So You Want to Read Literary Horror: Here’s Where to Start

Horror, as a genre, has a tendency to get a bit of a bad rap outside of its rather ardent fan base, despite the fact that more than a few literary icons made their bones on the backs of some truly spine-tingling tales (Ray Bradbury, anyone?). There has long been a strong relationship between literary fiction and the horror genre – the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde can attest to that. While violence and gore and things that more traditionally go bump in the night certainly have their place, so too do well-crafted sentences and deeper philosophical underpinnings. Over the last decade or so, there has somewhat quietly been a resurgence in literary horror as immensely talented writers pick up the genre trappings of horror, tear them apart and fuse them back together into wholly original and truly unsettling creations. Writers like China Mieville, Brian Evenson, and Jeff VanderMeer are following the footsteps of Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Shirley Jackson and creating some stunningly imaginative and extraordinarily unsettling prose. Here are a few of our (relatively) recent favorites.

The cover of the book House of LeavesHouse of Leaves

MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI

If you haven’t read House of Leaves, go grab a copy now. We’re happy to wait, it’s just that good. I’m pretty confident saying this literary head-spinner is unlike any other novel you’ve read. Part epistolary novel, part haunted house thriller, with a bit of weird fiction thrown in for good measure – House of Leaves is a difficult book to pin down or describe. It’s a narrative as twisting (literally) and expansive as the house it chronicles.

 

The cover of the book White is for WitchingWhite is for Witching

HELEN OYEYEMI

The fairy tale form is built on a dark undercurrent that, in many ways, is the perfect foundation for horror. That’s something that Helen Oyeyemi illustrates with terrifying brilliance in White is for Witching. The story centers on the Silver family, specifically the four generations of Silver women who have lived in the family home. When her mother passes, Lily, the latest in the family line, begins experiencing strange ailments and soon the Silver house itself begins to manifest malevolent intent. It is at once a dread-inducing mystery and powerful examination of race and family legacy.

 

The cover of the book The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char

SCOTT HAWKINS

Literary horror is at its best when writers play with readers’ expectations to create something that is at once familiar enough but also wildly original. Scott Hawkins draws from a wide range of influences for The Library at Mount Char – there are hints of Gaiman, a bit of Lovecraft, a little King. Hawkins takes inspiration before proceeding to tear it all to shreds and glue the pieces back together into something truly original, grotesque, and oddly beautiful.

 

The cover of the book A Head Full of GhostsA Head Full of Ghosts

PAUL TREMBLAY

A Head Full of Ghosts owes a nod to The Haunting of Hill House and The Exorcist for its slow-burn, constantly-shifting narrative. The novel centers on a suburban New England family coming to grips with a fourteen year old daughter who’s suddenly showing signs of schizophrenia – or so they hope. What follows is a novel that riffs on unreliable narration, reality TV, and familial tragedies in ways that are both unexpected and truly unsettling.

 

The cover of the book The Little StrangerThe Little Stranger

SARAH WATERS

With The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters reinvigorated Gothic fiction in a way that would’ve made Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe proud. Part haunted house horror, part unreliable narration, and part social critique, The Little Stranger is a deeply unsettling descent into madness and dread within the walls of a crumbling Georgian Mansion where a malevolent presence may or may not be lurking.

 

The cover of the book Mr. ShiversMr. Shivers

ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

Mr. Shivers reads like the literary love child of China Mieville and John Steinbeck. It’s The Grapes of Wrath by way of Lovecraft. Bennett’s tale of a father on the trail of the possibly otherworldly killer who murdered his daughter is a slow-burn piece of dread-fueled Americana. Robert Jackson Bennett has quietly positioned himself as one of the more talented voices in the New Weird genre, and Mr. Shivers remains among his best work.

 

The cover of the book The HikeThe Hike

DREW MAGARY

Weird fiction and literary horror have long been comfortable bedfellows, and novels don’t get much weirder than Drew Magary’s The Hike. In this tale of a hike in rural Pennsylvania gone terribly wrong, Magary manages to infuse his pop culture references and classic folklore tropes with a nearly suffocating sense of existential dread.

