It is that time of year once again when book critics and reviewers are asked what are the best spy books of the year. Spybrary is a ‘by spy fans for spy fans' production so it is in that spirit that we asked our own Spybrary Podcast listeners and community members to reveal what were their best spy books of 2022 with a twist.
We asked our spy book readers two questions.
- What is the best spy book you have read that was published in 2022?
- What is the best espionage novel you have read this year that was published before 2022?
So if you are looking for spy book recommendations, then read on. Warning, Spybrary does not accept any liability for bankruptcies or divorces that may occur as a result of you browsing this list of the best espionage novels!
If you are looking to join a community of other spy book fans then do come and join us over at the Spybrary Community.
(Whilst I have added Amazon links below and yes we do earn a small cut from each purchase, we would love it if you could purchase these books from an independent bookstore. I add the Amazon link so you can read the reviews before deciding to buy.)
The best spy books published in 2022 is a tough category as we are being treated to some very high-quality work at the moment
1. I can’t separate Paul Vidich’s The Matchmaker A Spy in Berlin and The Berlin Exchange by Joe Kanon. Both were hugely atmospheric, based on a fascinating premise grounded in fact, tight, taut, and packed an emotional punch. They’re a short nose ahead of Mick Herron’s Bad Actors, where Mick brilliantly tackled my world of politics. Some of his best writing. I’m about to do Simon Conway’s The Survivor and also excited about Tom Bradby’s Yesterday’s Spy.
2. I enjoyed getting to know Jonas Merrick in Gerald Seymour’s The Crocodile Hunter but nothing was better for me than a re-read of Big Bear Little Bear by David Brierley, whose work is reminiscent of both Vidich and Kanon. This really is a stone cold spy classic.
Best spy books of 2022 I'm going to say Tom Bradby and Yesterday's Spy. Managed to be serious but with a truly sad undertone.
Pre 2022, I'm going for Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal if we can stretch the definition. Because although we know how it will end, we still enjoy the ride.
For me, my best spy novel of 2022 novel is Mick Herron's ‘Bad Actors’, I’m afraid. Not very original! An honourable mention for Conway’s excellent ‘The Survivor’, which was a coin toss loser for the title.
I didn’t read an enormous amount of pre-2022 spy fiction this year, but I think my vote would go to Paul Vidich’s ‘The Mercenary’ which I enjoyed immensely.
Difficult, but here goes: My favorite spy book, published in '22 was Paul Vidich's THE MATCHMAKER.…a wonderful cold war story told in lean, clean fashion…reminiscent of Ambler, it had everything I love about espionage fiction.
A number of contenders for best spy books read this year and published before, but I'm going with David McCloskey's DAMASCUS STATION…..meaty and visceral, it put me into a world I know little about…if there's a better ‘debut' espionage novel out there, I've yet to read it.
1 Not read a 2022 published spy book
2 – 2022 is the year I broke my Mick Herron duck so I'll go with Slow Horses.
1. I am only about two-thirds of the way through, but for best spy books in 2022, I will go with the ever-excellent Mick Herron's Bad Actors.
2. I haven't read a lot of spy books this year in general, but I had at least a couple of candidates for “before 2022”. I'll go with the non-fiction The Red Web (about the internet and surveillance in Russia) by our own Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. Relevant and even if you're somewhat knowledgeable in this area, will probably give you many angles you weren't aware of.
I can only answer (2) but it the best spy book I read that was published before 2022 has to be Ben Macintyre's The Spy and The Traitor; it's a cliche but it really does roll like a film – and should be made into one.
I also can only answer #2, but I got a lot of great reading inspiration from the Shipman best spy author list and would probably put The Soul of Viktor Tronko just above A Firing Offense. Two great books in the world of American espionage, which I hadn’t enjoyed much of before this year, and I’m glad an Englishman pointed me in the right direction.
1. Judas 62, Charles Cumming (US pub 2022)
2. The Tourist, Olen Steinhauer, pub 2009
Mike Hassel Shearer
Best spy book of 2022: Winter Work by Dan Fesperman, I really liked the theme of cleaning up after STASI being in agony. Also, the family situation (if you can call it that) of the main character added some psychological depth to the plot.
2. “Our Man in Havana” by Graham Greene. Neither before nor since have vacuum cleaners been more fun.
Nothing on #1
I’m going with a couple of American spy novels: 1) Joseph Kanon’s The Berlin Exchange and 2) Charles McCarry’s The Last Supper. It started me on a bit of a McCarry run – currently wrapping up book 8 of the Paul Christopher series Shelley’s Heart.
For this year, I'd have to go with Bevan Roberts' “Kingdom of Spies.” An exceedingly entertaining look at the realities of espionage in an often-overlooked corner of the War on Terror.
I have not read any spy books published in 2002 but I have to say the best book I have read this year is “To the Lions” by Holly Watt (2019).
