This summer I happened to pick up a book by bestselling author Dan Silva. I’d never read him before, and didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The writing was smooth and held my attention. I had never read a spy thriller before with the exception of the work of Dan Brown, and even though Brown comes up with interesting premises and touches on fascinating ideas, I find his writing to be uneven at times. But not so with Silva, which made me wonder: Is there anyone better than Silva in the spy-thriller genre?
I googled “best espionage novel of all time” and found that there was no limit to the number of people willing to throw their two cents in about the best spy thrillers to date. But again and again, John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold kept rising to the top. I knew that East Side Books had a shelf full of his work, so I ran down and purchased a copy.
I’d been under the impression that le Carre was like Silva, a modern day bestseller who’d been around for maybe twenty years or so. I was surprised to discover that The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was le Carre’s third novel, and was published in 1964. Intrigued, I started reading the story of agent Alec Leamas and post-WWII relations with East Germany. It was a fascinating book, skillfully written and intensely plotted. I hadn’t read anything like it in a long time. I really felt like le Carre knew what he was writing about, which I discovered he actually did because The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was written while he worked for the British foreign-intelligence agency. (John le Carre is a pseudonym.) le Carre is now almost eighty years old, and writes to this day, recently publishing Our Kind of Traitor.
Flush with my success at discovering le Carre, I compiled a list of recommended topnotch spy thrillers, and returned to East Side Books. Espionage novels are shelved under Mystery/Thriller/Suspense, and I was excited to find that East Side has quite a deep collection.
AlthoughThe Spy Who Came in From the Cold was a run away favorite among espionage novel lovers, le Carre’s hit was closely followed by The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett (who also wrote Pillars of the Earth, a historical novel picked as an Oprah Book Club book), and The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. I was pleased to see that East Side has a wealth of novels written by both of these authors. There is also a large supply of work by Tom Clancy and Len Deighton, two other authors that were frequently mentioned as the best of the best. There was even some Dan Silva who first piqued my interest.
Unlike the mystery genre, there are few women writing in the area of espionage with the notable exception of Helen MacInnes who’s book Above Suspension was mentioned often in my Google search. Margaret Truman also tries her hand at spy thrillers, and there are a number of her novels on East Side Books’ shelves.
The most surprising discovery during my “best of” spy thriller search was discovering authors I’d known only as writers in other genres, such as Graham Greene who wrote the notable thriller The Quiet American, which is next on my list. And also, one of my favorite writers, W. Somerset Maugham, author of Of Human Bondage, who wrote a collection of loosely connected short stories about the spy adventures of a playwright named Asheden. The book is also entitled Asheden. It turns out that Maugham, like le Carre, worked for British Intelligence. Norman Mailer also wrote a spy thriller called Harlot’s Ghost that was published in 1991.
Invite a little intrigue into your life. Stop by East Side Books today and explore the world of espionage one page at a time. As always, if you need any assistance finding any of the titles mentioned above, please ask one of the staff for help.