The CrimeReads editors make their selections for the year’s best espionage fiction.
Javier Marías, Tomás Nevinson
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
A half-English, half-Spanish spy gets pulled into his old tricks after a years-long retirement by his mysterious mentor in this last novel from the great Javier Marías. Epic in scale and elegant in its intellect, Tomás Nevinson should be compared to le Carré’s The Honorable Schoolboy, Edgard Telles Rebeiro’s His Own Man, and Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost.
Tania Malik, Hope You Are Satisfied
It’s 1990. The invasion of Kuwait sets off the first Gulf War, and in between waiting for the SCUD missiles and the Americans, the employees of a small travel agency promising luxury Saudi Arabian vacations spend their time bickering, sleeping together, and partying in clubs off-limits to the local citizens. Riya is worried about her sister and in need of some extra cash, and the urge to help her best friend with an expensive issue is the final push she needs to accept a dangerous gig from a shady character. Playful, cynical, and one of the best “Man Who Knew Too Much”-style spy thrillers I’ve ever read.–MO
Paul Vidich, Beirut Station
Vidich has firmly established himself in the very top flight of espionage writers, with a series of slow-burn character studies putting him in the line of le Carré. In his latest novel, Beirut Station, he adds a shot of adrenaline into the mix, as his story follows a young Lebanese-American CIA agent involved in a joint operation with Mossad in Beirut 2006. She soon begins to suspect a deeper conspiracy in play, and when she voices her concerns, becomes a target herself. The interiority of Vidich’s characters is as complex as ever, but the meticulous operations work will keep you turning the pages and moving deeper into the chaos. –DM
Alma Katsu, Red London
In this follow-up to Red Widow, Katsu brings back CIA Agent Lyndsey Duncan, this time putting her many skills to use in London, working an operation to sidle up to the wife of a Russian billionaire. Katsu paints a vivid picture of modern London at the intersection of a vast, dangerous game being waged between Russia, its monied exiles, the British upper classes, and American intelligence. –DM
Anna Pitoniak, The Helsinki Affair
(Simon and Schuster)
Pitoniak’s new novel is a proper, save-the-world thriller jumping from one international destination to the next as the stakes grow and grow, and somehow the whole thing is pulled off with an almost delicate level of skill. Amanda Cole is at the story’s center, dragged into a Russian plot while fighting her own battles in the office, not to mention wrestling with the legacy of her father, who preceded her in the spy business. It all makes for a highly satisfying read and a genuinely gripping tale of intrigue and geopolitics. –DM