The best underrated gems by master spy/thriller writers

Allen Kent Author Of The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)
By Allen Kent

Who am I?

Four of my formative years were spent in Iran and England where I became intrigued by the history and politics that shaped the Middle East. An avid reader, I was intrigued by how effectively international thrillers, particularly those by British authors, captured the mystery, complexity, and murky ambiguities of global politics. When I launched a second career as a writer, I committed to using international thrillers as a vehicle for exposing readers to other peoples and cultures and to the unending moral dilemmas that shape our political world. My aspiration is to present those stories as effectively and provocatively as the five writers recommended in my list! 

I wrote...

The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)

By Allen Kent, Jillian Farnsworth (illustrator),

Book cover of The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)

What is my book about?

In this first novel in Allen Kent’s gripping Unit 1 Thriller Series, businessman Benjamin Sager is abducted while vacationing with his family in Europe, awakening in a small cell occupied only by another captive American. As Sager struggles to determine where he is and why he is being held, Chris Falen, an agent of the CIA’s covert Unit 1 team, uncovers a disturbing pattern of unexplained American tourist disappearances, seemingly vanishing without a trace.

A timely and relevant thriller, The Shield of Darius explores the complexities and ambiguities of global politics while taking the reader on a heart-stopping dive into the maze of international espionage and political intrigue. Falen’s investigation of the missing Americans and Sager’s desperate will to survive collide head-on as both are drawn into the deadly web of the Shield of Darius.

The books I picked & why

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Absolute Friends

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of Absolute Friends

Why this book?

I am a devout LeCar fan and find him both a master writer and storyteller—perhaps the most “literary” of the great spy/thriller authors. A later and often overlooked LeCar gem, published in 2003, Absolute Friends details in captivating prose the development over four decades of British double-agent Ted Mundy and his friend (handler) Sasha. You can’t read LeCarré without getting the feeling that he really understood how the whole clandestine community operated! Absolute Friends is one of LeCarré’s most revealing in terms of his own attitudes about espionage, political ideologies, and their moral ambiguities. 

On Wings of Eagles

By Ken Follett,

Book cover of On Wings of Eagles

Why this book?

I spent several of my teen years living in Iran, so had a personal interest in what happened to Americans during and after the Shah’s removal from power. Although Follett is best known for his epic Kingsbridge Series and thrillers such as Eye of the Needle, this non-fiction piece is as tense and engaging as much of his fiction. It details the efforts of a team assembled by Ross Perot to rescue two of his top EDS executives from Iranian captivity after a series of diplomatic efforts fail. Though this isn’t Follett’s finest prose and does seem to lionize Ross Perot, it is a great example of how factual tales of courage and ingenuity can be as engaging as the best thriller fiction. The descriptions of Tehran and the Iran/Turkish frontier are spot-on.

The Fist of God

By Frederick Forsyth,

Book cover of The Fist of God

Why this book?

Though not Forsyth’s best-known thriller, The Fist of God is reputedly his favorite. I credit this to the fascinating complexity of the storylines, one subplot after another intricately woven together, and to the way this complexity mirrors the time and circumstance of its setting: the first Gulf War. Forsyth’s vision of the mysterious weapon of mass destruction is a supergun, innocently developed by a Western engineer, but repurposed by the Iraqis as a means to launch a massive gas attack against an invading force. Though The Day of the Jackal has always been a political thriller favorite of mine, after reading The Fist of God I was inclined to agree with Forsyth that this may be his best.  

The Matarese Circle

By Robert Ludlum,

Book cover of The Matarese Circle

Why this book?

It’s too easy when reading Ludlum to get caught up in the Bourne Trilogy and overlook the author’s other great political thrillers. For me, The Matarese Circle best captures a theme that appears in most of Ludlum’s work – “We shouldn’t always trust our own intelligence community.”  

In The Matarese Circle, two disaffected covert agents—one American and one Soviet—team up to identify members of an international league of assassins bent on achieving world domination to promote commercial gain. This corpse-laden, globetrotting chase is one of Ludlum’s finest. 

The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment

Why this book?

Graham Greene is another master craftsman of thriller novels that explore political, moral, and ethical ambiguities in a way that both entertains and provokes. Better known for Our Man in Havana, Greene was sufficiently uncomfortable with The Confidential Agent that he wanted it published under a pseudonym. Yet I agree with critics that this tale of a foreign agent’s covert efforts to buy British coal to fuel a European civil war is among his best. Greene reputedly wrote it in six weeks, assisted by a diet of amphetamines and an affair with his landlady’s daughter, giving the novel a pace and rawness that reflect its creation.  

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