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Best books … chosen by Charles Cumming
The author of <em>The Spanish Game</em> and <em>A Spy by Nature</em> has been dubbed by one critic &lsquo;the best of the new generation of British spy writers.&rsquo; Here, Cumming chooses his favorite thrillers
 

The author of The Spanish Game and A Spy by Nature has been dubbed by one critic ‘the best of the new generation of British spy writers.’ Below, Cumming chooses his favorite thrillers.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré (Scribner, $16). Written in the early 1960s, while le Carré was working for MI6 in West Germany, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was described by Graham Greene as the finest spy novel he had ever read. Le Carré may have gone on to write denser, more emotionally complex novels, but none as powerful, nor as beautifully engineered, as this classic of the Cold War.

The Queen of the South by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Penguin, $14). A gripping, intriguingly structured story about a South American woman who moves to Spain and becomes a drug dealer. Pérez-Reverte is a former war reporter and his books are always beautifully written and impeccably researched.

The Ghost by Robert Harris (Pocket, $8). In this hugely entertaining thriller, a former British prime minister, clearly modeled on Tony Blair, holes up in New England to discuss his memoirs with a ghostwriter. Harris was once an admirer of Britain’s New Labour government, and legend has it that when Blair found out about the book, he described the author with a phrase unrepeatable in a family newspaper.

The Magus by John Fowles (Back Bay, $17). Fowles will probably be turning in his grave to have The Magus described as a “thriller,” but has there ever been a book that forced the reader to keep turning the pages with such zeal? The story of a young man’s encounter with a wealthy recluse on a Greek island, The Magus is mesmerizing.

The Prisoner of Guantánamo by Dan Fesperman (Vintage, $14). Fesperman is the closest thing America has to le Carré, a writer of great elegance and sophistication whose novels are as topical as they are compelling. In a market saturated by factory-made thrillers, Fesperman stands out as a spy novelist of the highest quality.

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (Vintage, $13). Ambler is the father of the spy novel, a writer who showed that the popular thriller could also be regarded as literature. This is undoubtedly his masterpiece, a fantastically compelling novel about a mystery writer who becomes involved in the seedy, pre–World War II European underworld.

 

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