1. Best spy books of 2022 – Very tricky to answer – I thought that Fesperman's Winter Works; Vidich's The Matchmaker and Bradby's Yesterday's Spy were all great, but I think that Mick Herron's Bad Actors was my favourite
2. Best espionage novels published before 2022 is also hard as I have been reading/ re-reading a number of old spy novels this year: McCarry's The Miernik Dossier, Greg Rucka's The Last Run (great), Porter's A Spy's Life, some of the early Deightons and others. On balance I think it was Deighton's Yesterday's Spy. I also re-read the 3 Nick Maasten quasi spy novels by Owen Sela and really enjoyed them
Matthew Bradford (Double O Section Blog and Spybrary Contributor)
Hm… I could be forgetting something crucial, but off the top of my head, my favorite 2022 spy novel (among quite a few good ones!) was Kanon’s THE BERLIN EXCHANGE. I think it was my favorite Kanon book, in fact. (Though I haven’t read them all.)
Older books… again, I read a lot of great ones this year! (Many thanks to Tim’s top 125 spy authors list.) But I think my favorite was probably QUILLER SOLITAIRE. I’ve been stretching out this wonderful series for I think 16 years now, savoring it and not wanting it to end, going in order, but slowly, even re-reading some of my favorite ones multiple times along the way. (I am not a binger when it comes to book series I love.) In my forward momentum, I finally entered the Final Three with this one… and it’s the best in quite a while! Overall I prefer the initial ten books to what I think of as “the second series” that started in the mid-Eighties and put “Quiller” in all the titles. Those ones are all still great, just mostly not AS great as the original run. But SOLITAIRE was a real corker, up there with Hall’s best!
That leaves one orphan, though, that doesn’t quite fit into either category: Charles Cummings’ BOX 88 was published in 2021, but didn’t come out in America until January of this year. So I’m not sure which it counts as, but I loved it. I’m a big Cumming fan, and this was my favorite one since A FOREIGN COUNTRY. Can’t wait to read the sequel, which just came out here!
For best spy books published this year, it’s a tough choice between “The Matchmaker” by Paul Vidich and “Bad Actors” by Mick Herron. Loved the plot and exquisite writing in the former but at this point in the Slough House series, I’m so invested in Herron’s characters and humor that Bad Actors get the slightest edge.
For the pre-2022 book, Damascus Station by David McCloskey is an easy win. Hands down, one of the most exciting books I’ve read (ever). Greatly anticipating McCloskey’s next book.
1. Best spy books of 2022 – Kingdom of Spies — Bevan Roberts
2. Best spy book pre 2022 – Box 88 — Charles Cumming
Karl Gunnar Oen
1. Almost impossible to choose the best spy book in a year that’s seen the publication of Matchmaker, JUDAS 62, With a Mind to Kill, Berlin Exchange and Winter Work -which I have read- and with The Lunar Housewife and Bad Actors, still in the TBR-pile. For one who fancies Berlin as the location, it’s been like Christmas all year around. Cumming and Fesperman are neck on neck in this round for me, but if the Berlin-factor comes into play, the prize goes to Dan Fesperman's Winter Work.
2. The last one I read was Gerald Seymour’s The Crocodile Hunter, but that was a 2021 publication, so not overtly old…
Two spy books each by Furst and Kanon — Foreign Correspondent, World at Night; Istanbul passage, Leaving Berlin. Of course, I didn't read Shane's instructions… none were published in 2022, I just read them in 2022. Published in 2022… Damascus Station.
1. Tough call between Winter Work, The Matchmaker, Judas 62 (I’m 1/2 way through and it’s fantastic) and Berlin Exchange. But a very slight edge to Kanon’s Berlin Exchange. My 2nd favorite Kanon book behind The Defectors.
2. 2022 was the year I was introduced to Bernard Samson. What a wonderful year it was. I flew through the 3 trilogies and it was glorious. Samson is my favorite all time spy…Len Deighton is my favorite author. Since I have to pick one, it has to be the first book, Berlin Game.
Even though not really a spy thriller, my favorite non Len Deighton book I read in 2022 was Five Decembers by James Kestrel.
In a year when I actually got a decent amount of reading done…1. Judas 62 by Charles Cumming. Hadn't read any Cumming before this. Thoroughly enjoyed the book which I'll admit at the time of purchase was an impulse buy rather Spybrary guided.
2. The Stone Roses by Sarah Gainham. Much inspired by the discussions in the build up of classic authors discussed in Tim Shipman's top 125 spy writers list and it's subsequent drip feed I probably overpaid owing to the scarcity of the book in the UK. Finances aside it's a great little thriller and was well worth the search.
1. I read only two espionage novels published in 2022, both absolutely not from mainstream authors, and honestly don't know whether “best” is a rating I would give to either. However, both were certainly Out-of-the-Box and Unusual:
Must relate an anecdote from the New Yorker feature on Undermoney. It seems that the publishers sniffed and told Newman “Needs more sex”. So he added a couple of sex scenes. The publisher said “More spice”. So Newman added a threesome scene. Newman's son went like “Dad, stop it !”. Then the publisher said “Hmmm, maybe there's too much sex”. That's when Newman told them “FO, it publishes as is now”.
2. Pre-2022 : Have started on Slow Horses, and am enjoying it hugely. I'm experiencing a strange sensation – I'm finding it a little difficult to stop thinking like one of the elite a la JLC, and to start thinking like one of the proles, although that's not the best description I guess.