 

The cover of the book DarkansasDarkansas

JARRET MIDDLETON

Jarret Middleton’s Darkansas is a novel that begins as an examination of familial strife and quickly progresses to one of preternatural dangers lurking just beyond the page and a century-old curse at its center. The story centers on itinerant musician who is his family’s black sheep. Unfortunately, any hope of reconciliation may have been doomed decades before he was born. It’s a dark, twisting page-turner with hints of Southern gothic lurking around the corners of its horror tinged sense of dread and juxtaposes its gritty reality against a mounting sense of surrealistic terror.

 

The cover of the book ThreatsThreats

AMELIA GRAY

“CURL UP ON MY LAP. LET ME BRUSH YOUR HAIR WITH MY FINGERS. I AM SINGING YOU A LULLABY. I AM TESTING FOR STRUCTURAL WEAKNESS IN YOUR SKULL.” Imagine you’ve just lost your spouse and you suddenly begin finding messages like those above hidden throughout your home: that’s the disturbing premise for Amelia Gray’s wholly unnerving examination of death, grief, and memory. The novel follows David, a man attempting to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death against his increasingly unreliable recollections and a world that no longer makes sense.

 

The cover of the book A Collapse of HorsesA Collapse of Horses

BRIAN EVENSON

Brian Evenson is the sort of writer who simply knows how to get under a reader’s skin. A Collapse of Horses is a short story collection that grapples with some big existential questions on reality and perception while simultaneously veering into the sort of grotesquerie that will leave you haunted long after you finish the last tale.

Advertisements

9 Mystery and Thriller Books to Get You Hooked on the Rest of the Series

While there’s a lot to be said for digging into the intricacies of a good series – the overlapping storylines, the ongoing plot threads, the multi-arc character development – it can sometimes be difficult to find a good jumping-on point. This is particularly true for long-running series. Fortunately, there are several series structured to give you the opportunity to dive in wherever you’d like, and as a matter of fact, we have a few in mind. The novels below are all part of often much larger series, but nonetheless stand up well on their own. And while they can certainly be read as one-offs, there’s a pretty good chance one (or several) might become your new literary obsession.

The cover of the book Double TakeDouble Take

Catherine Coulter

Part of Catherine Coulter’s FBI Thrillers series, Double Take sees husband-and-wife FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock caught up in a pair of seemingly disparate cases: One involving the attempted murder of a dead psychic’s wife and the other the missing wife of a Virginia sheriff. These cases, and the threads that connect them, pull Savich and Sherlock deep into a world of psychic visions, communications with the dead, and dangerous connections.

 

The cover of the book The Cold DishThe Cold Dish

Craig Johnson

With “Longmire” heading into its sixth and final season on Netflix, now is as good a time as any to dig into the source material. The Cold Dish introduces fans to Walt Longmire, a widower and dedicated sheriff investigating the murder of a young man who two years prior had been involved in the rape of a local Cheyenne girl.

 

The cover of the book Royal FlushRoyal Flush

Rhys Bowen

The third entry in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness Mystery series is an excellent spot to dive into the world of Lady Georgiana, a clever amateur sleuth and member of the British Royal Family. Royal Flush sees the aristocratic detective working at the behest of the Queen Mary to save the Prince of Wales from two particularly determined, if very different, hunters.

 

The cover of the book MysteriesMysteries

Knut Hamsun

While not technically part of a series, Mysteries is, in many ways, a perfect introduction and distillation of the complex themes – man’s relationship to the natural world, biblical allegories, etc. – that served as a common thread throughout the celebrated works of Nobel Laureate Knut Hamsun. Mysteries centers on Christ-like stranger who suddenly appears in a small Norwegian town, but is perhaps more sinister than he initially seems.

 

The cover of the book MysteryMystery

Peter Straub

Part of Peter Straub’s loosely connected Blue Rose Trilogy, Mystery nonetheless stands well on its own. The novel follows Toma Pasmore, a young boy who survives a near fatal accident, and an elderly man named Lamont von Heilitz, a once-celebrated detective. The two are drawn together to investigate an unsolved murder with implications far darker than either could anticipate.

