The Best Spy Books of 2023 According to Spy Fans!

2023 yielded a bumper crop of spy books and today we share with you what our Spybrary spy podcast listeners reckon are the best spy books they read in 2023. Unlike traditional reviews penned by critics, Spybrary is powered by people like you, spy book enthusiasts who embody Spybrary's spirit of ‘by spy fans, for spy fans.

Just like our popular post highlighting the best spy books of 2022, we've invited our dedicated Spybrary Podcast listeners and community members from around the world to share their best spy books of the year. Read on as we unveil the most captivating and thrilling spy novels of 2023, handpicked by the true aficionados of the espionage genre.

Never Mind the Critics, here are the Spybrarians!

We asked our spy book readers two questions.

  1. What is the best spy book you have read that was published in 2023?
  2. What is the best espionage novel you have read this year that was published before 2023?

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 spy thrillers.

If you are looking to chat all things spy books, 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 added the Amazon link so you can read the reviews before deciding to buy.)

best spy books 2023

Shane Whaley's Best Spy Books Read in 2023 Picks

Shane Whaley Spybrary Host

What an extraordinary year for spy books! Our avid listeners have been buzzing with excitement, many stating that it's been a period for spy books not seen since the heydays of the late 1970s. The sheer volume of top-notch spy thrillers hitting the shelves last year was staggering. It's been such a whirlwind of espionage literature that quite a few of us found it challenging to keep up with the deluge of remarkable reads.

I struggled to keep up with all the spy books that were published in 2023. There's a handful of authors in the spy thriller realm whose books I'd usually devour as soon as they're released. But in 2023, even I had to play catch-up. And let me tell you, that's a delightful problem to have! It's far better to be keeping watch over our tottering to-be-read piles than to find our bookshelves lacking.

Here are my picks, not ranked:

The Peacock and the Sparrow by IS Berry
Moscow X by David McCloskey
A Spy Alone by Charles Beaumont
Beirut Station by Paul Vidich
KENNEDY 35 by Charles Cumming

Check out my interview in full with our friends at Five Books – The Best Spy Thrillers of 2023, recommended by Spybrary's Shane Whaley

David Clark

I’m going to restrict myself to the best spy books published in 2023, otherwise, I would find it impossible to narrow my selection down to five.

The Private Life of Spies by Alexander McCall Smith – This book of short stories shows that spy fiction doesn’t always need to dwell on the darker aspects of human nature, such as conflict and betrayal. It can also be used to tell uplifting stories of people muddling through against the odds. I loved this book’s humanity, wistfulness and wry humour.

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron – My favourite Mick Herron book is always the last one I read because each instalment builds on the last to create a richer appreciation of the characters and the world they inhabit. This goes a step further by giving us the Slough House origins story, all done with the usual biting humour and fine eye for the absurdities of bureaucracy.

The Peacock and the Sparrow by I.S. Berry – I tend not to prefer first-person narratives, but it really works in this book, allowing us to get into the mind of an American spy as his life and mission slide out of control. It felt very much like a modern Graham Greene, both in the themes explored and the quality of storytelling.

Moscow X by David McCloskey – I haven’t read Damascus Station yet, but I now see why David McCloskey has already established himself as one of the hottest properties in the genre. This book provides a refreshing insight into how modern intelligence operations are built and run. Also, Artemis Procter has to be one of the most interesting characters in contemporary spy fiction along with Jackson Lamb.

A Spy Alone by Charles Beaumont – Best for last. This was my favourite book of the year, probably because it’s the first book to accurately depict important aspects of the modern spy game, such as the nature and scope of Russian political influence operations, the strange alliances they form and the blurring of lines between state and private intelligence operators attempting to expose them. All skilfully done, with some really great characters.

Check out David Clark's interview with former MI6 Officer turned author, Charles Beaumont.

Best Spy Book - A Spy Alone
Best Spy Book – A Spy Alone

James Stejskal

In no particular order (and these are just the new novels from 2023):

David McCloskey’s Moscow X – a tense story with a believable operational premise, accurate tradecraft.

