The best spy novels by Americans who really know the score

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a military historian and an author. To get inspiration for my writing, I spent 35 years in Special Forces (as a "Green Beret") and as a CIA officer in strange places working with interesting people. I first wrote non-fiction but I needed US Government approval for everything. So, following the saying “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,” I tell my tales as “faction”—stories reflecting a reality most people don’t know or understand. I write about “Us Versus Them”—stories about teamwork—and the result is The Snake Eater Chronicles. I leave it to the reader to decide where fact ends and fiction begins.

I wrote...

A Question of Time

By James Stejskal,

Book cover of A Question of Time

What is my book about?

When the East German secret police discovers they have a traitor in their midst a brutally efficient General Bruno Großmann leads the search to find him. 

General Max Fischer is that agent and realizes he is under suspicion after he determines that one of his sub-agents had been killed by Bruno. Not sure if his identity has been discovered but fearing arrest he contacts his handlers in the West to get him out. There’s only one problem, the Agency doesn’t have the capability and they must turn to the only people who can, the specialists of Special Forces Berlin. Master Sergeant Kim Becker and his team are chosen for the operation and they come up with a plan to get Fischer out of East Berlin and bring him to safety.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Tears of Autumn

James Stejskal Why did I love this book?

I love McCarry’s books because not only are they true to the genre, they are historically accurate (and often quite humorous).

Moreover, his spy “tradecraft” works because he was a deep-cover CIA officer—the ones who get shot if they’re caught. His characters are realistic, not supermen—they have feelings, fears, and families—and they struggle against enormous odds.

In Tears of Autumn, American spy Paul Christopher believes he knows who assassinated JFK, a theory that pits him against a Vietnamese family seeking revenge for the death of its patriarch, as well as his bosses in the CIA. To survive, Christopher must stay one step ahead of all of them in this totally plausible tale of political intrigue. 

By Charles McCarry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tears of Autumn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A re-release of the best-selling thriller originally published twenty years ago finds influential secret agent Paul Christopher pursuing a dangerous theory about the assassination of JFK, an investigation that threatens American foreign policy. By the author of Old Boys. 20,000 first printing.

Book cover of Muir's Gambit: A Spy Game Novel

James Stejskal Why did I love this book?

Muir’s Gambit is a prequel to Beckner’s blockbuster movie Spy Game (with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford). 

Not your traditional “spy thriller,” it follows a dark thematic arc of two spies, fueled by whisky and cigarettes, talking on the front porch of a beach house after the assassination of a comrade.

It is layered with a gritty (and sometimes absurdist) intellectual/philosophical study of the moral cost of living a life of lies. All in search of a truth that is hidden from everyone but one man.

Told with flashbacks to events in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Hong Kong, it is a story fraught with human emotion—love, heartbreak, grief, regret—and the fragility of memory. A story told with authentic tradecraft and serpentine strategy, it evokes—more than any other book I’ve read—the reality, challenges, and moral pitfalls of working in a clandestine intelligence organization.

Muirs Gambit is the 1st of a trilogy that is more than well worth the read.

Book cover of The Berlin Exchange

James Stejskal Why did I love this book?

Okay, I like almost anything that is set in Berlin because I lived and “worked” there during the Cold War, but Canon really brings it in this tightly woven story of Martin Keller, a hapless former convict who has been co-opted to work for the CIA in East Berlin.

From the first page, paranoia sets in, as it must on anyone working against the Communist regime of East Germany, when Keller embarks on his own agenda to save himself and, more importantly, the family he loves.

Kanon re-creates the tension of a divided Berlin while his well-drawn characters try to escape the clutches of a morally corrupt government. Kanon is simply one of the best.  

By Joseph Kanon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Berlin Exchange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A modern master at work' THE TIMES
'Heart-poundingly suspenseful' WASHINGTON POST
'Joseph Kanon owns this corner of the literary landscape' LEE CHILD

Berlin. 1963. The height of the Cold War and an early morning spy swap. On one side of the trade: Martin Keller, an American physicist who once made headlines, but who then disappeared into the English prison system. Keller's most critical possession: his American passport. Keller's most ardent desire: to see his ex-wife Sabine and their young son.

