Spy fiction

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Spy fiction, a genre of literature involving espionage as an important context or plot device, emerged in the early twentieth century, inspired by rivalries and intrigues between the major powers, and the establishment of modern intelligence agencies. It was given new impetus by the development of fascism and communism in the lead-up to World War II, continued to develop during the Cold War, and received a fresh impetus from the emergence of rogue states, international criminal organizations, global terrorist networks, maritime piracy and technological sabotage and espionage as potent threats to Western societies.[1] As a genre, spy fiction is thematically related to the novel of adventure (The Prisoner of Zenda, 1894, The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1905), the thriller (such as the works of Edgar Wallace) and the politico-military thriller (The Schirmer Inheritance, 1953, The Quiet American, 1955).[2][3]


Nineteenth century[edit]

Commentator William Bendler noted that "Chapter 2 of the Hebrew Bible's Book of Joshua might count as the first Spy Story in world, literature. (...) Three thousand years before James Bond seduced Pussy Galore and turned her into his ally against Goldfinger, the spies sent by General Joshua into the city of Jericho did much the same with Rahab the Harlot.[4]"

Spy fiction as a genre started to emerge during the 19th Century. Early examples of the espionage novel are The Spy (1821) and The Bravo (1831), by American novelist James Fenimore Cooper. The Bravo attacks European anti-republicanism, by depicting Venice as a city-state where a ruthless oligarchy wears the mask of the "serene republic".

In nineteenth-century France, the Dreyfus Affair (1894–99) contributed much to public interest in espionage.[5] For some twelve years (ca. 1894–1906), the Affair, which involved elements of international espionage, treason, and antisemitism, dominated French politics. The details were reported by the world press: an Imperial German penetration agent betraying to Germany the secrets of the General Staff of the French Army; the French counter-intelligence riposte of sending a charwoman to rifle the trash in the German Embassy in Paris, were news that inspired successful spy fiction.[6]

The major themes of a spy in the lead-up to the First World War were the continuing rivalry between the European colonial powers for control of Asia, the growing threat of conflict in Europe, the domestic threat of revolutionaries and anarchists, and historical romance.

Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling concerns the AngloRussian Great Game of imperial and geopolitical rivalry and strategic warfare for supremacy in Central Asia, usually in Afghanistan. The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph Conrad examines the psychology and ideology motivating the socially marginal men and women of a revolutionary cell determined to provoke a revolution in Britain with a terrorist bombing of the Greenwich Observatory. Conrad's next novel, Under Western Eyes (1911), follows a reluctant spy sent by the Russian Empire to infiltrate a group of revolutionaries based in Geneva. G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) is a metaphysical thriller ostensibly based on the infiltration of an anarchist organisation by detectives, but the story is actually a vehicle for exploring society's power structures and the nature of suffering.

The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle, served as a SpyHunter for Britain in the stories "The Adventure of the Second Stain" (1904), and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" (1912). In "His Last Bow" (1917), he served Crown and country as a double agent, transmitting false intelligence to Imperial Germany on the eve of the Great War.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Orczy chronicled an English aristocrat's derring-do in rescuing French aristocrats from the Reign of Terror of the populist French Revolution (1789–99).

But the term "spy novel" was defined by The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by Irish author Erskine Childers.[citation needed] It described amateur spies discovering a German plan to invade Britain. Its success created a market for the invasion literature subgenre, which was flooded by imitators. William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim became the most widely read and most successful British writers of spy fiction, especially of invasion literature. Their prosaic style and formulaic stories, produced voluminously from 1900 to 1914, proved of low literary merit.

During the First World War[edit]

During the War, John Buchan became the pre-eminent British spy novelist. His well-written stories portray the Great War as a "clash of civilisations" between Western civilization and barbarism. His notable novels are The Thirty-nine Steps (1915), Greenmantle (1916) and sequels, all featuring the heroic Scotsman Richard Hannay. In France Gaston Leroux published the spy thriller Rouletabille chez Krupp (1917), in which a detective, Joseph Rouletabille, engages in espionage.

Inter-war period[edit]

After the Russian Revolution (1917), the quality of spy fiction declined, perhaps because the Bolshevik enemy won the Russian Civil War (1917–23). Thus, the inter-war spy story usually concerns combating the Red Menace, which was perceived as another "clash of civilizations".

