Joseph Kanon is the Edgar Award–winning author of nine thrillers and spy novels, including The Good German and Defectors. In his latest, The Accomplice, the nephew of a Holocaust survivor tracks an infamous concentration camp doctor to Argentina.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré (1974).

The gold standard. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold may have been more influential, but this is le Carré at his peak, and George Smiley's finest hour.

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (1988).

Readers familiar only with Furst's popular between-the-wars Paris novels will be pleasantly surprised by this lesser-known but even richer work, set in the Balkans on the brink of war and featuring a young Bulgarian who's recruited by Moscow after he witnesses his brother's murder by local fascists. Full of the author's signature smoky atmosphere and conflicted loyalties, it's early but already vintage Furst.

The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955).

The best of Greene's 1950s novels is the story of an idealistic CIA agent whose naïveté precipitates a tragedy, told by the morally compromised British journalist who sets out to stop him. A lesson in good intentions leading to unexpected consequences, and a preview of the Vietnam disaster about to come.

My Silent War by Kim Philby (1968).

All right, this is a memoir, not a novel, but since its author is a notorious Soviet mole, it's not strictly the truth, either. And it's fascinating in any case. Philby is self-serving, wily, given to playing games with the reader. But he give us an unparalleled look at an agent burrowing into a complacent bureaucracy.

The Company and The Defection of A.J. Lewinter by Robert Littell.

Both of these novels, one published in 2002, the other in 1973, show Robert Littell at his best. Here we see the predigital CIA, aspiring to be an English gentlemen's club but finding itself in the gutters of moral ambiguity instead.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (1958).

Here's a second, but very different, listing for Greene. In a genre where humor is as rare as hope, this is a one-of-a-kind work, a sparkling high comedy that's still funny after all these years, set in pre-Castro Cuba but recognizably Greeneland. Film version bonus: Noël Coward's witty cameo.