But Martin has questions: who asked for him? Who negotiated the deal? Just the KGB bringing home one of its…

Book cover of Damascus Station

James Stejskal Why did I love this book?

A newcomer to fiction, David McClosky is another “former” who infuses his storytelling with details only an insider would know.

He tells an excellent tale, diving deep into the fractured regime of Bashar al-Assad's Syria and showing what harm the nasty world of despots and the dark world of spying can wreak on souls. The story intertwines a forbidden love affair between a CIA officer and his agent with collecting intelligence on Syrian chemical weapons and Washington bureaucrats trying to decide what to do next.

It is an excellent representation of what it’s like to serve in a denied area and, having served in Damascus, I can say the scenery is accurate, the personalities are spot on, and the tradecraft is good. I’m looking forward to Moscow X.

By David McCloskey,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Damascus Station as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

CIA case officer Sam Joseph is dispatched to Paris to recruit Syrian Palace official Mariam Haddad. The two fall into a forbidden relationship, which supercharges Haddad's recruitment and creates unspeakable danger when they enter Damascus to find the man responsible for the disappearance of an American spy.

But the cat and mouse chase for the killer soon leads to a trail of high-profile assassinations and the discovery of a dark secret at the heart of the Syrian regime, bringing the pair under the all-seeing eyes of Assad's spy catcher, Ali Hassan, and his brother Rustum, the head of the feared…

Book cover of Night Soldiers

James Stejskal Why did I love this book?

Another master, Alan Furst’s 1st novel (of 15 so far) is a great place to start. His stories are so well researched you might think you were reading a travel guide.

Filled with intricate details of the conflict between Russia and Germany as World War II begins, Khristo Stoianev is a young man recruited to work for the Russian secret service, the NKVD. From his recruitment in Bulgaria through training and successive secret missions, Khristo must survive not only the Nazis, but his own employers, who decide he too must be killed.

Furst builds both the pace and tension as Khristo fights his way across Europe trying to escape. Relentless.  

By Alan Furst,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Night Soldiers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin's purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934-45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944. Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic novel, a…

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By Rebecca Hartt,

Book cover of Returning to Eden

Rebecca Hartt Author Of Rising From Ashes

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Idealistic Storyteller Teacher Mother Seeker

Rebecca's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Looking for clean romantic suspense with spiritual undertones?

Look no further than the Acts of Valor series by Rebecca Hartt. With thousands of reviews and 4.7-5.0 stars per book, this 6-book series is a must-read for readers searching for memorable, well-told stories by an award-winning author.

A dead man stands on her doorstep.

When the Navy wrote off her MIA husband as dead, Eden came to terms with being a widow. But now, her Navy SEAL husband is staring her in the face. Eden knows she should be over-the-moon, but she isn’t.

Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has no recollection of their fractured marriage, no memory of Eden nor her fourteen-year-old daughter. Still, he feels a connection to both.

Unfit for active duty and assigned to therapy, Jonah knows he has work to do and relies on God, who sustained him during captivity, to heal his mind, body, and hopefully his family.

But as the memories lurking in his wife's haunted eyes and behind his daughter's uncertain smile begin to return to him, Jonah makes another discovery. There is treachery in the highest ranks of his Team, treachery that not only threatens him but places his new-found family in its crosshairs.

Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

What is this book about?

Presumed Dead, Navy SEAL Returns Without Memory of His Ordeal in the Christian Romantic Suspense, Returning to Eden, by Rebecca Hartt

-- Present Day, Virginia Beach, Virginia --

A dead man stands at Eden Mills' door.

Declared MIA a year prior, the Navy wrote him off as dead. Now, Eden's husband, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has returned after three years to disrupt her tranquility. Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, he has no recollection of their marriage or their fourteen-year-old step-daughter. Still, Eden accepts her obligation to nurse Jonah back to health while secretly longing to regain her freedom, despite the…

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