Spy fiction was dominated by British authors during this period, initially former intelligence officers and agents writing from inside the trade. Examples include Ashenden: Or the British Agent (1928) by W. Somerset Maugham, which accurately portrays spying in the First World War, and The Mystery of Tunnel 51 (1928) by Alexander Wilson whose novels convey an uncanny portrait of the first head of the Secret Intelligence Service, Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the original 'C'.

At a more popular level, Leslie Charteris' popular and long-running Saint series began, featuring Simon Templar, with Meet the Tiger (1928). Water on the Brain (1933) by former intelligence officer Compton Mackenzie was the first successful spy novel satire.[7] Prolific author Dennis Wheatley also wrote his first spy novel, The Eunuch of Stamboul (1935) during this period.

Second World War[edit]

The growing threat of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain, and the imminence of war, attracted quality writers back to spy fiction.

British author Eric Ambler brought a new realism to spy fiction. The Dark Frontier (1936), Epitaph for a Spy (1938), The Mask of Dimitrios (US: A Coffin for Dimitrios, 1939), and Journey into Fear (1940) feature amateurs entangled in espionage. The politics and ideology are secondary to the personal story that involved the hero or heroine. Ambler's Popular Front–period œuvre has a left-wing perspective about the personal consequences of "big picture" politics and ideology, which was notable, given spy fiction's usual right-wards tilt in defence of the Establishment attitudes underpinning empire and imperialism. Ambler's early novels Uncommon Danger (1937) and Cause for Alarm (1938), in which NKVD spies help the amateur protagonist survive, are especially remarkable among English-language spy fiction.

Above Suspicion (1939) by Helen MacInnes, about an anti-Nazi husband and wife spy team, features literate writing and fast-paced, intricate, and suspenseful stories occurring against contemporary historical backgrounds. MacInnes wrote many other spy novels in the course of a long career, including Assignment in Brittany (1942), Decision at Delphi (1961), and Ride a Pale Horse (1984).

Manning Coles published Drink to Yesterday (1940), a grim story occurring during the Great War, which introduces the hero Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon. However, later novels featuring Hambledon were lighter-toned, despite being set either in Nazi Germany or Britain during the Second World War (1939–45). After the War, the Hambledon adventures fell to formula, losing critical and popular interest.

The events leading up to the Second World War, and the War itself, continue to be fertile ground for authors of spy fiction. Notable examples include Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle (1978); Alan Furst, Night Soldiers (1988); and David Downing, the Station series, beginning with Zoo Station (2007).

writers on World War II: 1939–1945[edit]

Author(s) Title Publisher Date Notes
Mashbir, Sidney I Was an American Spy: published 1953, republished as 65th Anniversary Edition in 2019 Horizon Productions 1953, republished 2019 American intelligence agent who played a significant role in both WWI and WWII. Colonel Mashbir is included in the Army Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame. He is a pioneer of military intelligence and is one of two men who first created the framework for the C.I.A.
Babington-Smith, Constance Air Spy: The Story of Photo Intelligence in World War II 1957
Berg, Moe The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg Vintage Books 1994 — Major league baseball player and OSS Secret Intelligence (SI) spy in Yugoslavia
Bryden, John Best-Kept Secret: Canadian Secret Intelligence in the Second World War Lester 1993
Doundoulakis, Helias Trained to be an OSS Spy Xlibris 2014 OSS Secret Intelligence (SI) spy in Greece
Hall, Virginia The Spy with the Wooden Leg: The Story of Virginia Hall Alma Little 2012 SOE and OSS spy in France
Hinsley, F. H. and Alan Stripp Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park 2001
Hinsley, F. H. British Intelligence in the Second World War 1996 Abridged version of multivolume official history.
Hohne, Heinz Canaris: Hitler's Master Spy 1979
Jones, R. V. The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939–1945 1978
Kahn, David Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II 1978
Kahn, David Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939–1943 1991 FACE
Kitson, Simon The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France 2008
Leigh Fermor, Patrick Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete New York Review Books 2015 SOE spy who abducted General Kreipe from Crete
Lewin, Ronald The American Magic: Codes, Ciphers and the Defeat of Japan 1982
Masterman, J. C. The Double-Cross System in the War of 1935 to 1945 Yale 1972
Persico, Joseph Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage 2001
Persico, Joseph Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey-From the OSS to the CIA 1991
Pinck, Dan Journey to Peking: A Secret Agent in Wartime China US Naval Institute Press 2003 OSS Secret Intelligence (SI) spy in Hong Kong, China, during WWII
Ronnie, Art Counterfeit Hero: Fritz Duquesne, Adventurer and Spy 1995 ISBN 1-55750-733-3
Sayers, Michael & Albert E. Kahn Sabotage! The Secret War Against America 1942
Smith, Richard Harris OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency 2005
Stanley, Roy M. World War II Photo Intelligence 1981
Wark, Wesley The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany, 1933–1939 1985
Wark, Wesley "Cryptographic Innocence: The Origins of Signals Intelligence in Canada in the Second World War" in Journal of Contemporary History 22 1987
West, Nigel Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organization 1992
Winterbotham, F. W. The Ultra Secret Harper & Row 1974
Winterbotham, F. W. The Nazi Connection Harper & Row 1978
Cowburn, B. No Cloak No Dagger Brown, Watson, Ltd. 1960
Wohlstetter, Roberta Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision 1962