 

The cover of the book Mr. Churchill's SecretaryMr. Churchill’s Secretary

Susan Elia MacNeal

Set amid the air-raid sirens and constant threat of bombings of 1940’s London, Maggie Hope, despite graduating at the top of her class, finds herself as a typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Fortunately, her remarkable gift for code-breaking and unparalleled intellect will place her front and center of a murderous plot aimed at newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

 

The cover of the book The Queen's AccompliceThe Queen’s Accomplice

Susan Elia MacNeal

Yes, we’ve got two Maggie Hope mysteries on this list; that’s just how much we love her. You can begin the Maggie Hope series with the above, or jump right into the thick of it with this one. The Queen’s Accomplice sees resourceful code-breaker and spy Maggie Hope dueling with a serial killer in the Blitz-weary London of 1942. A killer has been systematically attacking the women serving as spies and saboteurs of MI-5 in eerie recreations of the crimes of Jack The Ripper. At first assigned to find the murderer, Maggie soon finds herself squarely in the killer’s sights.

 

The cover of the book Murder in the Secret GardenMurder in the Secret Garden

Ellery Adams

In this third title in the A Book Retreat Mystery series, hotel manager and amateur detective Jane Steward is drawn into a murder mystery at her book-themed resort, Storyton Hall. When a member of an herbalist society is found dead in Storyton’s Secret Garden-themed garden, it’s up to Steward to figure out which of the society’s members committed the murder.

 

The cover of the book The Doll's HouseThe Doll’s House

M. J. Arlidge

With The Doll’s House, troubled detective Helen Grace finds herself on the trail of a calculating and very deadly serial killer. The body of a woman is found buried on a secluded beach. The kicker? The woman has been dead for years but no one even so much reported her missing. After all, the woman continues to send text messages to her family. With that, Grace is drawn into an intricate world of a deadly criminal mastermind and time is running short for the killer’s next victim.

So You Want to Read Viking Fantasy Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

Pixabay (CC0)

The Viking Age may have officially ended in 1066 with the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but stories of the fierce Norse raiders and their deeds continue to enthrall. Even today, over 950 years later, an encounter with Viking warriors is only as far away as your television screen, local movie house, video game system, or bookshelf.

While it might be a stretch to call Viking Fantasy its own genre, the sheer preponderance of Scandinavian-flavored fantasy fiction would certainly seem enough to support the claim that it is a sub-genre. Axe-wielding bearded warriors, longboats, Odin and Thor, trolls, berserkers, valkyries, and icy seas: These are some of the things that make Viking Fantasy, and if you’re looking for a place to start, we’ve got you covered.

The cover of the book SE Last Light of the Sun (Canadian Ed)The Last Light of the Sun

GUY GAVRIEL KAY

Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun is a tale set in a fantasy world very much like western Europe during the height of the Viking era: a time when Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and of course, Norse cultures clashed for control of land, gold, shipping lanes, and other resources. Featuring a cast of nobles, outcast warriors, and even faeries, this is a great book for anyone looking for an engrossing new world in which to get lost.

 

The cover of the book Eaters of the DeadEaters of the Dead

MICHAEL CRICHTON

Michael Crichton took a break from techno-thrillers for this exciting tale of an Arab courtier who finds himself traveling with a band of Viking warriors. Unknown to him, his traveling companions are traveling northward to aid an ally in a fight against a bestial enemy that raids by night. Eaters of the Dead is a retelling of the ancient saga Beowulf, but one with some unexpectedly Crichtonesque flourishes. You’ll see when you read it.

 

The cover of the book Half a KingHalf a King

JOE ABERCROMBIE

Prince Yarvi was born with only one good hand in a warrior’s world: one where men rule by axe and shield. Rejected by his father as an unsuitable heir to the throne, Yarvi is left with no choice but to find his own way and reclaim a kingdom he wasn’t sure he wanted in the first place. Abercrombie’s Viking-inspired world hides its share of secrets. Prepare to be surprised.

 

The cover of the book Hrolf Kraki’s SagaHrolf Kraki’s Saga

POUL ANDERSON

Poul Anderson was proud of his Scandinavian heritage and often drew from it while writing his science fiction and fantasy fiction. Hrolf Kraki’s Saga is based on an authentic Norse saga about a legendary Viking hero and his band of twelve companions. Hrolf Kraki is a brave but flawed hero: a man consumed by his appetites and vengeful nature — traits that ultimately bring his kingdom down around him.