The Peacock and the Sparrow by I S Berry – Evocative writing. I loved the plot, the characters, the setting—a great spy tale. Reminded me of… a lot of things.

Aiken in Check – #3 in Michael Beckner’s Spy Game trilogy – an Alice In Spyland adventure that will grab you from the first page to the last. Imagine James Bond waking up on Christmas Eve to find the ghost of Double-O Nine sitting on his bed…

Paul Vidich's Beirut Station – his writing evokes the spirit of a place I remember and etched deeply the characters' personalities, delivered with an ending I didn't want to arrive, I wanted to linger a while longer.

and one more….

Stephen England's Soon Dies The Day – well written, well researched, and well-conceived espionage/terrorism action.

Check out James Stejskals‘ spy thriller books!

Spy Author Interview - I.S.Berry
Spy Author Interview – I.S.Berry The Peacock and the Sparrow



Bruce Dravis

Peacock and the Sparrow (2023), I.S. Berry

Moscow X (2023), David McCloskey

Patrios Network (2022), Antony Johnston

Bishop's Endgame (2022), Michael Frost Beckner

Back Channel (2014), Stephen L. Carter

Two are this year’s hot books by ex-Agency personnel, two are last year’s books by active Spybrarians, and out of the left field, an older Cuban Missile Crisis tale by a Yale law prof.

best spy writers ranked
Check out the best 125 spy writers ranked according to Tim Shipman

Stephen Hodkin

Legends by Robert Littell 2020 – I thought that Littell captured the psychological impact of trying to hold on to a sense of self, as an agent builds numerous legends.

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer 2015 – Great story with a classic ending

Edith and Kim by Charlotte Philby 2023 – The story that maybe only Charlotte Philby could write. Edith's powerlessness regarding her child was so painful I had to put the book down.

Damascus Station by David Mccloskey 2022 – A wonderful book that was so realistic.

The Survivor by Simon Conway 2022 – I've loved this series. There are always parts of Conway's novels where his characters are so rotten, I want to wash my eyes!

Charlotte Philby Edith and Kim

Listen to our Spybrary interview with Charlotte Philby.

David Drage

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron
Rip Tide by Stella Rimington
A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming
Berlin Game (and the other nine books) by Len Deighton,
The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth.

Berlin Game best spy book
From the Archive. Check out our Spybrary episode all about Berlin Game

Steve Ritterman

What a year….

PEACOCK AND THE SPARROW (Berry) brings to life a country and culture totally unfamiliar to me…beautifully written, it stays long on the palate…the debut of the decade.

THE MAN IN THE CORDUROY SUIT (Wolff) presents the most unique voice of the year…quirky and highly enjoyable…Leonard Flood is my new favorite character.

MOSCOW X (McCloskey) beautifully sidesteps the dreaded sophomore slump with a wildly cinematic adventure…jam-packed with goodies galore.

MOSCOW EXILE (Lawton) a new Lawton is always a cause to celebrate…wonderful historical characters, razor sharp dialog and a plot that seamlessly blends both Troy and Wilderness narratives…hearing him read from the text only amped the pleasure.

BEIRUT STATION (Vidich) gets my nod as the year’s best…has everything I love about spy fiction…atmosphere, loyalty, betrayal in a propulsive plot told in a crisp and concise manner.

Check out this Spybrary Spy Podcast favourite – a conversation with spy fan/Sunday Times Political Commentator Tim Shipman with spy author David McCloskey.

Moscow X - best spy books

Michael Beckner

In 1997, Beckner returned to the spec script market with “Spy Game.” Teaming Robert Redford with Brad Pitt, it was an international success. That same year, Sydney Pollack approached Beckner to adapt John Le Carre’s spy thriller “The Night Manager.” This began a film and television collaboration between the writer and the Academy Award-winning producer and director that would last until Mr. Pollack’s death.

In alphabetical order:

The Peacock and the Sparrow, I.S. Berry

– I'm drawn to the beautiful melancholy that pervades a story of fractured lives. Spies trapped in a system perfectly satisfied by its own inertia.