Cold War[edit]


The metamorphosis of the Second World War (1939–45) into the Soviet–American Cold War (1945–91) gave new impetus to spy novelists. Atomsk by Paul Linebarger (later known as Cordwainer Smith), written in 1948 and published in 1949, appears to be the first espionage novel of the dawning conflict.


With Secret Ministry (1951), Desmond Cory introduced Johnny Fedora, the secret agent with a licence to kill, the government-sanctioned assassin. Ian Fleming, a former member of naval intelligence, followed swiftly with the glamorous James Bond, secret agent 007 of the British Secret Service, a mixture of counter-intelligence officer, assassin and playboy. Perhaps the most famous fictional spy, Bond was introduced in Casino Royale (1953). After Fleming's death the franchise continued under other British and American authors, including Kingsley Amis, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz.

Despite the commercial success of Fleming's extravagant novels, John le Carré, himself a former spy, created anti-heroic protagonists who struggled with the ethical issues involved in espionage and sometimes resorted to immoral tactics. Le Carré's middle-class George Smiley is a middle-aged spy burdened with an unfaithful, upper-class wife who publicly cuckolds him for sport.

Like Le Carré, former British Intelligence officer Graham Greene also examined the morality of espionage in left-leaning, anti-imperialist novels such as The Heart of the Matter (1948), set in Sierra Leone, the seriocomic Our Man in Havana (1959) occurring in the Cuba of dictator Fulgencio Batista before his deposition by Fidel Castro's popular Cuban Revolution (1953–59), and The Human Factor (1978) about British support for the apartheid National Party government of South Africa, against the Red Menace.

Other novelists followed a similar path. Len Deighton's anonymous spy, protagonist of The IPCRESS File (1962), Horse Under Water (1963), Funeral in Berlin (1964), and others, is a working-class man with a negative view of the Establishment.

Other notable examples of espionage fiction during this period were also built around recurring characters. These include James Mitchell's 'John Craig' series, written under his pseudonym 'James Munro', beginning with The Man Who Sold Death (1964); and Trevor Dudley-Smith's Quiller spy novel series written under the pseudonym 'Adam Hall', beginning with The Berlin Memorandum (US: The Quiller Memorandum, 1965), a hybrid of glamour and dirt, Fleming and Le Carré; and William Garner's fantastic Michael Jagger in Overkill (1966), The Deep, Deep Freeze (1968), The Us or Them War (1969) and A Big Enough Wreath (1974).

Other important British writers who first became active in spy fiction during this period include Padraig Manning O'Brine, Killers Must Eat (1951); Michael Gilbert, Be Shot for Sixpence (1956); Alistair MacLean, The Last Frontier (1959); Brian Cleeve, Assignment to Vengeance (1961); Jack Higgins, The Testament of Caspar Schulz (1962); and Desmond Skirrow, It Won't Get You Anywhere (1966). Dennis Wheatley's 'Gregory Sallust' (1934-1968) and 'Roger Brook' (1947-1974) series were also largely written during this period.


