The most recommended books about undercover operations

Who picked these books? Meet our 28 experts.

28 authors created a book list connected to undercover operations, and here are their favorite undercover operation books.
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What type of undercover operation book?


Book cover of Camino Island

Rosemary Kubli Author Of Gullible

From my list on crime novels about good people who do bad things.

Why am I passionate about this?

Mystery and crime novels have always been my favorite genre. I love the suspense and intrigue, the intricate storylines, and the clever plot twists. In middle school, while my friends were reading more age-appropriate books, I was reading The Godfather and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Is it any wonder then that Siena Ricci, the main character of my debut novel Gullible, is a shrewd and cunning female con artist? I had so much fun developing Siena’s story arc and creating the criminal world she inhabits that I decided to continue her narrative in a sequel, with plans for a third novel to round out the trilogy. 

Rosemary's book list on crime novels about good people who do bad things

Rosemary Kubli Why did Rosemary love this book?

I’ll devour any novel by Grisham, and I love that he took a departure from his standard legal thrillers to pen a story about the theft of rare books and the man suspected of selling them on the black market.

The hook is Mercer Mann, the young novelist who’s not only suffering from writer’s block but she’s also just been canned from her job. How can Mercer possibly turn down the mysterious woman who offers her a hefty fee to work undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s illegal operation? 

Grisham’s flawless storytelling had me looking at the world through Mercer Mann’s eyes and pondering what choice I would have made if I were in her shoes.

By John Grisham,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

***The Sunday Times 'Thriller of the Month', Mail on Sunday 'Thriller of the Week' and Sun 'Best for Mystery-Lovers'***

Someone is about to make a killing

The most daring and devastating heist in literary history targets a high security vault located deep beneath Princeton University.

Valued at $25 million (though some would say priceless) the five manuscripts of F Scott Fitzgerald's only novels are amongst the most valuable in the world. After an initial flurry of arrests, both they and the ruthless gang of thieves who took them have vanished without trace.

Now it falls to struggling writer Mercer Mann…

Book cover of Forbidden City

Alysa Wishingrad Author Of The Verdigris Pawn

From my list on for chess lovers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love games; board games, card games, head games*; any kind of situation in which employing strategy is the only way forward. And yet, I’m not a big game player—aside from word games. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the mechanisms of power and how societies arrange themselves. The marriage between writing and understanding politics (in the traditional, not the partisan sense) is my true north. Writing a book in which a chess-like game provides the foundation felt inevitable for me, for what game better explores the dynamics of power and strategy? *I don’t play head games, but I do find manipulation fascinating fodder for writing.

Alysa's book list on for chess lovers

Alysa Wishingrad Why did Alysa love this book?

Let me begin by saying that if you haven’t yet read the first two books in the City Spies series, please get on it. Packed with adventure, fantastic characters, and brilliant plots twists, the entire series is a complete treat. As with the two previous installments, the book follows a diverse group of international kids who’ve been brought together to keep the world safe from the nefarious Umbra, a secret organization bent on world domination. The plot of this adventure revolves around team member, Paris, when he’s sent undercover to an international chess tournament to keep tabs on the son of a North Korean nuclear physicist. Like a well-played game of chess, the story relies on clever tactics, keen insights into your opponent, and good old-fashioned strategy.

By James Ponti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forbidden City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

In this third “thrilling” (Kirkus Reviews) installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies help a fellow agent in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

After taking down a mole within their organization, the City Spies are ready for their next mission—once again using their unique skills and ability to infiltrate places adults can’t. The sinister Umbra has their sights set on recruiting a North Korean nuclear physicist by any means necessary, and the City Spies plan to keep…

Book cover of Billy Summers

Vaughn C. Hardacker Author Of Ripped Off

From Vaughn's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Driven to write Loyal

Vaughn's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Vaughn C. Hardacker Why did Vaughn love this book?

In this departure from horror, King has penned a truly entertaining crime thriller.

