Post-Cold War spy novels?
December 22, 2011 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Have any recommendations for post-Cold War spy/espionage novels?

In my youth I absolutely loved The Charm School (Nelson DeMille) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carré). More recently I've enjoyed Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith.) I'd really like to read some post-Cold War/post-9/11 spy novels along the lines of Homeland, Covert Affairs, or Spooks/M1-6, but my favorite places to find recs seem to heavily favor novels of the Cold War era. I'm primarily interested in novels that feature modern tradecraft and global politics, preferably with a more literary style.

I don't have a particular preference for the Company over, say, MI-6 or the Mossad.

Caveat: I don't care for Jason Bourne (Ludlum) or the Ryans (Clancy).

Do such books exist?
posted by xyzzy to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed Olen Stenhauer's The Tourist and its sequel The Nearest Exit.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:58 AM on December 22, 2011

See No Evil is a non-fiction autobio by CIA agent Bob Baer that runs through both the Cold War and a decade or two after. Again, non-fiction, so it's not entirely what you asked for, but it's fascinating.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2011

You do know Le Carre is still writing? And he has gladly left the Cold War themes for current day concerns. IMHO he still keeps a very literary style, particularly a superb construction of believable characters. His A Most Wanted Man is a harsh critique of all the bullshit the US and European intelligence services have pulled in the name of stopping terrorism in the recent years. I though it was pretty good. However, his best of the new times by far I think is The Mission Song, a pretty bleak tale of how multinational corporations have taken the place of the old colonialists in many African countries.
posted by Iosephus at 9:59 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also love Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - great novel. I don't so much like his newer books, but you should try them out.

Have you read Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon Series? They're well written and pretty enjoyable. Some of the later ones are better than others, but Silva's worst is still way better than most other novels.

Shelfari on the Allon series
posted by lyra4 at 10:01 AM on December 22, 2011

Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series is post-Cold War and focuses on an Israeli assassin and is firmly set in the tradition you describe. Barry Eisler's John Rain series is also contemporary and features an ex-US special forces guy turned assassin. Brett Battle's Jonathan Quinn series is more or less in the same genre, although he is a "cleaner" on the periphery of the espionage world.

None of them are as literary as le Carre, but I think that Silva is probably the best pure writer of the group, although Eisler's stuff is more tradecrafty. I remember getting bored with the Silva series toward the end as they tended to become a bit repetitious. I'm not a big fan of the Ryan stuff because Clancy can hardly assemble a coherent sentence.

I'm hoping someone has some better suggestions, because I'm always looking for that kind of novel. I liked Mark Cameron's National Security and its completely post-911 in theme. It is also engaging in a plot-driven way, although not DeMille or le Carre either. Including Child 44 makes me wonder if you would still enjoy it, however.

My best bet for you is Silva because its got lots of tradecraft and global politics, then National Security, then the Eisler stuff. Eisler is big on tradecraft, but his political insight is a bit primitive. I'll also throw in my favorite guilty pleasure author, Lee Child. His Reacher series is more oriented toward crime stuff, but every time one comes out I read it all in one go.
posted by Lame_username at 10:02 AM on December 22, 2011

Good lord, you've got to read Le Carre's current stuff, particularly A Most Wanted Man, which deals with European espionage and the war on terror, and The Mission Song, which has to do with the intelligence operation behind an attempted coup in Africa. Our Kind of Traitor is good, too, but it's very similar to A Most Wanted Man except that the potential asset in question is a Russian mobster.

Also highly recommended is The Little Drummer Girl, which despite being written and set during the Cold War era isn't about the Cold War, per se, but the Israeli/Palestine conflict during the early '80s.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:20 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quite liked The Mentor and The Judas by Steve Jackson, but they are kind of fluff/not literary. Still fun though and not, I would say, any more fluff than the mentioned Eisler stuff, which I also enjoyed.

I've only read a tiny bit of Robert Littell, and I think his stuff is mostly cold war, but he seems to get a lot of critical praise, particularly for The Company (which is cold war and which I have not read).
posted by juv3nal at 10:32 AM on December 22, 2011

I too have often wanted to frame an AskMe for recommendations on spy novels set in the current era incorporating the challenges of modern day technology, mobile phones, satellites and easy access to all sorts of information. How would spycraft evolve in order to be relevant to this, I was thinking as I recently read something written pre-mobile phone still coordinating mail drops in random city park corners.
posted by infini at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2011

Try The Revisionists which is set in the present/future and deals with modern surveillance, geopolitics, the security state etc.
posted by cushie at 11:08 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd honestly suggest the Millennium Trilogy. While the first book (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is much more a mystery/crime novel, the other 2 books surprisingly transition the story into a great espionage series.
posted by straight_razor at 11:22 AM on December 22, 2011

The last half-dozen Quiller novels by Adam Hall are post-Cold War.
posted by Rash at 12:56 PM on December 22, 2011

Not exactly a spy novel per se, but certainly spy novel-esque in structure and theme: Spook Country.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:52 PM on December 22, 2011

Oh just remembered, if you've not read them, the guy behind Spooks wrote a couple of novels. I've only read Contact Zero which was fun though I wouldn't really consider it literary either, but from what I recall it was more so than the Steve Jackson or Eisler stuff.
posted by juv3nal at 3:15 PM on December 22, 2011

David Wolstencroft is one of the creators of Spooks and has written a couple of spy novels. Don't know how good they are though.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:21 PM on December 22, 2011 basically what juv3nal said six minutes before me.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:23 PM on December 22, 2011

Just to Nth Le Carre's newer stuff. Not quite as magically fantastic as Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy, but still really very good and well worth a read.
posted by prentiz at 3:45 PM on December 22, 2011

I haven't read it yet, but by many accounts, Neal Stephenson's latest "Reamde" would fit the bill. Would anyone who has read it comment on that one?

His book "Cryptonomicon" is set in the 1990s and in WWII, and discusses codes and cryptography in the computer era as compared with those in the mid-century, but most of the espionage and counter-espionage stuff takes place in the WWII bits. In the modern era, the characters engage in serious crypto in order to deter business competition, government intrusion, and so on.

Personally, when I wanted to take a break from cold-war spy fiction, I went with Alan Furst novels, whose "Night Soldiers" series of books are set pre- and during WWII, and are generally about fairly ordinary people who happen to have connections or access, or maybe just that je ne sais quoi that makes them useful as spies. That said, I look forward to lifting some leads from this thread.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:51 PM on December 22, 2011

David Ignatius both covers the US intelligence apparatus for the Washington Post and writes spy novels set in the present day.

haven't read it yet, but by many accounts, Neal Stephenson's latest "Reamde" would fit the bill.

I am about 85% of the way through. Spy novel would not be the first thing that came to mind, but it does have spy-type characters and incidents [gingerly avoiding spoilers] and, in fact, describes itself as an "action-packed adventure thriller."
posted by shothotbot at 7:57 PM on December 22, 2011

Henry Porter isn't exactly espionage, but it might scratch that itch.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:26 AM on December 23, 2011

Anything at all by the eclectic Robert Harris is a powerful read - totally authentic, fully researched but without rubbing your nose in his expertise, full of action and plot. Directly relevant to your question is his Ghost, but once you've read that you'll want to read anything else he's written, from ancient Rome to modern Russia via WWII Britain.
posted by aqsakal at 2:36 PM on December 23, 2011

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