 

The cover of the book The Swords of Good MenThe Swords of Good Men

SNORRI KRISTJANSSON

Two years ago, Ulfar Thormodsson disgraced his father. His punishment? Escort his highborn cousin on a tour of the kingdom. Their journey was supposed to end at the gates of the town of Stenvik, but it seems that the two men have arrived just in time for a war between old ways and new.

 

The cover of the book A Companion to WolvesA Companion to Wolves

SARAH MONETTE AND ELIZABETH BEAR

The wolfcarls, warriors bonded to ferocious wolves, defended the people of their frozen realm against trolls, wyverns, and other terrors for many an age. Now it appears that their usefulness has come to an end. The monsters who once ravaged their lands seem to have disappeared, and with them the saga of the wolfcarls. But appearances can be deceiving, and it may not be time for the people to let down their guard yet.

 

The cover of the book The Hammer and the CrossThe Hammer and the Cross

HARRY HARRISON

The British Isles may be in the hands of feuding kings, but the Church is the true power behind the thrones. Everyone fears the threat of damnation — everyone, that is, but the Viking raiders that harry the shores of England. As the powers that be squabble, Shef, the son of a Norseman and a captive English lady, prepares for a future of war and the possibility of a kingdom of his own.

 

The cover of the book The Sea of TrollsThe Sea of Trolls

NANCY FARMER

Jack and his sister Lucy are kidnapped from their Saxon village and taken to the court of the Viking chieftain Ivar the Boneless and his half-troll wife. When Jack accidentally casts a spell on her, he is sent forth into the land of the trolls to search for a way to reverse the magic. He won’t be alone, though: accompanying him is the shield maiden and would-be berserker Thorgill, and a mysterious crow that answers to the name Bold Heart.

8 Completed Series for Fantasy Fans to Devour

by Hayley, January 29, 2018, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

Fantasy fans are patient—not by nature, but by necessity. Coming of age in libraries full of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ books left them hungry for more, greedy for magical adventure and emotionally satisfying conclusions. Many of them having been learning to live without the latter for a very long time.

Take George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996. Over two decades and one HBO show later, the final two books in the series are severely overdue with no confirmed release date in sight. Meanwhile, fans of Patrick Rothfuss’ 2007 fantasy bestseller, The Name of the Wind, waited four years for the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, and have now been waiting seven years for the conclusion to the trilogy.

It’s rough. For those of you who want your epics without accompanying “sequel angst,” check out our roundup of highly rated, completed fantasy series. (It’s by no means an exhaustive list, so please recommend your favorites in the comments!)

 

The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Start the series with The Eye of the World

Total books: 14

 

Farseer Trilogy

Robin Hobb

Start the series with Assassin’s Apprentice

Total books: 3 (plus additional series set in the same world)

 

The First Law

Joe Abercrombie

Start the series with The Blade Itself

Total book: 3

 

Mistborn

Brandon Sanderson

Start the series with The Final Empire

Total books: 3 (plus 4 additional books set 300 years later)

 

The Broken Earth

N.K. Jemisin

Start the series with The Fifth Season

Total books: 3

 

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson

Start the series with Gardens of the Moon

Total books: 10

 

The Riyria Revelations

Michael J. Sullivan

Start the series with Theft of Swords

Total books: 3 (originally published as 6 books)

 

Powder Mage

Brian McClellan

Start the series with Promise of Blood

Total books: 3

Beyond Baba Yaga: 8 Eastern European-Inspired Fantasies

Photo by Niilo Isotalo on Unsplash

Eastern European mythology, literature, and history are a gold mine for fans of speculative fiction. From the rich depth of Slavic folklore to the drama of the region’s history, there’s a wealth of elements for unfamiliar readers to discover, especially as translations from countries such as Russia and Poland make their way across the pond.

Readers interested in exploring Eastern European speculative fiction can check out these works by authors currently or previously living in Eastern European countries, as well as titles by American authors that draw inspiration from the region.

 

The cover of the book UprootedUprooted

NAOMI NOVIK

Every ten years, a girl from Agniezka’s village is taken by the wizard known as the Dragon who protects them from harm, and none of them return, even after the Dragon sets them free. Agniezka believes her perfect best friend Kasia will be the one chosen – but the Dragon chooses Agniezka instead.