Kennedy 35, Charles Cumming

– The brilliant use of the way the past affects the present in the personal & political.

Soon Dies the Day, Stephen England

– A symphony. Manages to do for me what Clancy never did for me: a geopolitical thriller that is both massive and intimate.

Magical Disinformation, Lachlan Page

– It's Greene meets Marquez in a unique new voice that is all its own. Delivers a big, bright dose of much appreciated delight to the genre.

Appointment in Tehran, James Stejskal

– Officers, operators, and assets OUTSIDE the US Embassy during the revolution told with unsurpassed expertise and authenticity. Moreover, Mr. Stejskal is a master of the organic/believable, but utterly surprising ending.

Espionage adjacent, but brilliant:

American Tabloid, James Ellroy – CIA, FBI, Mob, Cuba, Kennedy: PURE WOW!

Stardust, Joseph Kanon – One of the best Hollywood noirs, ever. Magically subverts all the cliches and yet, by the ending, it evokes the very best of Hollywood silver screen magic.

Taff Hughes

These would be my best spy books of 2023 nominations.

1. David McCloskey’s ‘Damascus Station’ was excellent. It was both believable and exciting, the characterisation was well done (in other cases where practitioners have become fiction-writers this has been a flaw), and the setting in what is arguably one of the worst places in the world right now was very powerful. I have also developed something of a crush on CIA Station Chief Artemis Procter, a hard-as-nails spook who has long since run out of fornications she is unwilling to donate.

2. After a disgracefully long time on my part, I finally got round to reading Len Deighton’s ‘Berlin Game’, which is an absolute classic and a must-read for the genre. While I know where the story goes, the collision between Bernard Samson’s professional and private life is compelling.

3. This year also marked my first reading of a Peter O’Donnell novel, ‘Sabre Tooth’. Hollywood seems to have run out of ideas, but I can’t help thinking that this is crying out for an adaptation – either period or contemporary-set.

4. After over thirty years, I picked up an oldie I’d read in my teens – ‘Firefox’ by Craig Thomas. This still remains a compelling read, and the pursuit sequence is still genuinely exciting. Thomas also gave us a very flawed and believable protagonist with Mitchell Gant, who alternates between arrogance and PTSD.

5. In non-fiction, I think Adrian O’Sullivan could do with a commercial rather than an academic publisher. His books on Allied v German spy-games in Iraq and Iran during WWII are really well-researched and written, but they’re massively expensive because Palgrave Macmillan has published them. ‘The Baghdad Set’ was the best non-fiction book about espionage I read this year.

Check out Damascus Station conversation on the Spybrary Spy Podcast with author David McCloskey.

Best American Spy Writers

Ted Smith

The Secret Hours (Mick Herron). The entire Slow Horses series is simply brilliant. The Secret Hours, Herron’s most recent book, is a bit of an origin story for Jackson Lamb (and one other key character in the Slow Horses novels). It’s set in Berlin, the greatest of all spy locales. Superb from start to finish, but then I can say that of all of Mick’s books.

Big Bear, Little Bear (David Brierly). The first section of this excellent novel is the story of a blown agent, trying to escape from Cold War Prague. It’s one of the best set pieces in all of spy fiction. And the rest of the book just as good. If you like tense, spycraft-laden spy novels, this one is for you.

Muir’s Gambit (plus, Bishop’s Endgame and Aiken in Check (Michael Beckner). Yes, I know this is three books. But, in reality, it reads like one novel because the story keeps doubling back on itself, focusing on events from the Korean War, Vietnam, Cyprus, Cuba, Malaysia, internal CIA politics etc. up to 2001, but then returning to fill in gaps or undermine a prior narrative. The primary narrator is Aiken, a CIA lawyer, and his efforts to describe and then come to terms with the many facets of Nathan Muir, his recruiter. To make it all even more complicated, Aiken has a brain tumor so one can never be completely sure if he’s reporting facts or imagining them. And yet this description merely skims the surface and fails to really do justice to these books. They demand much of the reader, but they repay the reader’s close attention one-hundred fold.

