I Spy — Genre Hopping

Sherry — the falls colors are on parade but not quite at peak yet in Northern Virginia

I love a spy novel. Maybe it’s because I watched The Man from Uncle and Get Smart when I was young. Or maybe it was because there always seemed to be a spy thriller or ten in our house growing up—Leon Uris, Ken Follett, and Dorothy Gilman were my favorites. In the past couple of years it seems like there have been more spy thrillers featuring women coming out. And I’m here for it. I thought I’d share five of my recent favorites in alphabetical order by author

Second Shot by Cindy Dees — Here is the first bit of the cover copy: Retirement isn’t easy for a former CIA assassin. For fifty-five-year-old Helen Warwick, it may be impossible. I couldn’t wait to read it and I really enjoyed Helen and her complicated relationships with her family. There are some very graphic scenes with serial killers that I ended up not reading. That part of the book was a secondary plot and skipping scenes in this instance didn’t make me miss anything related to the overall plot. I’ll read the second book when it comes out.

The Spy Coast by Tess Gerritsen — I snagged this the moment I saw it on Amazon Prime First reads. It’s comes out on November 1st. It says it’s book one in the Martini Club series. From the cover copy: Former spy Maggie Bird came to the seaside village of Purity, Maine, eager to put the past behind her after a mission went tragically wrong. These days, she’s living quietly on her chicken farm, still wary of blowback from the events that forced her early retirement. Fortunately, I downloaded it the day I’d finished reading another novel. This is a page turner with intriguing friends and their complicated relationships. I can’t wait for the next one!

Red Widow/Red London by Alma Katsu — From the cover copy: Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during an assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. Alma worked in intelligence and takes those experiences to create a realistic and thrilling look at what it’s like to work for the CIA.

The Slough House books by Mick Herron — The first line of the cover copy for the first book in the series Slow Horses: London, England: Slough House is where washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. I originally bought this book for my husband and then decided to read it when he was done. The ensemble cast of complex characters hooked me right away and we’ve enjoyed every book since.

Barbara Ross recently said this of them: For readers, these books are tremendous entertainment. For writers, they are a master class in showing and not telling. And in juggling a dozen point-of-view characters, yet always advancing the story and still getting us to care about the characters, despite our limited time with each.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn — From the cover copy: Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon. They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller by New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn. I loved the women in this book and Raybourn captures their individuality perfectly. Fingers crossed there’s a second one!

I also found this list of spy books with women leads written by women and once again I’ve added to my TBR pile!

Readers: Do you like spy novels? Do you have one to add to my list?

25 Thoughts

  1. Thank you, Sherry. I haven’t read spy books in years – and that’s about to change. What great introduction to current reads you’ve given us!

  2. British spy novels were one of my fave genres to read in the 1980s: Eric Ambler, Lee Deighton, Ian Fleming, John le Carre. And I was also a huge Mrs Pollifax fan.

    I heartily agree the Slough House books by Mick Herron are fantastic. I have read all 8 books + novellas. Sly British humour and a different take on modern day espionage.

    I have heard about Tess’ new book & it’s on my wishlist.

    Have you read An American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson? Another good historical spy novel is The Ghosts of Paris by Tara Moss. It is set in post-WWII London & Paris. Billie Walker is on the hunt for Nazi war criminals.

  3. I have all Dorothy Gilman’s spy novels. Mrs. Pollifax is my hero! .Love Killers of a Certain Age and disappointed that there may not be more of them. Thank you for the descriptions of the others – I’m putting them on my list.

  4. I do read spy novels though I will say that I prefer them to have a good dose of action included as well. While I read and reviewed the final John Le Carre novel (that was completed by his son), the pacing of that was not fast paced at all.

    The Cindy Dees book is already on my list. Sadly, I tried the first Slow Horses novel but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

    I’m also looking to read the Ava Glass ‘Alias Emma’ series. The synopsis of the first book:

    “Nothing about Emma Makepeace is real. Not even her name.

    A newly minted secret agent, Emma’s barely graduated from basic training when she gets the call for her first major assignment. Eager to serve her country and prove her worth, she dives in headfirst.

    Emma must covertly travel across one of the world’s most watched cities to bring the reluctant—and handsome—son of Russian dissidents into protective custody, so long as the assassins from the Motherland don’t find him first. With London’s famous Ring of Steel hacked by the Russian government, the two must cross the city without being seen by the hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras that document every inch of the city’s streets, alleys, and gutters.

    Buses, subways, cars, and trains are out of the question. Traveling on foot, and operating without phones or bank cards that could reveal their location or identity, they have twelve hours to make it to safety. This will take all of Emma’s skills of disguise and subterfuge. But when Emma’s handler goes dark, there’s no one left to trust. And just one wrong move will get them both killed.”

    Meanwhile, I love the Mitch Rapp series created by Vince Flynn. When he passed away, Kyle Mills took over the series for 10 years, concluding with the recently published CODE RED. The series will be taken over next year by Don Bentley.

    Also, perhaps the best book I’ve read since John Sandford’s RULES OF PREY was the Terry Hayes book I AM PILGRIM.

    1. I have a hold on Alias Emma at my local library! It sounds great! I haven’t read a LeCarre in years and have been wondering if I should give them another try. I’ve read a few of the Mitch Rapp books and enjoyed them but just haven’t ever gotten back to them. I will check out the last two! Thanks.

  5. I can’t recall any spy novels I’ve read, and I admit those would have been very few, but I love the sound of the ones you listed! Especially the older lady ones – I think maybe what never attracted me to them before is that the spy stories seemed really male focused.

  6. I love spy novels and I jumped on reading Spy Coast and loved it! Have you read Stella Rimington’s books? Very good spy stories.

  7. I loved Second Shot by Cindy Dees and can’t wait to read the next one. I also loved The Book Spy. aprilbluetx at yahoo dot com

  8. Do love a good spy novel from time to time.

    Brought back fond memories when you mentioned the The Man from Uncle and Get Smart shows. 🙂
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  9. Thanks for the book recommendations, Sherry! I only read cozies, but once in a while I read a spy novel. I do not look for female authors, but am intrigued by the covers and descriptions. My favorite 2023 spy novel is THE BOOK SPY by Alan Hlad. I bought the audio version as well, and Christa Lewis, the narrator was absolutely topnotch!!! I also just finished Mr. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY by Susan Elia McNeil…and I have all of her books, but cozies are my priority. I will research your list and enjoy reading them. Luis at ole dot travel

    1. I’m going to have to read The Book Spy since it was mentioned several times here! The Mrs. Pollifax books are like cozy spy books. She’s a delight and the first one was written in 1966.

  10. I haven’t read that many spy books, but I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read. You’ve already mentioned my first choice in the genre – Dorothy Gilman’s wonderful Mrs. Pollifax series.

    Mark, aka Carstairs

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