This award-winning standalone novel begins as a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast with decidedly Eastern European influences. Novik crafts a fantastic world in Uprooted, so much so that it’s worth a read just to see what she does with it. And if you’re really into it, Novik’s returning readers to the same universe with the upcoming Spinning Silver.

 

The cover of the book Blood of ElvesBlood of Elves

ANDRZEJ SAPKOWSKI

The first novel in Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga was published in the U.S. in 2009, following the 2007 release of The Witcher video game. Blood of Elves follows the series’ eponymous witcher, Geralt of Rivia, an assassin working to protect a child being hunted for her extraordinary powers.

Possibly the most widely-known franchise on the list, the Witcher Saga comprises 5 novels (the final book, Season of Storms, will be released April 2018) as well as two short story collections, which are both available in English. You may want to pick this series up fast: it’s currently being adapted as a Netflix series.

 

The cover of the book DeathlessDeathless

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE

Deathless marries the Slavic folklore figure Koschei the Deathless with the war-ravaged Russia of the early twentieth century. Its heroine, Marya Morevna, is whisked away from post-Russian Revolution Leningrad by Koschei, who intends to take her as his bride.

Valente explores an older Russian tale in the context of the wars taking place across Europe during the early twentieth century, from the Russian Revolution to the second world war and beyond.

 

The cover of the book There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's BabyThere Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby

LUDMILLA PETRUSHEVSKAYA

I have to admit that out of the Ludmilla Petrushevskaya books currently available in English, I picked this one because of the impressively long, impressively creepy title. And with the subtitle “Scary Fairy Tales,” there’s got to be something in this short story collection to enthrall you.

Petrushevskaya was born in 1938 Moscow, and her supernatural tales allude to the bleak realities of life under the Soviet Union. There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby is a must-read introduction to one of Russia’s most prolific writers.

 

The cover of the book Blood Rose RebellionBlood Rose Rebellion

ROSALYN EVES

Unable to control her mysterious ability to break spells – and causing a disaster at her sister’s debut – British-born Anna Arden is banished to live with distant relatives in 1847 Hungary, where she’s drawn into the conspiracies simmering and about to boil over in the country.

The first book in Eves’ young adult fantasy trilogy is wonderfully researched and immersive, capturing the political unrest pervasive during the era. There are even some characters based on real people of 1840s Hungary, including one most readers might recognize: a young boy named Franz Ferdinand. Blood Rose Rebellion is an enthralling fantasy read, and it’s also one that can lead readers down new paths to learn about history they may not have encountered before.

 

The cover of the book Shadow and BoneShadow and Bone

LEIGH BARDUGO

Alina Starkov is an orphan and a soldier – at least until she accidentally unleashes magic she had no idea she even possessed. Drafted into the Grisha, the elite magical branch of the Ravka military, Alina struggles to learn how to manage her gift as the threat against Ravka grows.

Bardugo’s young adult Shadow and Bone trilogy is an absolute adventure and incorporates not only inspiration from Russian culture and history, but others as well. The trilogy is complete with Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, for readers (like myself) who love binging the entire series at once.

 

The cover of the book The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale

KATHERINE ARDEN

Set at the edge of Russian wilderness, The Bear and the Nightingale is another novel that draws on the wealth of Eastern European folklore to craft a fantastical tale. Vasilisa and her siblings have always honored the spirits in their household – until their father comes home with a new wife, whose religious beliefs are at odds with the traditions Vasya has long held.

The Bear and the Nightingale is an excellent next-read for those who already read Uprooted, and as a story set in the icy Russian wilderness, it’s also a great book to cozy up with when snowed out of work or school.

 

The cover of the book Night WatchNight Watch

SERGEI LUKYANENKO

In Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series, supernatural beings known as Others swear allegiance to one of two factions: the Light and the Dark. Anton Gorodetsky is a Light magician who works for the Night Watch, which has helped to maintain peace for hundreds of years – but a cursed Other without an alliance may shatter that peace once and for all.

Night Watch is more of a thriller than a fairy tale, and the urban fantasy setting makes it a refreshing contrast to many of the titles on the list. Two films based on the series were released in Russia, and the complete six-book Night Watch series has been translated and published in the U.S.

Attention Mystery Lovers!

Looking for your next great read? You’re in luck!

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the Winners of the 2018 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television, published or produced in 2017.