Garden of Weapons (John Gardner). Gardner wrote five novels featuring Herbie Krueger, all of them excellent. Garden of Weapons is the second. The last half of the book features Herbie, in East Berlin, trying to save the agents of his best East Berlin network, while trying to ferret out which is a double agent. The writing is crisp and economical, each of the characters is well-drawn, and the tension is palpable. Very much in the style of Deighton’s Samson novels. It has all of the markers of the great spy novel: tension, love, treachery, exciting action, and several surprises at the end; and a great lead character. If you like this one, read them all, but especially the fourth in the series, entitled Maestro.

Tears of Autumn (Charles McCarry). There have been many excellent counter-factual novels attempting to flesh out an alternative story for the Kennedy assassination (personal disclosure: I am a firm believer in the conventional narrative that Oswald committed the assassination and that he acted alone). This is the best bar none. Paul Christopher, the lead in most of McCarry’s excellent espionage novels, is the central character here. The scenes in Vietnam are wonderfully atmospheric, and the alternative presented here has the virtue of plausibility. All of McCarry's novels are worth reading, but this is a good place to start.

Do check out our conversation with spy thriller author Davif Brierley and Michael Ripley on Spybrary.

Best Spy Books - Big Bear Little Bear David Brierley
Interview with David Brierley, author of Big Bear Little Bear.

Paul Hodges

Paul Hodges is one of the founders and admins at the epic Sandbaggers Facebook Group. Its Spybrary Approved and recommended for fans of The Sandbaggers.

1. John le Carrè – A Delicate Truth – A short novel but one set in Gibraltar and Gibraltar always screams Espionage to me. Sometimes it truly is location, location, location and what could be at more of a crossroads? But much more importantly this reignited le Carrè to an extent. The world had changed and in the 1990s Cold War fiction was not at the forefront. However the terror attacks on 9/11 not only woke up the Espionage community in general, it provided le Carrè a platform to return to his nuanced greatness. Conspiracy, cover up, and moral challenges delivered in a way only he can.

2. Tom Clancy – Command Authority – A nice point/counterpoint between Jack Ryan Sr. and Jack Ryan Jr. where you feel the baton has been passed. While I know there's some controversy over this, I guess I would see this as the last Clancy novel. At least the last one where I would think he was responsible for the overall character structure and interplay. Much like a book further down the list below, Volodin mirrors Putin's view that the ex Soviet Union needs to be put back together. But interestingly this was from 10+ years ago before that thought process became popular. Props to Clancy for that foresight.

3. Larry Bond – Arctic Gambit – An author that I miss greatly since this, his last work, is from 5 years ago although I understand he may be returning to novels shortly. With my being a former Systems Engineer, his unique ability to bring in the technology at a level that excites both the engineer and the general reader is profound. The Drakon is a superb platform that highlights this.

4. Martin Cruz Smith – The Siberian Dilemma – Simply put I love the Arkady Renko character. But to extend beyond that it's an interesting walkthrough what has become Putin's Russia. As much current events as a novel.

5. Nelson DeMille – Blood Lines – Scott Brodie is a welcome change from John Corey. A more nuanced character. Partnership with Maggie Taylor being set up well for future novels. DeMille (and son) definitely not writing as one-off books anymore which some of the later John Corey novels seemed like.

Josh Gay

Mr. Einstein’s Secretary by Matthew Reilly

Starter Villain by John Scalzi

The Greater Good by Tim Ayliffe

Outcast by Chris Ryan

Chris Hadley

Hard to pick the 5 best spy books of the year. Anyway……….in no particular order:

Kennedy 35 – Charles Cumming. Having read the rest how could you not read this? Still at the highest level and leaving you wanting more………

The Secret Hours – Mick Herron. Referencing many of the Slough House characters but very much a stand alone and somehow better than some of that series.

Moscow Sting – Alex Dryden. A surprise one for me. Hadn’t read anything by him before but a thoroughly enthralling read. I pretty much read it in one go coming back from Greece.

To The Lions – Holly Watts. I’d heard a bit about it and thought I’d give it a try. A different slant on the spy novel and very entertaining.

