Update: Dec. 6, 2010
The spy/espionage thriller was expected to die off in synchronization with the fall of the Soviet Union, but here in 2010 it is without question a thriving genre (and Soviet Russia seems undead as well).
Many heavy-hitters published this year: Clancy, Silva, Thor, Flynn, Le Carré, and Cussler. Best-selling thrillerists don’t get much bigger than that.
Russia remains a prominent setting, joined these days by the Arab world, which has dominated discussion in the public arena since 9/11, with its never-ending parade of extremists vowing to blow up as many Western innocents as possible, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Readers expect a fair amount of realism and precision with strong echoes of current geopolitics and international intrigue—Tom Clancy still the reigning champ on those grounds; plots that might play themselves out in the real world; and since anything seems possible these days, it’s not that hard to craft something plausible. The trick is to go beyond what has happened and is happening in the real world and write something creative.
2010 could well be remembered as the Year of Secrets Revealed. International espionage accounted for several of the biggest news stories of the year. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange published thousands of classified documents stolen by a gay US Army soldier. The Anna Chapman Affair exposed a ring of deep undercover Russian spies operating in the US, and Chapman’s subsequent risqué photo shoots made her the world’s most famous female ex-spy. A Hamas official was assassinated in an Abu Dhabi hotel, with fingers pointed at Israel’s Mossad. Photos of the execution team members were splashed across TV screens and newspapers around the world.
Overly talkative former CIA agents such as Valerie Plame Wilson just won’t shut up. A movie was released based on her book, Fair Game. It seems the espionage business has never been so foremost in the news and in the minds of the public.
Surely book sales are reflecting the public’s thirst to know more. No doubt in addition to fiction reflecting recent events, we will soon see biographies of Chapman, and something on Assange.
This is an edited listing of prominent spy novels (and one short story collection) published in 2010. It isn’t always easy to categorize which books belong in the Spy category and which, for example, belong in Political Thrillers, or Military Fiction, or other pigeonholes.
• Baldacci, David. Hell's Corner. Grand Central Publishing, 2010.
• Berenson, Alex. The Midnight House. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Clancy, Tom. Dead or Alive. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Cussler, Clive, and Justin Scott. The Spy. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Dryden, Alex. Moscow Sting: A Novel. Ecco, 2010.
• Eisler, Barry. Inside Out: A Novel. Ballantine Books, 2010.
• Flynn, Vince. American Assassin: A Thriller. Atria, 2010.
• Freemantle, Brian. Red Star Rising: A Thriller. Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.
• Furst, Alan. Spies of the Balkans: A Novel. Random House, 2010.
• Grant, Andrew. Die Twice. Minotaur Books, 2010.
• Hinshelwood, Tom. The Killer. Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.
• Lawson, Mike. House Justice: A Joe DeMarco Thriller. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010.
• Le Gallo, Andre. The Caliphate. Leisure Books, 2010.
• Lustbader, Eric Van. Last Snow. Forge Books, 2010.
• Lynds, Gayle. The Book of Spies. St. Martin's Press, 2010.
• Neetz, Roger E. Embassy Intrigue. American Book Publishing, 2010.
• Penzler, Otto. Agents of Treachery. [Short stories.] Vintage, 2010.
• Reich, Christopher. Rules of Betrayal. Doubleday, 2010.
• Rimington, Stella. Dead Line. Knopf, 2010.
• Silva, Daniel. The Rembrandt Affair. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Steiner, Peter. The Terrorist: A Thriller. Minotaur Books, 2010.
• Steinhauer, Olen. The Nearest Exit. Minotaur Books, 2010.
• Stone, David. The Skorpion Directive. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Thomson, Keith. Once A Spy: A Novel. Doubleday, 2010.
• Thor, Brad. Foreign Influence: A Thriller. Atria Books, 2010.
• Elliot, Jason. The Network: A Novel. Bloomsbury USA, 2010.
• Le Carré, John. Our Kind of Traitor: A Novel. Viking Adult, 2010. Not quite my idea of an “entertainment.” This is a terrible bore. Le Carré has admitted he thought of defecting to Russia; with his shouting at President Bush (a stand-in for shouting at Western democracy), his politics don’t seem that far removed from those of Kim Philby & the others. Drooling applause from unconvincing (but not unexpected) reviews in the New York Times & Washington Post.
• Maines, Bethany. Bulletproof Mascara. Atria, 2010. A Mary Kay lookalike company is also a spy agency.
Read "The Best Spy Fiction of 2011"
Read "The Best Spy Nonfiction of 2011"