His protagonist is much like that in my latest book. He’s a hitman who has ethics and only shoots bad people. The characters are strong, unique, and, most importantly, human. Unlike many protagonists, Billy Summers has flaws, doubts, and worries.

The book engrossed me and kept me up all night. King captures the essence of life in small-town America and has a great mix of both psychological and physical action. I look forward to more of this type work from one of our most prolific writers.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Master storyteller Stephen King, whose “restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained” (The New York Times Book Review), presents an unforgettable and relentless #1 New York Times bestseller about a good guy in a bad job.

Chances are, if you’re a target of Billy Summers, two immutable truths apply: You’ll never even know what hit you, and you’re really getting what you deserve. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business—but he’ll do the job only if the assignment is a truly bad person. But now, time is catching up with him, and Billy wants…

Book cover of Sirens

Russ Thomas Author Of Nighthawking

From my list on crime novels set in the grim North of England.

Why am I passionate about this?

There’s a saying in England: It’s grim up north! Largely used pejoratively (by the south), it’s true to say it is generally colder and wetter, the landscape more unforgiving, the people – friendlier in my opinion – are more outspoken and candid. The cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, with their declining industries and rising unemployment, provide fertile ground for crime writers. So when I started my own series following the investigations of DS Adam Tyler and his cold case team it didn’t take long to settle on my adopted home of Sheffield as the setting. Be warned: we’re a long way from the sleepy villages of Agatha Christie here.

Russ' book list on crime novels set in the grim North of England

Russ Thomas Why did Russ love this book?

The first in Knox’s Manchester-set Detective Aidan Waits series, Sirens sees disgraced cop Waits looking to redeem himself by rescuing the teenage daughter of a prominent politician. Waits finds himself forced into an undercover operation to infiltrate the shady world of Zain Carver, an enigmatic figure who lures young women into his world only for them to disappear. Dark, gritty, and gruesome, this is Northern Noir at its best.

By Joseph Knox,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Brooding, blistering. Sirens is a remarkable literary thriller, perfect for fans of Ian Rankin and James Lee Burke' AJ Finn, author of The Woman in the Window


I stopped going to work. I went missing. We still live in a world where you can disappear if you want to. Or even if you don't.

Detective Aidan Waits is in trouble

After a career-ending mistake, he's forced into a nightmare undercover operation that his superiors don't expect him to survive.

Isabelle Rossiter has run away again

When the teenage daughter of a prominent MP joins Zain…

Book cover of Hot Season

Aimee Hoben Author Of The Third Way

From my list on activism to inspire and mobilize.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began as an activist in high school, knocking on doors to enlist support for clean water and air, and more recently, for my favorite candidates for local, state, and federal office. Some of my most meaningful work was as a lawyer and volunteer on land conservation deals for an agricultural land trust. Fiction has an amazing power to recharge us and to shift our perspectives to imagine the world differently. My favorite books are always ones that teach me something interesting. My recent activism has been motivated by my frustration with our political process, including the 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United declaring corporations to be “persons” under the law.

Aimee's book list on activism to inspire and mobilize

Aimee Hoben Why did Aimee love this book?

This story about three restless college students at a liberal arts enclave in the southwestern desert who become embroiled in a protest to stop a pipeline reminded me of my days as a malcontent at the University of Colorado Boulder. When the FBI comes to town in pursuit of an alum wanted for “politically motivated crimes of property,” rumor has it that undercover agents are enrolled in classes, making the college dating scene that much stranger. The characters variously discover a passion for activism, the seduction of the unknown, and their own voices. This book is fun, interesting, and evocative. 

By Susan DeFreitas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the tinder-dry Southwest, three roommates—students at Deep Canyon College, known for its radical politics—are looking for love, adventure, and the promise of a bigger life that led them West.

But when the FBI comes to town in pursuit of an alum wanted for “politically motivated crimes of property,” rumor has it that undercover agents are enrolled in classes, making the college dating scene just a bit more sketchy than usual.

