The best books on the Gothic-espionage connection

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a writer based in Wisconsin. I write in a genre that exists much like its subjects: lurking in the shadows. It's something I call Gothic Espionage, which is the intersection of the Gothic and Espionage/Spy genres. My first novel, Bite of the Wolf, was the first synthesis of these two worlds, and continues with the follow up, slated for release in September, Operation Frankenstein. Appropriately enough, spies are often referred to as “spooks,” and these selections will highlight both the spooky and the spooks of Gothic Espionage, and I’ll highlight why both horror and spy novels can both be described as “thrillers.”


I wrote...

Bite of the Wolf

By Wade Walker,

Book cover of Bite of the Wolf

What is my book about?

When a veteran secret agent finds himself bitten by a werewolf, he must unravel the deadly secrets of the werewolf that bit him. Will he stop this mysterious monster’s diabolical plans in time and find a cure? Will the building romance between agent Val West and archaeologist Tanya Nimble live or die? Find out in the sensational suspensory overload, Bite of the Wolf.

What if a cultured superspy was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen? What would happen to him? How would this be used by his spy agency superiors? I wanted to know, so I wrote it and I hope other readers will find the answers I discovered to be to their enjoyment, whether they be lovers of the Gothic, lovers of spy thriller adventures, or both.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dracula

Wade Walker Why did I love this book?

The king of vampires, and arguably the king of Gothic, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, at minimum, a classic representation of the Gothic. It is also an espionage tale underneath.

Although not elaborated in great detail (it is however, in the Swedish translation/interpretation of Dracula, titled Powers of Darkness), Count Dracula has a world domination plot he intends to enact. The details are vague but do seem to involve the numerous coffins he has placed around London. Are these all for him or for the legion of the undead he is creating, starting with female protagonist Mina Harker’s best friend Lucy?

Other espionage elements mixed in are main protagonist Jonathan Harker’s trip to Transylvania as a solicitor for the mysterious Count Dracula. In the espionage story sense, his “mission” as a solicitor could have been a cover (like James Bond) or truer to the Harker character, an innocent man caught in the web of a spy plot (as in Richard Hannay of The Thirty-Nine Steps). Like Bond and many other spy characters, Harker also finds himself imprisoned by his insincerely polite host.

Then there’s Mina’s own spying, which is essentially psychic in nature, having been derived from her connection to Dracula after being bitten and taken under his thrall. Finally, the climax involves a suspenseful chase across land and sea for the final confrontation.

Dracula is a perfect example of the tropes of both genres mixing and interacting to create a driving memorable storytelling filled with horror, action, and suspense.

By Bram Stoker,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked Dracula as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 17.

What is this book about?

'The very best story of diablerie which I have read for many years' Arthur Conan Doyle

A masterpiece of the horror genre, Dracula also probes identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire. It begins when Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, and makes horrifying discoveries in his client's castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England - an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his 'Master' - and a determined group of adversaries…


Book cover of On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Wade Walker Why did I love this book?

A man is sent to visit a mysterious count in his secluded mountaintop fortress, where a diabolical plot unfolds, involving an attack on England using his Angels of Death, women under his hypnotic command. The man finds himself slowly becoming a prisoner, leading to his planning an escape and a race to stop the Count’s plot from unfolding.

Sound familiar? It is, essentially, the plot of Dracula. It is also the plot of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the tenth James Bond novel. If Count Dracula is the king of vampires, then James Bond is inarguably the king of spies.

By Ian Fleming,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Her Majesty's Secret Service as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2002 Penguin PB ed. Blue and black jacket. James Bond shiver and shakes SPECTRE at Stavro Blofeld's arctic base.


Book cover of Frankenstein

Wade Walker Why did I love this book?

Mary Shelly’s Gothic classic also shares many common spy elements, which is interesting as, due to its film representations and pop culture status, long been a companion/bookend to Dracula.

While the spy connections aren’t as strong as in some of my other selections, there are other aspects that do qualify it, the international travel being part of it. From the “megalomaniacal villain with a conspiratorial plot” side of things, it could be taken that Victor Frankenstein’s desire to create a new race that would look to him as its creator echoes some of what would later become a supervillain or even Nazi-type trope.

The Monster does plenty of spying of his own throughout, from the benign spying on the family he learns from and helps for a time, to spying on Frankenstein and his attempts to create a bride for the monster and other points along the way. In addition, there are numerous murders and frameups which involve conspiracies of a more intimate nature between Victor and the Monster, as well as a chase between the two leading to the climax.

By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Frankenstein as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the BBC's '100 Novels That Shaped Our World'

'That rare story to pass from literature into myth' The New York Times

Mary Shelley's chilling Gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley on Lake Geneva. The story of Victor Frankenstein who, obsessed with creating life itself, plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, but whose botched creature sets out to destroy his maker, would become the world's most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity. Based on the third…


Book cover of Varney the Vampire

Wade Walker Why did I love this book?

A precursor to Dracula, and largely forgotten today in the mainstream, the globe-hopping adventures of Varney bring to mind many spy adventure tales.

In this novel, one of the original “penny dreadfuls” the episodic tone (due to its original publication as a continuing weekly serial from 1845-1847), contributes to the espionage feel, especially as Varney takes on a cover as “Baron Stolmuyer Saltsburgh” in order to further his activities.

Also notable is, among the other vampiric Gothic traits displayed by Varney, he is also able to be revived by moonlight, a trope which is now more attributed to werewolves.

By James Malcolm Rymer, Thomas Peckett Prest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Varney the Vampire (1847) is a penny dreadful novel by British writers James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest. Originally serialized in cheap volumes, the novel introduced some of the most recognizable tropes of vampire fiction still used today, including the depiction of fangs and the use of a Gothic setting. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Varney the Vampire is a story of tragedy, damnation, and revenge that pioneered many of the themes common to horror and pulp fiction today. Sir Francis Varney was condemned to an eternity of vampiric life following his actions during the reign of Oliver Cromwell.…


Book cover of The Third Man

Wade Walker Why did I love this book?

Spies, a mysterious death with what could be construed as a “ghostly” sighting, and an atmosphere that could be considered modern Gothic. This is the setup of Graham Greene’s The Third Man.

Under the backdrop of darkness and devastation which was still lingering in postwar Vienna, Greene shows it as a once beautiful city cast in a foggy pall, the cursed cloud of death hanging over it, which also happens to the characters in the story. The Third Man mixes the dread of Gothic and the unfolding suspense and paranoia involving the shadowy people in a shadowy world of espionage in a memorable, haunting fashion.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Third Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rollo Martins' usual line is the writing of cheap paperback Westerns under the name of Buck Dexter. But when his old friend Harry Lime invites him to Vienna, he jumps at the chance. With exactly five pounds in his pocket, he arrives only just in time to make it to his friend's funeral. The victim of an apparently banal street accident, the late Mr. Lime, it seems, had been the focus of a criminal investigation, suspected of nothing less than being "the worst racketeer who ever made a dirty living in this city." Martins is determined to clear his friend's…


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Book cover of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

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