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Who are some of the best writers of espionage thrillers?

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asked Nov 13, 2015 in Book Reviews by anonymous
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While there are a lot of great writer that dabble in the espionage world, here are a few that are among the best and are a great place to start exploring the spy thriller noir.


John le Carré -- Born David John Moore Cornwell, le Carré is considered the definitive spy-writer, for his realism and complex characters and the fact that he himself was a spy. Born to a confidence trickster father, he developed an early interest in secrets. Joining the British Army Intelligence Corps and later MI5, he soon saw himself involved in the real espionage world.

In his later novels he drew heavily upon his experiences in MI5 and his third novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold became not just a bestseller, but established the dark-spy thriller noir upon which everyone else later built on. The novel was voted by Publishers Weekly as the best spy novel of all-time and by Time magazine as one of the 100 All-Time Novels. The title itself has come to be associated with espionage and entered popular vocabulary, meaning someone who attempts to escape a difficult situation.


Primary Spy Character: George Smiley.


Sample Novels:

  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • The Night Manager
  • The Constant Gardener


Ian Fleming -- No list is complete without the father of the ultimate spy: James Bond. Himself also a former intelligence operative with British Naval Intelligence, he too later drew upon his experience to develop his novels. 


Fleming -- unlike le Carré -- however took a different approach towards the development of his characters. Whereas le Carré's spies are flawed, reluctant and often die or fail in the end, Fleming's Bond character became the ultimate male-model of a suave, perfectly trained assassin. And while le Carré's spy world was realistically gritty and all espionage organizations on all sides deeply ambiguous, Fleming established clearly the Good and the Bad. As such Fleming's creations are considered pure fantastical escapism and far removed from reality.

Primary Spy Character: James Bond.


Sample Novels:

  • Casino Royale
  • Dr. No


Robert Ludlum -- Unlike le Carré and Fleming, Ludlum had no background in espionage. Instead, he was a theatrical actor and producer. As such his stories and characters are more dramatic and climactic.

His novels are often more based on conspiracy theories and have as the evils of the world governments, global corporations and secret societies, with hapless individuals or groups caught in the inevitable power struggles.


Primary Spy Character: Jason Bourne.


Sample Novels:

  • The Bourne Series
  • The Hades Factor


Jack Higgins -- Born Henry Patterson, served as a non-com in the Household Cavalry as a sharpshooter and later as an social psychology and criminology lecturer and liberal studies teacher. Taking time off his studies he began writing and publishing thrillers that featured stock hero characters pitted against evil men in dangerous situations. 


It wasn't until his thirty sixth novel that he truly came to global attention. The Eagle Has Landed established Higgins as a popular thriller and espionage writer, especially after the novel was made into a successful movie starring Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall. 


Primary Spy Character: Liam Devlin, Sean Dillon.


Sample Novels:

  • The Eagle Has Landed
  • Night Of The Fox


Honorary Mentions:

  • Frederick Forsyth -- The Day of the Jackal
  • Tom Clancy -- The Cardinal of the Kremlin
  • Vince Flynn -- American Assassin
  • Ken Follet -- Eye of the Needle
  • Daniel Silva -- A Death in Vienna
  • David Baldacci -- The Innocent
  • Olen Steinhauer -- The Tourist
answered Nov 22, 2015 by AlecCorday (5,810 points)

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