Bluebird, BluebirdBEST NOVEL

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

BEST FACT CRIME

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

BEST SHORT STORY

“Spring Break”New Haven Noir by John Crowley

BEST JUVENILE

Vanished! By James Ponti

BEST YOUNG ADULT

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“Somebody to Love”Fargo, Teleplay by Noah Hawley

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD (Best First Short Story)

“The Queen of Secrets”New Haven Noir by Lisa D. Gray

GRAND MASTER (Lifetime Achievement)

Jane Langton

William Link

Peter Lovesey

RAVEN AWARD (Outstanding achievement in Mystery outside the realm of creative writing)

Kristopher Zgorski, BOLO Books

The Raven Bookstore, Lawrence Kansas

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD (Writing Teams & People in Mystery Publishing)

Robert Pépin

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD (Book Written in the Mary Higgins Clark Tradition)

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

8 New Spy Books to Add to Your Reading List This Year

Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash

The spy novel has come a long way since the heyday of Ian Fleming. John LeCarre’s literary legacy has been the morally complex person who must negotiate a world in which the terms “bad guys and good guys” has lost all meaning. The newest spy novels not only incorporate the bells and whistles of the latest technology, but they also feature complicated human beings who don’t always know if they’re doing the right thing in service to their country.

A recent spate of nonfictional accounts and fiction about spies reveal that “these are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine recognized that service to one’s country during difficult times tested all who were called. In these accounts, the notion that spying is service to one’s country will be questioned by more than one person. In 2018, writing fiction that surpasses the current nonfiction blockbuster at play in Washington, D.C. is a daunting challenge, and yet, the writers here have found ways to meet it. And, in the nonfiction accounts, the real people who became spies are stories of adventure and heartbreak.

Here are some of our recent favorites.

The cover of the book Who is Vera Kelly?Who is Vera Kelly?

Rosalie Knecht

One thing Vera Kelly is not is a standard-issue spy. During the Cold War, both the United States and the U.S.S.R. expended enormous amounts of money and personnel in search of information that would provide one or the other with an advantage. They also fought for influence among non-aligned groups, which is how Vera Kelly, a former “troubled teen” who is working dead-end jobs in Greenwich Village ends up as a spy in Buenos Aires. She has been sent there to infiltrate a leftist student group and monitor the members’ contact with the Soviets. But when a coup d’etat creates chaos on Argentinian streets and cuts her off from her C.I.A. handlers, Vera must improvise to survive.

Knecht has written a hybrid novel that is both literary in its attention to character and language, and a thriller where Vera’s status as a spy makes her a hunted woman who will have to find a way to survive. This intelligent novel about the quest for secret intelligence is a real treat.

 

The cover of the book Liar's CandleLiar’s Candle

August Thomas

Penny Kessler lands a dream internship working at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. On July 4th, she is part of the happy crowd at the Embassy’s Independence Day celebration. But someone lets off a bomb, killing and injuring many in the crowd. Many of the newspapers covering the story publish an affecting photo of the the after-effects of the bomb, one in which the injured Penny becomes the focus for the world’s rage and sorrow.

The trouble is that the photo makes Penny a target for those who want to use the injured woman as propaganda and those looking for a scapegoat. Even before she has regained consciousness, Penny’s life is taken over by those who want to make her a symbol of American resilience. But as many past heroes have discovered, the celebrated survivor may soon find themselves as the prime suspect, and it’s not long before she has to fight for her life against those who claim that Penny is a terrorist and a spy.

 

The cover of the book The Woman Who Fought an EmpireThe Woman Who Fought an Empire

Gregory J. Wallance

Even today, to speak of what happened in Armenia in 1915 as “genocide” is to provoke the fury of the Turkish government, which has always insisted that the slaughter of 1 million Armenian men, women, and children were military losses, not the result of an ethnic cleansing. But, as Gregory J. Wallance writes in his history, what Sarah Aaronsohn witnessed as a Jew living in the Ottoman Empire convinced her that after the Armenians had been erased, the Ottoman Empire would turn its attention to Jewish settlers in Palestine, also part of the imperial territory.