Dead Spy Running – Jon Stock. I hadn’t heard of it before but at $2 in a second hand book store I gambled on $2 (big spender!). Very pleased that I did. Daniel Marchant is a very strong character.

Honourable mentions:

Remembrance Day – Henry Porter

Joseph Finder – Moscow Club

Charles McCarry – Mulberry Bush

Chris Pavone – Two Nights in Lisbon

David Wolstencroft – Good News Bad News

Michael Clezie

1. The Secret Hours – Mick Herron

2. Moscow Exile – John Lawton

3. Moscow X – David McCloskey

4. The Peacock & The Sparrow – I.S. Berry

5. The Scarlet Papers – Matthew Richardson

Specialty Spy Book Categories

Best 2022 Read in 2023 – Muir Trilogy by Michael Frost Michael Frost Beckner

Best Debut Not Already Listed – A Spy Alone by Charles Beaumont

Best Kim Philby Cameo or Starring Role – Beirut Station by Paul Vidich & Red Labyrinth by Dominic Adler

Best Vintage Discovery – American Tabloid by James Ellroy

Best Kalashnikov Kid’s – Only the Dead by Jack Carr

Most Disappointing – The Collector by Daniel Silva

Just a snapshot of some of the espionage-related books I read this year; enjoy…

Matthew Bradford

There’s no doubt it’s been a bumper year for spy novels. From old reliable favorites delivering the high quality we’ve come to expect of them, like Mick Herron and Charles Cumming (both of whose 2023 editions were absolutely superb—among the top tier of their output) to more recent writers like David McCloskey and Matthew Richardson cementing their places in the pantheon with new books far surpassing their previous output. But amidst all that, the one I keep thinking about, the one that really blew me away, was a debut. And DAY OF THE JACKAL aside, not many debuts do that! I’ll often take notice (like with DAMASCUS STATION), and say, “That’s promising! I’m eager to see what they write next…” but it’s rare for a debut spy novel to absolutely blow me away the was I.S. Berry's THE PEACOCK AND THE SPARROW did this year. That's undoubtedly my book of the year.

As I said when I first read it, it takes real guts to homage/rewrite Graham Greene with your first book. (Le Carré waited until he was a seasoned veteran before attempting the same with THE TAILOR OF PANAMA!) But the gamble here paid off big time with a tip of the hat to THE QUIET AMERICAN that perfectly suits our time. But it’s not just aiming high with inspiration; Berry’s vivid knowledge of the setting, Bahrain, is palpable, and it’s a setting I hadn’t seen before, so that was a plus. And her narrator is the best protagonist I’ve seen in a spy novel in a long, long time—maybe since the creation of Jackson Lamb. Shane Collins is a wonderful, fully formed character with many real flaws and just a few virtues as well. Then there’s the plot, complete with requisite ingenious twists, and tradecraft that comes only from knowing of what one writes. But above all, Berry is a gifted prose stylist, which goes a long, long way in my book.

I haven’t yet read enough to determine a Top 5 (BEIRUT STATION and THE MAN IN THE CORDUROY SUIT, for instance, I’ve yet to get to. Ditto A SPY ALONE.) But I feel pretty confident in picking THE PEACOCK AND THE SPARROW as my book of the year.

Mike Hana

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron. A joy to read for fans of Slough House, it has enriched our understanding of that world, I was sad to reach the end of the book.

Hopscotch (1975) Brian Garfield. A jaded agent leading his colleagues on a merry dance , a well written chase tale that keeps you turning the pages.

Agent 17 by John Brownlow. I was left breathless by the audacity and accomplishment of the titular assassin in an action-packed tale of 2 assassins squaring off.

The Mercenary by Paul Vidich. Prose delicate yet rock solid as the protagonist is trapped in what seems like an inescapable totalitarian vice trying to exfil a KGB officer.

Kennedy 35 by Charles Cumming. The pinnacle of the series (so far) where, once again, past horrors return to haunt the present. Believable characters, great locations and a gripping plot.

Winter Work by Dan Fesperman. As the Cold War melts we are deep in the east Berlin snow in a beautifully rendered novel of poignancy, scheming, threat (and Markus Wolf!)