And of course, re-read (very carefully this time) the entire Karla trilogy. As some may have noticed, my recent comments reflect that.
Andy Ways Laska
# 1 – The Cassandra Complex (Frazer Douglas) I am still reading this but it is such a great Cold War setting/story so far.
#2 – Box 88 (Charles Cumming) in audiobook, a fun listen contemporary take.
Highly recommend both!
For 1. Best spy books of 2022 – Winter Work by Dan Fesperman probably edges it just over Berlin exchange. I liked that Marcus Wolf was in it.
2. Well I finally got around to reading the first 3 Bernard Sampson books and yes, they are something special. I may now be more in the Deighton rather than Le Carre camp, just. Will be continuing soon with the rest of them.
1. Best spy books of 2022 – Berlin Exchange – it’s the only new book that I’ve read this year but enjoyed it immensely. Cold War Berlin always interests me and this was a well-plotted, engaging story.
One of Fleming’s best. A tight story with strong, often dislikeable characters. Close to the classic film too.
1. The only 2022 ‘spy' novel I've read this year is ‘The Partisan' by Patrick Worrall. It's more of an assassin story really. It was alright, I wasn't especially bowled over.
2. ‘Berlin Game' by Len Deighton; although selecting the first novel is really a tribute to the entire series. You go “Oh my God” at the end and know that you've been well set-up for more intrigue to follow.
1. The only spy fiction published in 2022 that I managed to read is The Partisan by Patrick Worrall, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s a very well-written and accomplished debut novel. Although it lost me a little in the middle, I will definitely look out for future releases by the same author.
2. Like many, I spent a lot of time reading the soy classics recommended on Spybrary. I particularly liked Big Bear, Little Bear by David Brierley, and Charlie Muffin by Brian Freemantle, which I’ve just finished.
The pick of the year for me, however, is The Double Game by Dan Fesperman. It’s something of a love letter to the genre and has such an engaging, innovative plot. I rate it a must-read.
The best spy books published this year: The Survivor – Simon Conway, is a superb finale to a carefully described trilogy (look at the top of the back cover). There’s so much to love about this: strongly-drawn characters, male and female; a clear sense of “now” – modern; exposing the fragilities of the complex networks we all depend on every day; nuanced characters (eg Lee Chapeau would have been caricatured by JLC or Henry Porter – the latter is always worth reading, especially Firefly); a couple of fabulous cooking scenes – I get the sense Mr Conway is pretty good in a kitchen too); an unforgettable villain. Looking forward to what he does next.
Honorable mention to Judas 62 (Cumming).
Of yesteryear, Tim Shipman has, as he has for so many, broadened my horizons and reduced my bank account. Dan Fesperman is my favourite of the authors I hadn’t come across before. Safe Houses is excellent.
Tim didn’t mention Murray Smith, who wrote some fantastic thrillers in the 90s – do look out for his David Jardine books.
PS – I quite and astoundingly forgot that this was the year I met Modesty Blaise – thank you Tim for introducing us!
The best spy book of 2022 for me would be Joseph Kanon's Berlin Exchange. I'm a sucker for cold war Berlin! About to start Damascus Station based on Spybrary recommendation!
Otherwise I enjoyed going back to Graham Greene's The Human Factor – I hadn't read it in 30 years….
#2 Atomsk, Carmichael Smith AKA Cordwainer Smith. Recommended on here in 2021 and finally got round to it earlier in spring. Like very little else I've read- bizarre, occasionally beautiful and brilliant in its own way.
Only Pre 2022 , “Moonraker” , “Smiley's People” , “The Ipcress File” …all of'em are my favourites, hard to decide so I mentioned all three.
Shane Whaley (Spybrary Host)
As Tim Shipman writes, we have been spoiled this year with top-drawer spy writing. Regular listeners know that I love Cold War espionage novels set in Berlin/East Germany. This year we were treated to three thrillers set in the German Democratic Republic with Joseph Kanon's Berlin Exchange, Paul Vidich's The Matchmaker, and Dan Fesperman's Winter Work. These are all excellent reads and if I had to pick one it would be Fesperman's Winter Work for his excellent portrayal of Markus Wolf who he weaves into the story and his research of the compounds where head of the Stasi Erich Mielke lived and the holiday dacha of Wolf and Co.
But ask me next week and you may get a different answer because Vidich and Kanon's spy books of 2022 are books that join that august list of Cold War spy novels that I will re-read.
Tim Shipman's top 125 spy authors list has kept me busy tracking down and reading spy novels of yesteryear. The highlight for me is David Brierley's Big Bear Little Bear set in 1948 revolutionary Czechoslovakia, London and then, you guessed it, Berlin. I have much to say on BBLB (watch out for an upcoming review) which was also a Mike Ripley and Len Deighton recommendation. If you are a fan of the more realistic cold war spy story then you are in for a treat. In fact Big Bear Little Bear may well have crept into my top five best spy novels ever written. Stay tuned for an interview with author David Brierley coming to soon the Spies and Books, Spybrary Podcast.