During the war E. Howard Hunt wrote his first spy novel, East of Farewell (1943). In 1949 he joined the recently created CIA and continued to write spy fiction for many years. Paul Linebarger, a China specialist for the CIA, published Atomsk, the first novel of the Cold War, in 1949. In 1955, Edward S. Aarons began publishing the Sam Durell CIA "Assignment" series, which began with Assignment to Disaster (1955). Donald Hamilton published Death of a Citizen (1960) and The Wrecking Crew (1960), beginning the series featuring Matt Helm, a CIA assassin and counter-intelligence agent.

The Nick Carter-Killmaster series of spy novels, initiated by Michael Avallone and Valerie Moolman, but authored anonymously, ran to over 260 separate books between 1964 and the early 1990s and invariably pitted American, Soviet and Chinese spies against each other. With the proliferation of male protagonists in the spy fiction genre, writers and book packagers also started bringing out spy fiction with a female as the protagonist. One notable spy series is The Baroness, featuring a sexy female superspy, with the novels being more action-oriented, in the mould of Nick Carter-Killmaster.

Other important American authors who became active in spy fiction during this period include Ross Thomas, The Cold War Swap (1966).


The June 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbours introduced new themes to espionage fiction - the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, against the backdrop of continuing Cold War tensions, and the increasing use of terrorism as a political tool.


Notable recurring characters from this era include Adam Diment's Philip McAlpine is a long-haired, hashish-smoking fop in the novels The Dolly Dolly Spy (1967), The Great Spy Race (1968), The Bang Bang Birds (1968) and Think, Inc. (1971); James Mitchell's 'David Callan' series, written in his own name, beginning with Red File for Callan (1969); William Garner's John Morpurgo in Think Big, Think Dirty (1983), Rats' Alley (1984), and Zones of Silence (1986); and Joseph Hone's 'Peter Marlow' series, beginning with The Private Sector (1971), set during Israel's Six-Day War (1967) against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In all of these series the writing is literary and the tradecraft believable.

Noteworthy examples of the journalistic style and successful integration of fictional characters with historical events were the politico-military novels The Day of the Jackal (1971) by Frederick Forsyth and Eye of the Needle (1978) by Ken Follett. With the explosion of technology, Craig Thomas, launched the techno-thriller with Firefox (1977), describing the Anglo–American theft of a superior Soviet jet aeroplane.

Other important British writers who first became active in spy fiction during this period include Ian Mackintosh, A Slaying in September (1967); Kenneth Benton, Twenty-fourth Level (1969); Desmond Bagley, Running Blind (1970); Anthony Price, The Labyrinth Makers (1971); Gerald Seymour, Harry's Game (1975); Brian Freemantle, Charlie M (1977); Bryan Forbes, Familiar Strangers (1979); Reginald Hill, The Spy's Wife (1980); and Raymond Harold Sawkins, writing as Colin Forbes, Double Jeopardy (1982).


The Scarlatti Inheritance (1971) by Robert Ludlum is usually considered the first American modern (glamour and dirt) spy thriller weighing action and reflection. In the 1970s, former CIA man Charles McCarry began the Paul Christopher series with The Miernik Dossier (1973) and The Tears of Autumn (1978), which were well written, with believable tradecraft.

The first American techno-thriller was The Hunt for Red October (1984) by Tom Clancy. It introduced CIA deskman (analyst) Jack Ryan as a field agent; he reprised the role in the sequel The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1987).

Other important American authors who became active in spy fiction during this period include Robert Littell, The Defection of A. J. Lewinter (1973); James Grady, Six Days of the Condor (1974); William F. Buckley Jr., Saving the Queen (1976); Nelson DeMille, The Talbot Odyssey (1984); W. E. B. Griffin, the Men at War series (1984–); Stephen Coonts, Flight of the Intruder (1986); Canadian-American author David Morrell, The League of Night and Fog (1987); David Hagberg, Without Honor (1989); Noel Hynd, False Flags (1990); and Richard Ferguson, Oiorpata (1990).

