42: Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times on Spy Novels

Today’s guest finds himself embedded deep in Communist-controlled East Berlin, and has asked his handler to leave him 5 of his favorite spy books at their Dead Drop location in Friedrichshain Park. What will he choose to help him cope with life undercover?

Tim Shipman onDead Drop 5 on the Spybrary Podcast
Tim Shipman – Dead Drop 5 on the Spybrary Podcast

Author, Spy Fan and Political Editor of the Sunday Times, Tim Shipman, joins Shane for an epic edition of Dead Drop 5. Tim has been a national newspaper journalist since 1997, and in that time has covered two wars, an historic presidential election, and was the Sunday Telegraph’s Washington, DC correspondent. Shortlisted three years in a row (2015-2017) for Political Journalist of the Year at the National Press Awards (UK), Tim Shipman has covered movers and shakers all over the globe.

Now Shane gets to turn the tables and interview this veteran journalist. Tim’s 2000-book library in his London home is dominated by spy books.

Tim Shipman's Spybrary!
Tim Shipman's Spybrary!

But a spy must travel light: how will he carve it down to just 5?

…this is DEAD DROP FIVE on the Spybrary Spy Podcast.

Tim Shipman is also a fan of non fiction espionage books
Tim Shipman is also a fan of non fiction espionage books

Tim’s Dead Drop 5 picks are:

Moonraker – Ian Fleming:

The Quest for Karla – John le Carré: Tim cunningly choosing a 3-book George Smiley anthology!

Epitaph for a Spy – Eric Ambler: pre-WWII writing that inspired Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, and more.

The Soul of Viktor Tronko – David Quammen: Tim calls it the American version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

A Firing Offense – David Ignatius: with a Journalist as protagonist, how could Tim not have picked this one!

Listen to episode 42 of the Spybrary Podcast to discover why Tim picked these 5 books to be stashed in his dead drop!

Tim Shipman is also a massive fan of Len Deighton's work
Tim Shipman is also a massive fan of Len Deighton's work


  • Find out how Tim’s parents sparked his love of reading, and what he found on their shelves that began his journey into spy-fandom.
  • Hear about Tim’s recent visit to Cambodia & Vietnam and his bar tour of hangouts popular with journalists during the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam War.
  • What would Tim ask John le Carré if he were lucky enough to meet him someday?
  • Tim got to meet Mick Herron recently, find out how their encounter went!
  • And finally, a not-so-Quick-Fire round will have you laughing along with Tim and Shane


Tim Shipman's ABC of spy books - Ambler, Bingham and Cumming!
Tim Shipman's ABC of spy books – Ambler, Bingham and Cumming!

Dead Drop 6, 7, 8, & beyond: Other titles & films mentioned in this episode:

Ian Serraillier – There’s No Escape: the book that introduced Tim to wartime drama, and eventually, the spy genre

John le Carré – A Legacy of Spies: Read this one then check out Spybrary's deep dive on the latest le Carre novel.

Len Deighton – Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match: classic books and hard-to-find TV series.

Jason Matthews – Red Sparrow: Excellent Spycraft and a strong female protagonist, as well as a recent Hollywood blockbuster.

Henry Porter – A Spy’s Life

Mick Herron – The Jackson Lamb Series


Spybrary Spy Podcast Discussion Group
Talk more about spy books in our Spybrary discussion group

If you enjoyed todays’s conversation on the Spybrary Spy Podcast with Tim Shipman and  Shane Whaley , you are going to love the discussions and debates we have over on our Spybrary Listeners Discussion group – join here

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2 Responses
  1. David Craggs

    What a superb episode. I absolutely loved Tim Shipman’s take on thinks and found his selection fascinating.
    I’ve read three of his five or, as he cheated six of his five and will have to get onto ‘The Soul Of Victor Tronko’ and ‘A Firing Offence’.
    Great stuff. We need more episodes of ‘Dead Drop Five’ it is such a great format.

  2. […] Active: 1983-87Key works: The Soul of Viktor Tronko, The Zolta ConfigurationQuammen is better known as a writer on science and nature, where he has published more than a dozen books. However, he wrote one stylish and intelligent masterpiece that I would happily rank among my ten favourite spy thrillers, and just one other thriller (The Zolta Configuration) that doesn’t belong on the same shelf. In the same way that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is Le Carre’s response to Philby, Quammen’s The Soul of Viktor Tronko is the supreme response by an American author to one of the greatest mysteries in American intelligence history: the contradictory defections of Anatoly Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko in the 1960s. In the book Bogdan Fedorenko (Golitsyn) convinces the CIA there is a Soviet spy in their midst. He also claims the KGB would send a false defector to undermine him. The other defector Viktor Tronko (based on Nosenko) insisted that Russia had not placed a mole inside the CIA, and that Lee Harvey Oswald had not been recruited to assassinate JFK. Counter-intelligence chief Claude Sparrow (based on the real-life James Jesus Angleton), believes Fedorenko-Golitsyn and embarks on a witchhunt which tears the agency apart. Others go in to bat for Tronko, who is treated appallingly but never changes his claims. The book begins with a journalist being visited by a CIA veteran who says he can help him get to the bottom of what really happened. He then turns up dead. What follows is hugely dialogue heavy, interspersed with some action, as our hack hero interviews Sparrow and others and we read the transcripts of Tronko’s many interrogations. On one level it is dry, but it provides an immensely rich puzzle and one which imbues Tronko with great humanity. the ending is worth the wait. It won’t be for everyone and Quammen admitted the book “sank like a hot pistol tossed into the Potomac” on its first release in 1987. But that phrase alone should tell you the guy can write. It was re-released in 2014 and is rightly finding a new audience. It’s now available on Kindle Unlimited. Those who want to hear me enthusing about Tronko some more can tune in to my Dead Drop Five episode on the Spybrary podcast. […]