The Spy Who Came in from the Outer Dark
December 17, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some holiday reading, specifically "occult thrillers." What I want is something that mixes occult/horror and spies/thriller elements.

Declare by Tim Powers was almost perfect. The Laundry novels by Charles Stross are a bit uneven in character and tone, but still readable and fun. Things like Brian Lumley's Necroscope might be good, if they weren't so pulpy and, well, unsatisfying (and not all that well written). Please, open your secret dossiers and help me find some diverting reading!
posted by GenjiandProust to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte is a little like this. About half of the book's plot was made into the movie The Ninth Gate.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Nightside series by Simon Green - good, quick, humorous reads
posted by gt2 at 10:45 AM on December 17, 2011

This is non-fiction, not fiction, but Queen's Conjurer,

a biography of John Dee, occultist and reputed spy for Queen Elizabeth I is great!
posted by bukvich at 11:08 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does the spy aspect need to be set in a modern, Cold War kind of setting? If not, I recommend Liz Williams' series starting with Snake Agent; it's a city detective with political and occult ramifications rather than a spy per se. If Snake Agent appeals, then China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and sequels might possibly scratch the itch as well, though again the politics is small-scale (a citystate) rather than a Great Game kind of thing. Both of these are on the occult rather than the horror end of the spectrum.
posted by hattifattener at 11:43 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If nonfiction is at all appealing to you:

You should check out biographies of Aleister Crowley which go into his alleged activities as a spy.

Peter Levenda's Unholy Alliance and Sinister Forces trilogy are both also absolutely awesome books about the crossroads of intelligence and the occult. They're nonfiction, although I wouldn't stake my life on their veracity. What they are instead is fascinating and eminently readable - much better-researched and more readable than your typical conspiracy books.

Unholy Alliance is about the occult within the Nazi machine. Sinister Forces is a bit more expansive and hard to summarize, but essentially it's about shamans, the occult, and governments' attempts to use mind control in order to create perfect assassins. It's daffy stuff, but if you look at it as a weird sort of postmodern fictional nonfiction, it's pretty goddamn brilliant.

If you wind up liking Unholy Alliance, then consider the books of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, which are more sober and academic. He's also written Dreamer of the Day, a very good book on Francis Parker Yockey, who was a right-wing fascist mystic, constantly on the run from the FBI, his briefcase full of passports.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:50 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

John Connolly's Charlie Parker series is about a private detective who sometimes sees ghosts and is involved with a bunch of mysterious, maybe-supernatural evil characters. They're well-written and very original. Wikipedia has a list of the series in order.
posted by something something at 1:00 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco doesn't have spies, but it's a thriller about the occult, specifically about three guys who spend a lot of time reading and deciphering manuscripts about occult conspiracy theories. It's Umberto Eco, so it's a bit ponderous and very long, but I enjoyed reading it. There's also an audio version (condensed) read by Tim Curry which is entertaining, if you like audio books.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:02 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I came to recommend (and now second) the Nightside series. Also, the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Maybe not 100% what you're looking for, but great reads.
posted by Jacen at 1:17 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis. WWII with British warlocks conjuring Lovecraftian demons vs. Nazi mad scientists creating battery-powered supermutants out of war orphans. First of a planned trilogy.
posted by lovecrafty at 2:01 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Mark Frost has two very entertaining novels in that vein that also rebuild the Holmes canon: The List of 7 and The 6 Messiahs.
posted by Iosephus at 2:04 PM on December 17, 2011

Again, if it doesn't have to be set in modern times, then there's Mark Chadbourn; I've read the first one but not got round to the second yet.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:13 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aaaannd if I'd actually finished the comment I started, I would have gone on to say that the first book was a good read.

I'll be watching this Ask with interest as I do like a real world / magic mash-up myself
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:58 PM on December 17, 2011

Thanks for the suggestions so far -- I am not fixated on the cold war era (although there is plenty of potential there), and occult detective stories, while entertaining in their own right, are not exactly what I am seeking.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:31 PM on December 17, 2011

Came here to suggest Foucault's Pendulum, but since that's been said I'll add The Rule of Four, The Secret History, and The Historian, which I think also meet your criteria.
posted by milk white peacock at 6:00 PM on December 17, 2011

Bitter Seeds is excellent, and I really enjoy the Mark Chadbourn books mentioned by Martha my Dear Prudence. The second is as enjoyable as the first There's also the Edwin Drood books by Simon Green. I found these a bit breezy, but they are quick.
posted by mollweide at 6:06 PM on December 17, 2011

Tim Curry is amazing reading Foucault's Pendulum. Is that version still available? I'm holding on to my cassette tapes. I actually laughed out loud at the beginning of The DaVinci Code because it's precisely the kind of book Foucault's Pendulum was poking fun at.
posted by MesoFilter at 7:49 PM on December 17, 2011

"Last Rituals" by Yrsa Sigurdardottier...if you like that whole Nordic noir thing.
posted by indognito at 4:32 AM on December 18, 2011

Argh--Sigurdardottir. I need coffee.
posted by indognito at 4:33 AM on December 18, 2011

Despite the title, Johannes Cabal the Detective is more spy/thriller than detective. Also, he's a necromancer.

It's not quite in the same vein as Declare, but Tim Powers' Three Days To Never also involves occult forces and the Mossad, among other players.
posted by hades at 3:46 PM on December 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

+1 to Hades' suggestion of Johannes Cabal - the other two stories are also worth a punt (JC the Necromancer and JC and The Fear Institute). They certainly tap into the occult (esp. Necromancer - odd, that) and all three contain elements of the thriller / suspense genre.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:25 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

going out on a limb here... If you like Declare and the Laundry books you would probably like Delta Green... which is an RPG setting, however it is an RPG setting that comes with some fiction, which might be too your liking. There's a new book coming in January.
posted by Artw at 3:49 PM on December 21, 2011

A little late here, but mask of the Other is probably the sort of thing you are looking for, and also very good.
posted by Artw at 12:20 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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