Writers on Cold War era: 1945–1991[edit]

Author(s) Title Publisher Date Notes
Ambrose, Stephen E. Ike's Spies: Eisenhower and the Intelligence Establishment 1981–
Andrew, Christopher and Vasili Mitrokhin The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB Basic Books 1991, 2005 ISBN 0-465-00311-7
Andrew, Christopher, and Oleg Gordievsky KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev 1990
Aronoff, Myron J. The Spy Novels of John Le Carré: Balancing Ethics and Politics 1999
Bissell, Richard Reflections of a Cold Warrior: From Yalta to the Bay of Pigs 1996
Bogle, Lori, ed. Cold War Espionage and Spying 2001– essays
Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World
Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West Gardners Books 2000 ISBN 978-0-14-028487-4
Colella, Jim My Life as an Italian Mafioso Spy 2000
Craig, R. Bruce Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter Spy Case University Press of Kansas 2004 ISBN 978-0-7006-1311-3
Dorril, Stephen MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service 2000
Dziak, John J. Chekisty: A History of the KGB 1988
Gates, Robert M. From The Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents And How They Won The Cold War 1997
Frost, Mike and Michel Gratton Spyworld: Inside the Canadian and American Intelligence Establishments Doubleday Canada 1994
Haynes, John Earl, and Harvey Klehr Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America 1999
Helms, Richard A Look over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency 2003
Koehler, John O. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police 1999
Persico, Joseph Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey-From the OSS to the CIA 1991
Murphy, David E., Sergei A. Kondrashev, and George Bailey Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War 1997
Prados, John Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II 1996
Rositzke, Harry. The CIA's Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action 1988
Srodes, James Allen Dulles: Master of Spies Regnery 2000 CIA head to 1961
Sontag Sherry, and Christopher Drew Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage Harper 1998
Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies and Secret Operations Greenwood Press/Questia[8] 2004
  • Anderson, Nicholas NOC Enigma Books 2009 – Post-Cold War era
  • Ishmael Jones The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture Encounter Books 2008, rev. 2010
Writers of other nationalities[edit]
  • Michael Ross, The Volunteer: The Incredible True Story of an Israeli Spy on the Trail of International Terrorists McClelland & Stewart 2007, rev. 2008
  • Jean-Marie Thiébaud, Dictionnaire Encyclopédique International des Abréviations, Singles et Acronyms, Armée et armament, Gendarmerie, Police, Services de renseignement et Services secrets français et étrangers, Espionage, Counterespionage, Services de Secours, Organisations révolutionnaires et terrorists, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2015, 827 pFrench journalist Gérard de Villiers began to write his SAS series in 1965. The franchise now extends to 200 titles and 150 million books.
  • Julian Semyonov was an influential spy novelist, writing in the Eastern Bloc, whose range of novels and novel series featured a White Russian spy in the USSR; Max Otto von Stierlitz, a Soviet mole in the Nazi High Command, and Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka. In his novels, Semyonov covered much Soviet intelligence history, ranging from the Russian Civil War (1917–1923), through the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), to the Russo–American Cold War (1945–91).
  • Swedish author Jan Guillou also began to write his Coq Rouge series, featuring Swedish spy Carl Hamilton, during this period, beginning in 1986.

Post–Cold War[edit]

The end of the Cold War in 1991 mooted the USSR, Russia and other Iron Curtain countries as credible enemies of democracy, and the US Congress even considered disestablishing the CIA. Espionage novelists found themselves at a temporary loss for obvious nemeses. The New York Times ceased publishing a spy novel review column. Nevertheless, counting on the aficionado, publishers continued to issue spy novels by writers popular during the Cold War era, among them Harlot's Ghost (1991) by Norman Mailer.

In the US, the new novels Moscow Club (1991) by Joseph Finder, Coyote Bird (1993) by Jim DeFelice, Masquerade (1996) by Gayle Lynds, and The Unlikely Spy (1996) by Daniel Silva maintained the spy novel in the post–Cold War world. Other important American authors who first became active in spy fiction during this period include David Ignatius, Agents of Innocence (1997); David Baldacci, Saving Faith (1999); and Vince Flynn, with Term Limits (1999) and a series of novels featuring counter-terrorism expert Mitch Rapp.

In the UK, Robert Harris entered the spy genre with Enigma (1995). Other important British authors who became active during this period include Hugh Laurie, The Gun Seller (1996); Andy McNab, Remote Control (1998); Henry Porter, Remembrance Day (2000); and Charles Cumming, A Spy By Nature (2001).


The terrorist attacks against the US on 11 September 2001, and the subsequent War on Terror, reawakened interest in the peoples and politics of the world beyond its borders. Espionage genre elders such as John le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Littell, and Charles McCarry resumed work, and many new authors emerged.

Important British writers who wrote their first spy novels during this period include Stephen Leather, Hard Landing (2004); and William Boyd, Restless (2006).