Damascus Station by David McCloskey published in 2023 in UK this has been a bumper year for debuts (looking forward to reading Berry and Beaumont yet !)

Very Honourable mentions to The Scarlet Papers, The Naked Runner, The Matchmaker

Check out our interview with spy author Dan Fesperman

Best Spy Book - WInter Work by Dan Fesperman
Check out our interview with Dan Fesperman, author of Winter Work

Michael Martz

Beirut Station by Paul Vidich….. “The story is full of intrigue, violence, revenge, tradecraft, and great characters, with a conclusion that will be hard to forget.”

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron…”The Secret Hours is brilliantly plotted, nearly two novels in one as the Berlin saga of '94 is re-told at the same time the denizens of MI5 back in London in present day are performing their typical political machinations. To fans of the Slough House series, allusions to its characters abound. Herron's writing has never been better and his trademarked wit and sharp dialogue are present on every page.”

The Spy's Daughter by Adam Brookes…”Brookes does fine work in The Spy's Daughter, from the writing, to the spycraft, to the intricacies of the plot. This is a worthwhile end to what has been a great series”

The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth… “one of Frederick Forsyth's earlier thrillers, is superb. Great writing, fast pacing, tension ratcheting up throughout”

Moscow X by David McCloskey…”It's not perfect, but if you're interested in tradecraft, strong characters, spy tech, intricate plots, Russian espionage, and great writing it's wonderful”

Steve Ritterman

PEACOCK AND THE SPARROW (Berry) brings to life a country and culture totally unfamiliar to me…beautifully written, it stays long on the palate…the debut of the decade.

THE MAN IN THE CORDUROY SUIT (Wolff) presents the most unique voice of the year…quirky and highly enjoyable…Leonard Flood is my new favorite character.

MOSCOW X (McCloskey) beautifully sidesteps the dreaded sophomore slump with a wildly cinematic adventure…jam-packed with goodies galore.

MOSCOW EXILE (Lawton) a new Lawton is always a cause to celebrate…wonderful historical characters, razor sharp dialog and a plot that seamlessly blends both Troy and Wilderness narratives…hearing him read from the text only amped the pleasure.

BEIRUT STATION (Vidich) gets my nod as the year’s best…has everything I love about spy fiction…atmosphere, loyalty, betrayal in a propulsive plot told in a crisp and concise manner.

Chris Rawlings

Top of the list:

The Peacock and the Sparrow: I cannot match the eloquent and detailed reviews on here so won’t try. Simply, I was reading it into the small hours. Look forward to the next one.

The Man in the Corduroy Suit by James Wolff. Reading this was like being giving electric shocks. Just so imaginative and fresh. Loved the main character, Leonard Flood.

Damascus Station by David McCloskey

The rest are oldies brought to my attention by Spybrary:

The Bernard Samson books, from ‘Match’ onwards. I began reading from ‘Berlin – Game …’ the the previous year. What can one say about such a classic series? Well I was hooked, lined and sunk! One day I will read them again.

Isle of joy – Don Winslow. A stylish, charming retired CIA agent turned private investigator who is framed for a murder. I liked this mainly for the protagonist who describes himself as Cary Grant without the accent or the looks. It has a very sweet and satisfying ending.

Brandon England

It was very difficult for me to whittle this down to just 5 best spy books…But I follow orders, especially from C. So here goes my list:

1) Free Agent, by Jeremy Duns. The first book I completed in 2023 makes my list without any question. I LOVE this series and I've written here and in my blog a few times on my love for Jeremy's writing and this series. I hope he gets back to it at some point in the future.