Katie, an incoming freshman, will discover a passion for activism that will put her future in jeopardy; Jenna, in her second semester, will find herself seduced by deception; and…

Book cover of Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

Danny Orbach Author Of Fugitives: A History of Nazi Mercenaries During the Cold War

From my list on covert operations making your blood boil.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an Israeli military historian, addicted to stories on the unusual, mysterious and unknown. While many of my fellow scholars are interested in the daily and the mundane, I have taken a very different course. Since childhood, I've been fascinated by decisions human beings make in times of crisis, war, and other situations of partial knowledge and moral ambiguity. Therefore, I wrote on coups d’etat, military undergrounds, covert operations, and espionage. After graduating with a PhD from Harvard University, I began teaching world military history, modern Japanese history, and the history of espionage at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For me, reading about covert operations is both a hobby and a profession.

Danny's book list on covert operations making your blood boil

Danny Orbach Why did Danny love this book?

The life of a spy is psychologically difficult as he must keep loyalty to his own country, while secretly blending in with that of the enemy. For the Middle Eastern Jews who spied for Israel during its war of independence, the heroes of Matti Friedman’s excellent book, life was even more difficult, by upbringing and background their identity was interwoven with that of the enemy. In this book, Friedman follows these spies and covert warriors through a breathless sequence of assassinations and espionage operations against the Arab foes besieging Israel from all sides. Aside from being taken over by the plot, I love this book because it raises intriguing questions of identity during times of crisis and war, still relevant in the turbulent region of the Middle East and beyond. 

By Matti Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spies of No Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Wondrous . . . Compelling . . . Piercing.” —The New York Times Book Review

Award-winning writer Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff—but it’s all true.

Journalist and award-winning author Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies reads like an espionage novel--but it’s all true. The four agents at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine.…

Book cover of Box 88

Aly Monroe Author Of The Maze of Cadiz

From my list on how people become spies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Looking at photographs after my father died, when still living in Spain, I reflected on what life had been like for young men of the WWII generation. This sparked the start of my Peter Cotton series. Living abroad for so long, having more than one language and culture, gives people dual perspective, a shifting identity, which is something that fascinates me—and makes Cotton ideal prey for recruiting as an intelligence agent. I also wanted to explore the complex factors in the shifting allegiances after WW2, when your allies were often your worst enemy. All these are themes that recur in the books chosen here.

Aly's book list on how people become spies

Aly Monroe Why did Aly love this book?

BOX 88 is a thoroughly modern-day spy story set in two timeframes. Lachlan (‘Lockie’) Kite, the protagonist, is poles apart from Lawton’s Joe Wilderness. An apparently chance meeting at the funeral of an old school friend leads him to be abducted. Flashback 30 years, and we see how he was recruited to a secret cell of intelligence operatives (Box 88) when barely out of his upper-class boarding school. He is trained and asked to undergo a mission while spending the summer at the house of a school friend in France. While there, he falls heavily in love, and somehow manages to carry out his mission—albeit with devastating consequences. This portrayal of an intelligent young man growing up feels real and is beautifully handled. The start of a great series.

By Charles Cumming,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Box 88 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Parade's Most Anticipated Books of 2022!

A secret agent comes of age—and reckons with the legacy of his first mission—in this thriller by New York Times-bestseller Charles Cumming, “the best of the new generation of British spy writers” (The Observer)

Lachlan Kite is a member of BOX 88, an elite transatlantic black ops outfit so covert that not even MI6 and the CIA are certain of its existence — but even the best spy can’t anticipate every potential threat in a world where dangerous actors lurk around every corner. At the funeral of his childhood best friend, Lachlan…

Book cover of Hello, Transcriber

Danielle Girard Author Of Up Close

From my list on thrillers set in small towns with big secrets.

Why am I passionate about this?

My first books were set in and around San Francisco, an area I knew well and with plenty of opportunities for crime stories. When we moved to Montana twenty years ago, people asked when I’d write one there. I resisted setting dark stories in my own city, where my kids were growing up. Reading about the Bakken Oil Formation in North Dakota, a boom of wealth and expansion and a subsequent bust, offered a perfect storm—the kind that drives desperation, where locals conflict with newcomers, where money—new and old—drives people to make bad decisions. After a visit to the area, the fictional town of Hagen, North Dakota, and the Badlands Thriller Series was born. 

