The best fiction and nonfiction books about spies

Alan Cook Author Of East of the Wall
By Alan Cook

The Books I Picked & Why

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

By Marthe Cohn, Wendy Holden

Book cover of Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Why this book?

Marthe Cohn played a major role in the final year of World War II, spying for the French troops in Germany. She grew up in Metz, France speaking flawless French and German, and became a spy when members of her family and friends were tortured and killed. Faced with death many times, she survived to be decorated by the French government and finally told the story to her children. She lived for many years in Palos Verdes, California, where I live. When I heard her speak, I couldn’t believe that a woman who never reached five feet could have done all the things she did.

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Agent in Place

By Helen MacInnes

Book cover of Agent in Place

Why this book?

Published in 1976, this book has aged well. We are still spying on Russia, and Russia is still spying on us. Spy stories are often travelogues. This book starts in New York and Washington but then goes to France, not far from Monaco and Nice. That interested me since I've been to all of those places. The plot involves the theft of sensitive documents engineered by a Russian spy who is the agent in place of the title. People get killed, but most of the violence is off-screen. One of the interesting facets of the book is descriptions of tradecraft--showing how spies preserve their covers and prevent their enemies from unmasking them. There is also a detailed description of planning and executing a caper designed to fool the enemy.  

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Spy/Counterspy: The Autobiography of Dusko Popov

By Dusko Popov

Book cover of Spy/Counterspy: The Autobiography of Dusko Popov

Why this book?

Dusko Popov may or may not have been a model for James Bond, but he did know Ian Fleming. He was also one of the most effective double agents in World War II. His greatest accomplishment was helping to fool the Germans about the location of the D-Day landing. Popov had conclusive evidence that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor months before it happened. He told FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, because the US didn't have an effective spy system yet, but Hoover wasn’t interested. After the war ended, Popov searched for his best friend who had been captured by the Germans, with surprising results. Good for history junkies like me, it contains facts not present in other histories of the War.

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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

By Anna Funder

Book cover of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Why this book?

This book was a very important source of information for me while I wrote East of the Wall. The Stasi was the policing component of the Soviet government of East Germany from after World War II until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. They recruited informers by various means, including some very ugly ones, to feed them private information about all the residents of East Germany and even some of the residents of West Berlin. They read people's mail and used wiretaps of phone lines to collect information also. All this information was recorded in miles of paper records. When the wall came down the Stasi burned out hundreds of shredders attempting to get rid of them. In today’s world, unfortunately, governments use computers to do the same thing.

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Midnight in Europe

By Alan Furst

Book cover of Midnight in Europe

Why this book?

This is a good book to read if you want to know what it felt like to be in France or other European countries in 1938 before the start of World War II when my father was saying how bad Hitler was but people didn’t believe it. Bad things were already happening and much worse things were to come. In some places you couldn't trust anybody because everybody could be a spy. People who lived in France and didn't want to leave had to face the fact that if they didn't they might lose their freedom and their lives. Franco was leading a revolution to take over Spain, and he had help from the Axis powers. This is an excellent spy novel with an accurate historical setting.

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