16 of the Most Popular Spy Novels on Goodreads

Posted by Cybil on January 3, 2019


This post is sponsored by The Girl at the Border, a thrilling new read from Amazon Publishing.

"A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population. He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it."
-John le Carré

Murder, espionage, political intrigue, and double agents: These books have all of this and more. The following is a roundup of some of the highest-rated and most-popular spy novels on Goodreads. To be included, each book not only had to have at least a four-star average review from your fellow readers, each also had to have at least 30,000 ratings on Goodreads.

Don't forget to add the ones that intrigue you to your Want to Read shelf!


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Want are you favorite spy novels? Share your recommendations in the comments!





Comments Showing 1-43 of 43 (43 new)

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message 1: by 72706b (new)

72706b Devotion Of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino


message 2: by Hazel Bee (new)

Hazel Bee I have read Without Remorse twice & I plan to read it again this year. It's my favorite Tom Clancy book.


message 3: by Richp (last edited Jan 03, 2019 06:44AM) (new)

Richp Most popular does not mean best, especially in a country noted for its jingoism. I shall address this in terms of what I think best.

As I recall, Gorky Park is much more a straight crime novel than a spy novel. It is very good, however.

I notice these 16 tend to be very heavy on the thriller side, which is the exception in terms of what really happens, and except for the Le Carre novels, light on the quiet, slow, contemplative side. Of the latter, my best this year was a Kim Philby memoir, except that it is not a novel.

Off the top of my head, Le Carre's A Perfect Spy and Smiley's People are much better than the five others on this list I have read.

Graham Greene wrote several novels about the spy business, and overall he is very good. He was once part of the Great Game, and one of Philby's better friends over the years.

Ross Thomas was the best at crime/spy/political novels with more than a touch of humor and satire.

On the thriller side, the Bradford Oakes novels by William F. Buckley are quite good. WFB likely had connections to the CIA through the Yale good old boy network. Yale is reputed to have been the CIA's favorite recruiting ground.

Monetary Hit Man by Perkins is presented as nonfiction. If it is a fictional guess, it ranks as one of the greatest spy fiction novels.

There is some very good pre WW2 stuff too.


message 4: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Martin I cannot remember the author, but "Little Drummer Girl" was very good.


message 5: by Doug (new)

Doug Reed Some of these are not really spy novels. Neither Tom Clancy novel would qualify, in my opinion. Red Storm Rising was a great novel, but it is a war novel not a spy novel. Without Remorse was what stopped me from reading any future Clancy novels, as a violent vengeance is acceptable ridiculous mess. Gorky Park is a tremendous novel but again, not really a spy novel. Absolute Power, not a spy novel. Might as well put the Jack Reacher novels in here too. Yikes.


message 6: by Richp (new)

Richp Kelly wrote: "I cannot remember the author, but "Little Drummer Girl" was very good."

Le Carre, not his real name but that is easily looked up. He was part of the Great Game. I agree Drummer was quite good, better on the spy part than the thrillers.


message 7: by Doug (new)

Doug Reed If you wanted to pick a Clancy novel that fits in the spy category, I'd go with The Cardinal of the Kremlin


message 8: by Doug (new)

Doug Reed Also surprised that nothing by Ian Fleming is on this list.


message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Hazel Beverley wrote: "I have read Without Remorse twice & I plan to read it again this year. It's my favorite Tom Clancy book."
Years ago, as a younger man, I used to read Red Storm Rising every summer in between all my other reading.


message 10: by Jim (new)

Jim I have long been a fan of Charles McCarry, whose credentials include, if memory serves, being a former CIA operative. His books are less violence/action oriented, and more contemplative, analytical , a la LeCarre, and his characters are more humane/flawed, e.g. Paul Chritopher, who appears in several of McCarry's books. A good place to start with McCarry is The Tears of Autumn, which offers up an rationale for the assassination of JFK.


M. Rigby Barington Yes, Doug, where are all the Ian Flemings?


message 12: by Sally (new)

Sally I am quite fond of Daniel Silva's books. They are fast paced, thrilling, and his spy, Gabriel Allon, is a complex character.


message 13: by Richp (new)

Richp Doug wrote: "Also surprised that nothing by Ian Fleming is on this list."

Most popular here likely means most popular according to GR stats, not how many weeks at which rank on best seller lists. Fleming was far from the best, but likely the first spy novelist to produce multiple big hits with general public. Then the movies happened.


message 14: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Doug wrote: "Some of these are not really spy novels. Neither Tom Clancy novel would qualify, in my opinion. Red Storm Rising was a great novel, but it is a war novel not a spy novel. Without Remorse was what s..."
My guess is focusing on story line on the Naval Intelligence guy Bobby Toland may fit the criteria necessary to classify as a spy novel? That is what I take away from it. As someone else posited, Cardinal of the Kremlin is more of a straight-ahead "spy" novel.

Just thinking out loud.


message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan The Quiller series are exciting and well written. They should be on this list, readers!! Adam Hall is the
pseudonym of the writer.


