The best books about spies in strange places

Tone Milazzo Author Of The Faith Machine
By Tone Milazzo

Who am I?

Spies are everywhere across the panorama of fictional tropes, in fantasy, science fiction, horror, and historical fiction. Spies are like salt. No matter the genre, drop a little espionage into the mix, and it tastes better. There’s an inherent complexity to a spy, a dichotomy baked into the profession, simultaneously a criminal and an agent of the government. A spy could be a one-man-army, a smooth-talker, or someone inside your computer network, but no matter who they really are, they’re never who they seem. The spy plays with identity, loyalty, and integrity in ways that the worst of us do but is safely compartmentalized in fiction for our enjoyment.

I wrote...

The Faith Machine

By Tone Milazzo,

Book cover of The Faith Machine

What is my book about?

It started with The Men Who Stare at Goats, Jon Ronson's non-fiction book about Cold War psychic warfare programs. It had me wondering; The US Army trained psychic soldiers for the future of combat, are these programs still going on? If the phenomenon is real, individuals must be self-taught or bestowed with the same abilities. So why don't we see their abilities on public display?

Meanwhile, two new political movements blossomed and died. The Tea Party was coopted by the Republican Party, and Occupy Wall Street crushed by federal law enforcement. That's how old powers deal with new powers, assimilation, or assassination. And spies have ever been the servants of power. If there were psychics, they'd be given a choice; join the spies or die.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Three Days to Never: A Novel

Why did I love this book?

Tim Powers is my #1 role model. His secret history novels take a figure or incident from history that happens to be surrounded by unexplained weirdness, then explain all these strange, loose threads through the supernatural. His work scratches the itch for both history buffs and the (harmlessly) conspiracy-minded.

To call Three Days to Never a supernatural thriller would be reductionist. Powers casts a wide net when gathering story elements; Einstein’s fictional, time-traveling family is the centerpiece, but Mossad agents, a collective of magicians, and Charlie Chaplin’s legacy are all thrown into the mix. All are seeking the secret to time travel.

Powers writes free from the limitations of the genre. Breaking the boundaries imposed by marketing and showing the reader what’s possible when the imagination is unbound.

By Tim Powers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Three Days to Never as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three Days to Never by Tim Powers is a whip-smart scientific thriller cum fantasy novel that posits: what happened to Albert Enistein’s scientific discoveries that haven’t been unveiled? The answer lies in a old Charlie Chaplin movie, the Mossad, and an ancient European faction that will go to any lengths to keep past sins secret.

A young tween and her college professor father must quickly unveil the mystery of a potential weapon more deadly than an atomic bomb or our world—past, present, and future will be destroyed.

In this edition that includes additional insights from the author, background material, suggestions…

Book cover of Mind MGMT Omnibus Part 1

Why did I love this book?

I became aware of Mind MGMT during the first draft of my book. Its success affirmed that an audience for psychic thrillers did exist. But I put off reading this 6-volume comic series until I finished my novel. It’s good to feel encouraged, it’s another to feel beaten to the punch.

Super-hero tropes dominate the American comic medium. The story elements of weekly world salvation, good guys vs bad guys, stagnate character development, and the artistic choices; idealized anatomy, fine lines, and bright colors appeal to a younger male gaze.

By all these standards, Mind MGMT stands apart. In this morally ambiguous story of psychic spies, Matt Kindt’s illustrations are raw and sketchy, complimented by his choice to color the pages with watercolor rather than digital inks.

By Matt Kindt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mind MGMT Omnibus Part 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This globe-spanning tale of espionage explores the adventures of a journalist investigating the mystery of a commercial flight where everyone aboard loses their memories

Meru's obsession with Flight 815 leads her to a much bigger story of a top-secret government Mind MGMT program. Her ensuing journey involves weaponized psychics, hypnotic advertising, talking dolphins, and seemingly immortal pursuers, as she hunts down the flight's missing passenger, the man who was Mind MGMT's greatest success--and its most devastating failure. But in a world where people can rewrite reality itself, can she trust anything she sees?
Collects the first two volumes of the…


By Hannu Rajaniemi,

Book cover of Summerland

Why did I love this book?

If you’ve chafed at the limitations of scale by these suggestions, this is the book for you.

All the stories on this list, including my own, take pains to couch the supernatural in such a way that the political, social, and economical natural orders are not threatened by the introduction of speculative elements. Not in Summerland.

Their pseudo-science real, Victorian spiritualists find a way to the afterlife and back. Within decades the strange, alien city on the other side is flooded with the principles of industry, commerce, and espionage.

Taking place between the World Wars, the existence of Summerland, and the technologies that unfold from its discovery change the landscape of pre-World War II Europe, but not the inevitability of human nature.

By Hannu Rajaniemi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"It reads like John Le Carré if Le Carré ate a ton of acid before writing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy..." —NPR on Summerland

From Hannu Rajaniemi, one of the most exciting science fiction writers in the last decade, comes an awe-inspiring account of the afterlife and what happens when it spills over into the world of the living

Loss is a thing of the past. Murder is obsolete. Death is just the beginning.

In 1938, death is no longer feared but exploited. Since the discovery of the afterlife, the British Empire has extended its reach into Summerland, a metropolis for…

Book cover of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography

Why did I love this book?

If you’re too young to remember The Gong Show, it was the American Idol of its day. Equally as fake, but upfront about its fraudulent nature.

Back on the subject of pushing genre boundaries, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is Chuck Barris’ “unauthorized autobiography.” Get your head around that concept. Barris was the producer/host of both The Gong Show and The Dating Game. If that doesn’t sound like a full slate, Barris claims he was a CIA assassin during this time.

Say you wrote an autobiography, but it lacks in the excitement department. Say you also wrote a spy novel, but it came in at half the length a publisher’s looking for. A great solution for both problems; mash them together!

By Chuck Barris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Suspense, excess, danger and exuberant fun come together in Chuck Barris' unlikely autobiography - the tale of a wildly flamboyant 1970s television producer, better known as the infamous host of The Gong Show. What most people don't know is that Barris allegedly spent close to two decades as a decorated covert assassin for the CIA.

Barris, who achieved tremendous success as the creator and producer of hit TV game shows such as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, claims to have joined the CIA as an agent in the early 1960s, infiltrated the Civil Rights Movement, met with militant…

Book cover of The Men Who Stare at Goats

Why did I love this book?

Set in the height of the Cold War, The Men Who Stare at Goats is the story of the US Army’s psychic warfare unit, the First Earth Battalion. These self-declared “warrior monks” trained in remote viewing and aspired to psychic slay capra with the force of their concentration.

Unlike the rest of the books on my list, The Men Who Stare at Goats is non-fiction. The bulk of the material in these pages are interviews with people in the First Earth Battalion.

Reading this book made me question the reality of psychic phenomena. Is there something to it? Or was this the result of a Soviet PSYOP (psychological operation, not psychic operation) to make the American military-industrial complex waste a lot of money?

By Jon Ronson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Men Who Stare at Goats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Often funny, sometimes chilling and always thought-provoking, journalist Jon Ronson's Sunday Times bestseller The Men Who Stare at Goats is a story so unbelievable it has to be true.

In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the US Army. Defying all known military practice - and indeed the laws of physics - they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them.

They were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back and…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in espionage, spies, and conspiracies?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about espionage, spies, and conspiracies.

Espionage Explore 502 books about espionage
Spies Explore 527 books about spies
Conspiracies Explore 37 books about conspiracies