New American writers include Brad Thor, The Lions of Lucerne (2002); Ted Bell, Hawke (2003); Alex Berenson, with John Wells appearing for the first time in The Faithful Spy (2006); Brett Battles, The Cleaner (2007); Ellis Goodman, Bear Any Burden (2008); Olen Steinhauer, The Tourist (2009); and Richard Ferguson, Oiorpata (2012). A number of other established writers began to write spy fiction for the first time, including Kyle Mills, Fade (2005) and James Patterson, Private (2010).

Swede Stieg Larsson, who died in 2004, was the world's second best-selling author for 2008 due to his Millennium series, featuring Lisbeth Salander, published posthumously between 2005 and 2007. Other authors of note include Australian James Phelan, beginning with Fox Hunt (2010).

Recognising the importance of the thriller genre, including spy fiction, International Thriller Writers (ITW) was established in 2004, and held its first conference in 2006.

Insider spy fiction[edit]

Many authors of spy fiction have themselves been intelligence officers working for British agencies such as MI5 or MI6, or American agencies such as the OSS or its successor, the CIA. 'Insider' spy fiction has a special claim to authenticity and overlaps with biographical and other documentary accounts of secret service.

The first insider fiction emerged after World War 1 as the thinly disguised reminiscences of former British intelligence officers such as W. Somerset Maugham, Alexander Wilson, and Compton Mackenzie. The tradition continued during World War II with Helen MacInnes and Manning Coles.

Notable British examples from the Cold War period and beyond include Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Graham Greene, Brian Cleeve, Ian Mackintosh, Kenneth Benton, Bryan Forbes, Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. Notable American examples include Charles McCarry, William F. Buckley Jr., W. E. B. Griffin and David Hagberg.

Many post-9/11 period novels are written by insiders.[9] At the CIA, the number of manuscripts submitted for pre-publication vetting doubled between 1998 and 2005.[10] American examples include Barry Eisler, A Clean Kill in Tokyo (2002); Charles Gillen, Saigon Station (2003); R J Hillhouse, Rift Zone (2004); Gene Coyle, The Dream Merchant of Lisbon (2004) and No Game For Amateurs (2009); Thomas F. Murphy, Edge of Allegiance (2005); Mike Ramsdell, A Train to Potevka (2005); T. H. E. Hill, Voices Under Berlin (2008); Duane Evans, North from Calcutta (2009); Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow (2013).;[9][11] and T.L. Williams, Zero Day: China's Cyber Wars (2017).

British examples include The Code Snatch (2001) by Alan Stripp, formerly a cryptographer at Bletchley Park; At Risk (2004), Secret Asset (2006), Illegal Action (2007), and Dead Line (2008), by Dame Stella Rimington (Director General of MI5 from 1992 to 1996); and Matthew Dunn's Spycatcher (2011) and sequels.

Spy television and cinema[edit]


Much spy fiction was adapted as spy films in the 1960s, ranging from the fantastical James Bond series to the realistic The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), and the hybrid The Quiller Memorandum (1966). While Hamilton's Matt Helm novels were adult and well written, their cinematic interpretations were adolescent parody. This phenomenon spread widely in Europe in the 1960s and is known as the Eurospy genre.

English-language spy films of the 2000s include The Bourne Identity (2002), Mission: Impossible (1996); Munich (2005), Syriana (2005), and The Constant Gardener (2005).

Among the comedy films focusing on espionage are 1974's S*P*Y*S and 1985's Spies Like Us.


The American adaptation of Casino Royale (1954) featured Jimmy Bond in an episode of the Climax! anthology series. The narrative tone of television espionage ranged from the drama of Danger Man (1960–68) to the sardonicism of The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1964–68) and the flippancy of I Spy (1965–68) until the exaggeration, akin to that of William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim before the First World War (1914–18), degenerated to the parody of Get Smart (1965–70).

In 1973, Semyonov's novel Seventeen Moments of Spring (1968) was adapted to television as a twelve-part mini-series about the Soviet spy Maksim Isaev operating in wartime Nazi Germany as Max Otto von Stierlitz, charged with preventing a separate peace between Nazi Germany and America which would exclude the USSR. The programme TASS Is Authorized to Declare... also derives from his work.

However, the circle closed in the late 1970s when The Sandbaggers (1978–80) presented the grit and bureaucracy of espionage.