Quonsetqueenmsn.Com I also was surprised with flemming and buckley i have enjoyed alan furst and probably spelling it wrong Istambul passage by cannon i like randy wayne white wdoc ford.. not a spy but fum ilike that flemming books r not the movies


message 17: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Not popular or as well known (even though it should be), but one of my favorites is The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell


message 18: by Bill (new)

Bill Burch LeCarre owns the genre, still. Forsyth & Follett also among my favorites. Alistair McLean wrote many a taut page turner in his day; some better than others. Favorites include Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, When Eight Bells Toll, and Puppet on a Chain. Robert Ludlum was the master of fast-paced thrillers, though not all particularly in the spy category. Fleming is a fun read, but a bit thin when talking about the best. Haven’t read Buckley, but sounds interesting.


message 19: by Gary (new)

Gary I'm a fan of Len Deighton and would recommend his work. Can get some good multipacks on eBooks nowadays.


message 20: by Letlhogonolo (new)

Letlhogonolo Tlhabano The Ipcress file by Len Deighton is pretty good.


message 21: by Nisreen (new)

Nisreen I Am Pilgrim, in addition to being predictable and badly written cliche of a book, is one of the most racist books Ive ever read, and I wish people would stop including such trash in top lists.


message 22: by Hazel Bee (new)

Hazel Bee Kelly wrote: "I cannot remember the author, but "Little Drummer Girl" was very good."
John Le Carre


message 23: by Hazel Bee (new)

Hazel Bee I am disappointed Len Deighton is not on the list.


message 24: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Many good authors and works are missing here but seriously, not a single woman? How about the books by Stella RimingtonStella Rimington?

Start here: At Risk

Amelia


message 25: by Anna (last edited Jan 03, 2019 04:35PM) (new)

Anna Susan wrote: "The Quiller series are exciting and well written. They should be on this list, readers!! Adam Hall is the
pseudonym of the writer."

I agree, sadly Quiller is not particularly well known. Quiller Memorandum, the best known, has less than 2000 ratings. He deserves to be better known.


message 26: by Denise (new)

Denise Have read a bunch of these and am planning on reading several more of them this year.
I'm just gonna add Olen Steinhauer to this list to go with all the other authors mentioned.


message 27: by Chris (new)

Chris Jackson Lamb series by Mick Herron, starting with Slow Horses. Well written, worth a read. Made me laugh out loud at times.


message 28: by Mr Barry Taylor (new)

Mr Barry Taylor Can't believe Len Deighton is not on your list, The Ipcress File onwards are all Classics.
Barry


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian Douglas Surprised that Tinker Tailor & From Russia With Love aren’t included.
Also, no Len Deighton?!


message 30: by Bob (last edited Jan 04, 2019 06:30AM) (new)

Bob A classic: Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.


message 31: by Alex (new)

Alex Fernandez Mladen wrote: "I have a copy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré. I'm hoping to read one of them this year."

If you are only reading one, make it Tinker... but if you don't mind a trip to the library might I suggest The Spy Who Came In from the Cold & The Looking Glass War?


message 32: by Alex (new)

Alex Fernandez I believe Night Soldiers is mandatory reading for fans of the genre.


message 33: by Scott (new)

Scott I recently read about Brian Freemantle's "Charlie Muffin" books. Recommended?


message 34: by Richp (new)

Richp Amelia wrote: "Many good authors and works are missing here but seriously, not a single woman? How about the books by Stella RimingtonStella Rimington?

Start here: At Risk

Amelia"

Dorothy Gilman wrote the Mrs. Pollifax novels, somewhat in the cute mystery style.

Two women who were on the analysis side of espionage during WW2 were Alice Bradley Sheldon, who wrote SF as James Tiptree jr, and Julia Child, whose first developed recipe was shark repellent and folloeed that into the celebrity chef businesd.


message 35: by Robert J Ferson (new)

Robert J Ferson I realize Robert Ludlum books have been around for quite sometime, but if you haven't read all his books you are truly missing out. He 's gone now. A master storyteller. Lots of great authors, Clancy, Forsyth, Flynn and more, but, for my money Ludlum is by far the best.


message 36: by Hans (new)

Hans Brienesse How about "Trinity Six" by Charles Cumming


message 37: by Thomaskohner (new)

Thomaskohner This kind of genre is very popular (thanks to news) isn't it?
Hah, few days ago I read https://www.faxvin.com a novel about my car =) I was very upset, because I bought it used.....


message 38: by Sara (new)

Sara Hufnagle My favorite spy books are all those by Daniel Silva.


message 39: by Martin (new)

Martin Lindemann Tom Clancy WITHOUT REMORSE


message 40: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Three of these aren't "spy novels" at all. Who put this together?


message 41: by Katsuro (new)

Katsuro 72706b wrote: "Devotion Of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino"

Is that actually a spy novel, though? I admit I haven't read it, but as far as I know it's just a mystery novel; no spies in it.


message 42: by Alfred (new)

Alfred Weber Doug wrote: "If you wanted to pick a Clancy novel that fits in the spy category, I'd go with The Cardinal of the Kremlin"

I would agree. One of Clancy's best, IMO.


message 43: by Peter (last edited Jan 19, 2019 01:28AM) (new)

Peter Kavanagh Le Carre, Alan Furst, Len Deighton and Mick Herron are the absolute top shelf I think. Charles Cumming is pretty good as are Paul Vidich, Christopher Morgan Jones and Aly Monroe. Sitting on the edge between crime and spy is Philip Kerr's amazing Bernie Gunther series. Kerr died last year and his final Gunther novel is due out soon, if you havent read him you should check him out. Does atmosphere and laconic humor as few others can.


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