-forgotten South American scene during this period.
Her protagonist, Vera Kelly, works for the CIA and is challenged with infiltrating a group of activists based in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires. This series is multidimensional, covering a broad range of themes such as espionage, mystery, radicalism, sex, LGBTQ+ issues, and betrayal.
Spy thrillers are fantastic books to read, they’re insightful, action-packed, and typically very well-written. Any of the authors and their corresponding books on this list will provide you with a Jack Carr-like reading experience, so we hope this list has provided you with some inspiration.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a spy thriller?
A spy thriller is a book typically set within international conflict, that follows a protagonist working in espionage uncovering secrets about the enemy or saving their nation from international threat.
What is the best spy thriller ever written?
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré are often noted as two of the best spy thrillers ever written.
What’s the difference between a spy thriller and an action thriller?
Although spy thrillers frequently include intense action scenes, the key difference is that the protagonist typically works within the intelligence system and is sent on top-secret missions on behalf of their country.
John le Carré and Ian Flemming are two of the most popular spy thriller authors.
How many books has Jack Carr written?
Jack Carr has written 9 books as of now, including his newest book Only the Dead, released this year.