2) The Agent Runner by the great Simon Conway. To be honest, a few of his books I read this year were my top 5 books for 2023. I debated between Agent Runner, Loyal Spy, and The Survivor. But Agent Runner gets a slight nod. Just a wonderful written book. Simon, like Kanon is masterful with dialogues between characters and for providing such great detail and writing about the setting of the book that you actually feel like you are physically at that location or have been to that location. It's hard for me to explain. On top of that, his characters are fascinating. I love Ed Malik. I finished reading it over a weekend and when I was done, I was sad. That's when you know you've read a great book. 2023 was the year I discovered Conway's writing and for that alone, it has been a great year. Thanks to this community for recommending his writing to me. Here in the states, he doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Well, as a consolation prize, he is me and my pops top 5 favorite writers now. So Simon, you have that to celebrate….ha. I can't wait to dig into Damaged and Rock Creek Park in 2024.

3) Moscow X by David McCloskey. What a great book. The God Father II of Novels even though it really isn't a sequel to Damascus Station. I loved Moscow X better than Damascus Station which is saying a lot because I loved that book. Like I mentioned above with Conway, McCloskey is great at writing dialogue. Another book finished over 2 days…tried to take it slow and drag it out over a week's worth of dog walks with my buddy Daisy but I just couldn't do it…I have zero discipline. I'm a terrible agent…

4) The Human Factor by Graham Greene. I finally read Greene this year…It's embarrassing to admit to you fine folks. I also read The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana but in my opinion Human Factor is on a different level. I know QA gets all the pub but in my humble opinion Human Factor is better. I listened to HF and the narration by Tim Pigott-Smith was absolutely brilliant.

5) The Peacock and The Sparrow by I.S. Berry. I LOVED this book….first off I'm a sucker for novels written in the 1st person. I knew next to nothing about Bahrain and through Berry's wonderful writing, I felt like I had been there. This book checks all my boxes for a great novel: Great writing, great plot, and most importantly GREAT characters.

I have to give a shout out to these books as well…they easily could have been in top 5: Muir's Gambit by Michael Beckner, The Joe Wilderness Series by John Lawton, John Russell series by David Downey, Charlie M series (one of my favorite all-time series and characters) and finally David Brierley's Big Bear Little Bear…great freaking book.

Simon Conway has many fans at Spybrary. Not sure where to start with Simon's work? Check out our handy which Simon Conway book to read first!

Simon Conway best spy books

Karl Gunnar Oen

Best Spy fiction Charles Cumming Kennedy 35, – I can’t get my head around how he pulls off the double timeline – and still makes it a nailbiting exciting double-read.

Best spy non-fiction Nicholas Shakespeare Ian Fleming. The scope and the detail are truly amazing!

Lachlan Page

My Best Spy Novel Read for 2023:

The Double Game by Dan Fesperman — An ode to spy novel lovers with an unfolding mystery. Lots of winks and nods to the spy genre with great dialogue with iconic European destinations.

Bishop’s Endgame by Michael Beckner — sophisticated writing with an intriguing hook combined with a good balance of action and the psychological musings of the spy game. Descriptions of Malaysia were superb.

The Peacock and the Sparrow by I.S. Berry — atmospheric and slow burn with an impeccable sense of place. Also liked as it was set in Bahrain instead of the usual spy novel haunts.

The Ninth Directive by Adam Hall — I know I’m late to the party… Tautly written and nice sense of place in Thailand, with a unique 1st-person point of view which balances inner thoughts and action with a 60/70s spy swagger.

Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa — A historical fiction of the CIA-supported coup in Guatemala told by one of Latin America’s literary giants. Not as well written or structured as his other novels, but a fascinating look into history told through a weaving narrative of its characters.

Murali Murti

My top spy novels of the year:

1. Fever and Spear (vol 1 of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy) by Javier Marias

2. Dance and Dream (vol 2 of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy) by Javier Marias

3. Poison, Shadow, and Farewell (vol 3 of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy) by Javier Marias

Andy Onyx

My favourite in-genre read of the year is Adam Brooke’s NIGHT HERON – thoroughly enjoyed as a complete work, drawing strongly from the author’s experience of China from the journalistic front and taking us into that world, effectively behind enemy lines.

I Loved anti hero Li Huasheng/Peanut. I only questioned that the raft of characters were almost all ‘very hard’ people, in the professional not physical sense, barring Peanut, of course. But this was a study in environmental desensitisation in the sociopathic world of espionage & sharp-end journalism endured in spades by the protagonist Phillip Mangan who just.Keeps.Going.