Danielle's book list on thrillers set in small towns with big secrets

Danielle Girard Why did Danielle love this book?

In Black Harbor, Wisconsin’s most crime-ridden city, Morrissey has created a town that is a villain all on its own. A place no one wants to live. Hazel Greenlee has no choice.

An aspiring writer, Hazel is trapped in a less-than-perfect marriage and takes the only job she can find—as a police transcriber. But when her neighbor confesses to hiding the body of an overdose victim in a dumpster, Hazel sees the potential for a story that might help her break out of the frozen hell of Black Harbor.

Morrissey builds Hazel’s desperation, and the desperation of the town itself, with mounting tension so well drawn you can actually feel it in your bones and an ending so intense it leaves you breathless. 

By Hannah Morrissey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hello, Transcriber as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every night, while the street lamps shed the only light on Wisconsin's most crime-ridden city, police transcriber Hazel Greenlee listens as detectives divulge Black Harbor's gruesome secrets. As an aspiring writer, Hazel believes that writing a novel could be her only ticket out of this frozen hellscape. And then her neighbor confesses to hiding the body of an overdose victim in a dumpster.

The suspicious death is linked to Candy Man, a notorious drug dealer. Now Hazel has a first row seat to the investigation and becomes captivated by the lead detective, Nikolai Kole. Intrigued by the prospects of gathering…

Book cover of Joe Country

Larry Enmon Author Of The Burial Place

From Larry's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired Secret Service Traveler Adventurer Historian Avid cook

Larry's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Larry Enmon Why did Larry love this book?

Have you ever finished a book and been saddened that it ended? That was my experience with this book.

Herron put a diverse cast of characters in an exciting place, doing exciting things, and, for good measure, threw in murder. Those of us who love the spies from Britain's MI5 (Slow Horses) series also love how they interact, not always in a good way.

Herron removed them from their comfort zone in London and dropped them into the Welch countryside during a winter blizzard. I love that, and it's precisely what I did in my book. You create tension and suspense by removing the central characters from their familiar surroundings to a strange, unfamiliar place.

By Mick Herron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

*Now a major TV series starring Gary Oldman*


'Sets a new bar for spy fiction' Financial Times

In Slough House, the backwater for failed spies, memories are stirring, all of them bad. Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process.

With winter taking its grip Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but…

Book cover of An American Spy

Ursula Wong Author Of Amber Exile

From Ursula's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Rabid researcher History hound Intrepid traveler Cycling fanatic

Ursula's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Ursula Wong Why did Ursula love this book?

An American Spy shows us the people-side of the spy trade. A masterful Chinese agent has avenged his son’s death by massacring almost everyone in the secret black operations organization called the Department of Tourism (DOT). A CIA supersleuth and brains behind the DOT aims for revenge with the help of reluctant hero, Milo Weaver.

Aside from a beautifully complex story, I love Mr. Steinhauer’s spies. After marrying his daughter-in-law, the Chinese agent makes stunning observations about the intrigues of the communist intelligence apparatus. Poor Milo is constantly distracted by a physical injury and a crumbling home life. His agent friends use drugs to cope. Even the beautiful and highly effective Leticia Jones is more about dealing with stress than doing nasty things.

The story made my head spin, but isn’t spying like that?

By Olen Steinhauer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Milo Weaver is still haunted by his last job. As an expert assassin for the Department of Tourism, an ultra-secret group of super-spooks buried deep in the corridors of the CIA, he fought to keep himself sane in a paranoid and amoral profession. Now, the Department has been destroyed, and with it Weaver's livelihood. Finally he can spend time with his family - without constantly looking over his shoulder and fixing one eye on the exits.

Weaver's former boss is not so settled. For Alan Drummond, Tourism was everything. Now, all he wants is to take revenge on the Chinese…