The best underrated gems by master spy/thriller writers

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

By Allen Kent,

Book cover of The Shield of Darius

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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Absolute Friends

Allen Kent Why did I love 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. 

By John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'One of his most enthralling creations' Daily Telegraph

Broke and working as a tour guide in Germany, rootless Englishman Ted Mundy catches a glimpse of an old friend hiding in the shadows. A friend he thought was lost to him. A friend who took him from radical 1960s Berlin to life as a double agent. Now, decades later, the Cold War is over and the war on terror has begun. Sasha has another mission for them both, but this time it is impossible to tell the difference between allies - and enemies.

Set in a world of lies and shifting…

Book cover of On Wings of Eagles

Allen Kent Why did I love 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.

By Ken Follett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On Wings of Eagles is the thrilling novel based on the incredible real-life rescue of two Americans by a Green Beret colonel and a group of corporate executives from revolutionary Iran, from number one bestseller Ken Follett.

A Terrifying Prison
As Iran descends into revolution, two Americans get caught up in the upheaval. They are captured and held in a heavily guarded fortress. Their situation is desperate, with the US government refusing to get them out. But all hope is not lost . . .

A Daring Rescue
This is the fictionalised real-life story of a Green Beret colonel, who…

Book cover of The Fist of God

Allen Kent Why did I love 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.  

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Fist of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From behind-the-scenes decision making of the Allies to the secret meeting of Saddam Hussein's war cabinet, from the brave American fliers running dangerous missions over Iraq to a heroic young spy planted deep in the heart of Baghdad, Forsyths incomparable storytelling keeps the suspense at a breakneck pace.

Peopled with vivid characters, brilliantly displaying the intricacies of intelligence operations moving back and forth between Washington and London, Baghdad and Kuwait, and revealing espionage tradecraft as only Frederick Forsyth can, The Fist of God tells the utterly convincing story of what may actually have happened behind the headlines.

Book cover of The Matarese Circle

Allen Kent Why did I love 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. 

By Robert Ludlum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A former director of the KGB and the West's most professional assassin join forces against a common enemy, the Matarese Circle.

Book cover of The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment

Allen Kent Why did I love 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.  

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

He was sent to England to buy coal - at almost any price. Failure meant defeat - defeat of a continental government with a civil war on its hands. And this man carried the war with him, trusted by no man, trusting nobody.

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Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The plan was insane. The trap seemed to snap shut on Bruce and Maggie Tate, an isolation forced on them by the pandemic and America's growing political factionalism. Something had to change.

Maggie's surprising answer: buy a boat, learn to pilot it, and embark on the Great Loop. With no experience, and knowing little about seafaring, diesel motors, or navigation, Maggie, Bruce, and the family dog decided to take on the six-thousand-mile journey down inland rivers, around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and across the Great Lakes. They would have to navigate canals, rivers, seas, and locks. But along the way, they made new lifelong friends and were forever changed.

For nine months, Bruce and Maggie navigated shallow rivers, bottomless lakes, joy, and loss. Against all odds, they conquered the Great Loop, and along the way, found common cause across political divides with new friends while blowing the walls off their world.

Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

  • Coming soon!

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