In the 1980s, US television featured the light espionage programmes Airwolf (1984–87) and MacGyver (1985–92), each rooted in the Cold War yet reflecting American citizens' distrust of their government, after the crimes of the Nixon Government (the internal, political espionage of the Watergate Scandal and the Vietnam War) were exposed. The spy heroes were independent of government; MacGyver, in later episodes and post-DXS employment, works for a non-profit, private think tank, and aviator Hawke and two friends work free-lance adventures. Although each series features an intelligence agency, the DXS in MacGyver, and the FIRM, in Airwolf, its agents could alternately serve as adversaries as well as allies for the heroes.

Television espionage programmes of the late 1990s to the early 2010s include La Femme Nikita (1997–2001), Alias (2001–2006), 24 (2001-2010, 2014), Spooks in the UK (release as MI-5 in the US and Canada) (2002-2011), CBBC's The Secret Show (2006-2011), NBC's Chuck (2007-2012), FX's Archer (2009–present), Burn Notice, Covert Affairs, Homeland and The Americans.

In 2015, Deutschland 83 is a German television series starring a 24-year-old native of East Germany who is sent to the West as an undercover spy for the HVA, the foreign intelligence agency of the Stasi.

For children and adolescents[edit]

In every medium, spy thrillers introduce children and adolescents to deception and espionage at earlier ages. The genre ranges from action-adventure, such as Chris Ryan's Alpha Force series, through the historical espionage dramas of Y. S. Lee, to the girl orientation of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series, beginning with I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You.

Leading examples include the Agent Cody Banks film, the Alex Rider adventure novels by Anthony Horowitz, and the CHERUB series, by Robert Muchamore. Ben Allsop, one of England's youngest novelists, also writes spy fiction. His titles include Sharp and The Perfect Kill.

Spy-related films that are aimed towards younger audiences include movies such as the Spy Kids series of films and The Spy Next Door.

Other authors writing for adolescents include A. J. Butcher, Joe Craig, Charlie Higson, Andy McNab and Francine Pascal.

Video games and theme parks[edit]

In contemporary digital video games, the player can be a vicarious spy, as in Team Fortress 2 and the Metal Gear series, especially in the series' third installment, Metal Gear Solid, unlike the games of the Third-Person Shooter genre, Syphon Filter, and Splinter Cell. The games feature complex stories and cinematic images. Games such as No One Lives Forever and the sequel No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way humorously combine espionage and 1960s design. Evil Genius, contemporary to NOLF series, allows the player to be the villain and its strategy occurs real-time.

The Deus Ex series, particularly Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, are also examples of spy fiction. Protagonist Adam Jensen must frequently use spycraft and stealth to obtain sensitive information for a variety of clients and associates.

The Spyland espionage theme park, in the Gran Scala pleasure dome, in Zaragoza province, Spain, opened in 2012.


Notable writers[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brett F. Woods, Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction (2008) online
  2. ^ Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Third Edition (1991) pp. 908–09.
  3. ^ Drabble, Margaret. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Sixth Edition (2000) pp. 962–63.
  4. ^ William C. Bendler, "The Bible as Literature", p. 55, 87, referencing The Book of Joshua, Ch. 2 and Ian Fleming's novel Golfinger.
  5. ^ Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms (1983) p. 95.
  6. ^ , Toby Miller, Spyscreen: Espionage on Film and TV from the 1930s to the 1960s Oxford University Press, 2003 ISBN 0-19-815952-8 p. 40-41
  7. ^ " Water On the Brain". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  8. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations".
  9. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 July 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Shane, Scott (15 March 2005). "Ex-Spies Tell It All". The New York Times.
  11. ^ https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol.-53-no.-3/pdfs/U-%20Bookshelf%2028-Sep2009-web.pdf


  • Aronoff, Myron J. The Spy Novels of John Le Carré: Balancing Ethics and Politics (1999).
  • Britton, Wesley. Spy Television. The Prager Television Collection. Series Ed. David Bianculli. Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2004. ISBN 0-275-98163-0.
  • Britton, Wesley. Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film. Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2005. ISBN 0-275-98556-3.
  • Britton, Wesley. Onscreen & Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage. Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006. ISBN 0-275-99281-0.
  • Cawelti, John G. The Spy Story (1987)
  • Priestman, Martin, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction (2003).

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