In order to prevent further Turkish atrocities, Aaronsohn and her Nili ring of spies began offering the British, who were fighting the Turks in battles in Egypt, information from behind Ottoman lines. Wallance paints a portrait of a complex woman who performed heroic work during difficult times. For those looking for a book about espionage that has real human lives at stake, this little-known story is a tremendous read.

 

The cover of the book The DeceiversThe Deceivers

Alex Berenson

Pity the spy novelist writing a thriller set in 2018 America. When the current American administration is under investigation for having allowed Russian actors to influence the latest election and a former KGB agent is now the head of the Russian government, how can fiction top real-life shenanigans? Enter John Wells, the fictional creation of Alex Berenson. Wells is former C.I.A. who is now following the trail that begins with a drug bust in Texas and ends with a plot to take over the White House.

Berenson writes in a style perhaps best described as “hard-boiled.” He uses few adverbs and does not provide long literary descriptions. What he does is to immerse readers in story before they leave the first page, which makes The Deceivers a tough book to put down, especially when the plot that John Wells uncovers will add layers of anxiety to any anxiety readers are already feeling about the current occupants of the White House.

 

The cover of the book The Kremlin's CandidateThe Kremlin’s Candidate

Jason Matthews

Film adaptations do not always do justice to complex literary characters and plots. Movie goers who saw Red Sparrow without reading the book upon which it was based missed out on Jason Matthews’ detailed descriptions of how a spy shakes someone who is tailing them, or the labyrinthine structure of Russian security bureaucracy, or the complicated woman that Dominika Egorova is underneath her performed role as spy.

Matthews was in the C.I.A for years, and his knowledge of the myriad little maneuvers and counter-maneuvers that go into an operation is fascinating to readers who may have wondered how the system really works. In this, the third novel in his trilogy, readers once again follow Dominika as she seeks to frustrate President Putin in his plans to assassinate an essential member of America’s intel community.

 

The cover of the book Need to KnowNeed to Know

Karen Cleveland

Karen Cleveland worked for the Central Intelligence Agency before writing a novel so Need to Know is full of the kinds of verisimilitude that readers of spy thrillers hunger for. With rare exception, other spy novels portray spies as the survivors of busted marriages or for whom the constant exposure to human depravity has made private life near impossible. But Vivian Miller, a counterintelligence analyst, has a perfect home life, one in which she has been successful at dividing her life at work from her husband and four children.

All that changes while she is searching for sleeper agents, those Russian agents who have blended into the American population and are thus able to perform all of their espionage duties without triggering any warning signs. Miller has developed a new computer program that uses data to hone in on these sleeper agents. But one morning, her program reveals that one of these spies sleeps next to her every night in her marital bed. What happens when you come into possession of knowledge that you really didn’t want to know?

 

The cover of the book How to Catch a Russian SpyHow to Catch a Russian Spy

Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican

Walter Mitty was James Thurber’s invention: a man who imagined himself to be other versions of himself in a vivid fantasy life. When Naveed Jamali was growing up, he imagined himself as the sort of spy whose exploits he watched in television shows.

After college, however, Jamali became what he had imagined. His spy story reads like the best of fictional capers with money deals transacted in Hooters restaurants and other everyday places in American cities. Jamali wasn’t just a spy, however, he became a successful double agent, working with Americans to convince Jamali’s Russian contacts to give up valuable information. Jamali’s true story is a delicious read.

 

The cover of the book A Spy in CanaanA Spy in Canaan

Marc Perrusquia

Many spy stories present romanticized images of the person who is willing to do heroic work for their own country by uncovering information about another country before harm can be done to our own. But a spy among one’s own people is regarded as the worst kind of betrayer: someone who trades secret knowledge to someone else knowing that the information can do harm to us.

But, as Marc Perrusquia shows, some spies can be forced into their actions either through extortion—the threatening of family members, for example—or because they believe that their actions are meant to protect the group they love from people the spy regards as bad actors.

So, what then, to make of the case of photographer Ernest Withers? Withers captured some of the most iconic moments of the Civil Rights movement, photographs that convinced America that the situation had to change in order to be on the moral side of history. And yet, the evidence also suggests that Withers was an informant for the F.B.I, an agency that treated people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. as enemies of the people. What would have convinced Withers that spying on King and his cohorts was the right thing to do? This fascinating book elucidates one of the darkest chapters of American history, when Americans spied on other Americans as they worked for justice.