JLC’s ABSOLUTE FRIENDS was very enjoyable on many levels to which I can relate. Though Le Carre’s action sequence left me a little cold and yearning for the afterglow of –

Simon Conway’s THE SABOTEUR which I read this summer. SC is a master of the modern kinetic page turner. Round two of Fowle vs. Lyon in the prize ring of the UK . The Cold War’s Operation Gladio is inverted throughout Britain as blackest of hearts, Guy Fowle, accesses the Russian Grom app unleashing every shade and type of sleeper asset in its arsenal. I hope Conway’s war gaming invoice has been paid with interest by HMG…I have recovered sufficiently to experience round 3: The Survivor…I think.

Loved Graham Greene’s OUR MAN IN HAVANA accessed via homage , Lachlan Page’s debut MAGICAL DISINFORMATION .

Greene’s OMiH is as perfect a spy novel as my first Adam Hall read QUILLER : NORTHLIGHT.

Indeed if the word ‘spy’ were dropped from a ‘certain list’ I guess it would be Greene and Deighton crossing pens for the top spot. Who would prevail?

Non Spy: Despite the title which was inspired by the Joy Division song is Joseph O’Connor’s SHADOWPLAY. A great ‘ripper era’ novel featuring the travails of Bram Stoker.

Finally, Somerset Maughm’s THE MOON AND SIXPENCE both highly recommended to the artists/writers in this group.

Joe Modezelewski

The best spy book debut I’ve read in a long time, OK, since last year, is The PEACOCK AND THE SPARROW by I.S. Berry, an intricately woven tale of Bahrain, the Arab Spring, the ex-Pat life, passion, patriotism, deceit, and so much more.

Her wonderfully written novel bumps my most recent “best debut” novelist, David McCloskey, who outdid his initial offering with the finely sculpted MOSCOW X, an exciting tale that focuses on, among other things, that espionage trope, whom does one trust? With its fascinating characters and dramatic tension and action (I wouldn’t have gone back to Russia), it’s clearly a top five of the year. 

Charles Cumming has reached a high point with KENNEDY 35, the latest in the BOX 88 series. He has added a more mature Kite, in both eras; more action, that nighttime ride through the dusty streets; and again has drawn our focus to one of the most important (and most ignored) events in recent history—the Rwandan genocide.

My non-fiction nod, usually going to Ben Macintyre, is to Lynn Olsen for 2019’s MADAM FOURCADE’S SECRET WAR, a wonderfully written and well-researched story of this amazing heroe of the French Resistance.

My fifth and final offering for the year (even though I have not finished it) is Paul Vidich’s BEIRUT STATION. This is a spy book! Also, as we have come to expect, this is written in the beautiful elegance and sensitivity that defines Vidich.

Martin Reynolds

Bad Actors by Mick Herron – Mick's visceral take on the infighting between a wholly amoral government advisor and the less than clean security service is finely tuned story. Frequently hilarious, utterly gripping and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Private Sector by Joseph Hone – Brilliantly developed characters, their friendships, love and lives in a wonderfully evoked post-Suez Crisis Egypt contrasts with the books ‘present day' (1967 Cairo/London) fear, paranoia and sense of impending doom. When the two time lines merge the book transforms to a fast paced and dark thriller.

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler – The slow reveal of who and what is happening make this a terrific thriller and at times you become as obsessed with wanting to know more of the facts of the case as the innocent main character, Latimer.

Operation Chiffon by Peter Taylor & Killing Thatcher by Rory Carroll – I can't split these two factual accounts of UK & Irish history during ‘The Troubles'. Both are incredibly well researched and revealing as to the individuals involved and the frequently terrifying activities in which they took part.

No Place to Hide by Ted Allbeury – OK this is a cheat, it's Allbeury's radio adaptation of his own work. The setup and function of a complete operation from observation to eventual action, alongside parallel operations, is really well portrayed. Allbeury's twist on the operation reaching beyond the moral limits of it's operatives is very well done.



What were the best spy books you read in 2023?

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