- Recommendations from bookseller and mystery blogger Molly Odintz
I’ve always enjoyed tales of espionage, whether they be the glamorous exploits of international men of mystery, the paranoid ramblings of an everyman caught as a pawn between spies, or the delicate and devastating critiques of washed-up bureaucrats tired of destroying nations from their armchairs.
The latter two categories, in particular, drew me to the work of John le Carré. Along with Graham Greene, in such classic works as The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana, le Carré’s clear analysis of the Cold War, bitter condemnation of corrupt and uncaring nations, and compassionate insight into its unwilling victims have hugely influenced portrayals of the Cold War since the early 1960s.
Le Carré’s work since the fall of the Berlin Wall has shifted to a critique of unregulated capitalism and its devastating environmental and health effects. Meanwhile, declassified documents on both sides of the pond and access to Soviet sources have led to a flowering of historical scholarship covering topics which, at the start of le Carré’s time, found a home only fiction. Below, you’ll find recommendations (both fiction and non-fiction) for the fan of le Carré’s work.
Non-fiction recommendations for the fan of John le Carré:
John le Carré: The Biography by Adam Sisman
This new biography of le Carré, written by experienced biographer Adam Sisman, explores the fascinating life of le Carré. Raised by his con-man father after being abandoned by his mother, le Carré’s experience with deception began early in life, then continued to a career in the British secret service. Sisman takes the reader through le Carré’s espionage days, although he is hampered by le Carré’s reluctance to discuss particulars, and then through his life as a writer. Sisman equally takes on le Carré’s private, public, and intellectual lives for a broad and entertaining biography. You can find copies of John le Carré: The Biography on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth
Forsyth may be best known today for his espionage thriller The Day of the Jackal, but he started off not just writing about the spy’s life – he lived it. Forsyth started off in the RAF, then took on increasingly surreptitious assignments. His experiences in Paris inspired his most successful novel, yet as Forsyth’s memoir demonstrates, he’s got plenty more tales of espionage, adventure, and dramatic escapes, taken directly from his life. You can find copies of The Outsider on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre
Written from a host of information gleaned from recently declassified documents, this history of Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five tells the story of how several aristocratic British spies became double agents for the Soviet Union. The story served as the original basis for le Carré’s classic and much-filmed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and shocked the world when the ring of double agents was first exposed. You can find copies of A Spy Among Friends on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Fiction recommendations for the fan of John le Carré:
His Own Man by Edgard Telles Ribeiro, Translated by Kim Hastings
Ribeiro, like le Carré, experienced the heat of Cold War politics first-hand, although from the perspective of the Brazilian Foreign Service, rather than the British. His Own Man follows a cheerful hypocrite in the late 60s and his guilt-ridden frenemy as they experience Brazil’s military coup and are sent to help increasingly vicious dictatorships gain control across Latin America through the 1970s. Ribeiro’s skillful writing and expert knowledge combine for the perfect follow-up to le Carré’s early work. You can find copies of His Own Man on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Zagreb Cowboy by Alen Mattich
This one’s for the fan of le Carré’s bureaucratic absurdism. Marko della Torre, internal crimes investigator for the Yugoslavian secret police, sells the wrong secret file to journalists. Protected by his immediate boss, a Croatian, and targeted by his boss’s boss, a Serb, della Torre must go on the run to escape the wrath of the powerful figure incriminated by the file. Grimy and adventurous, full of beautiful women in rotting Soviet structures, this first installment of a trilogy will delight fans of Bond and Smiley alike. You can find copies of Zagreb Cowboy on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Murder at Cape Three Points by Kwei Quartey
This exploration of corruption and scandal in Ghana’s oil industry, written by Ghanaian-American author and doctor Kwei Quartey, should be perfect for the fan of le Carré’s later work. Murder at Cape Three Points is the third of Quartey’s Darko Dawson detective series, internationally known for their humane message, sense of place, and tight plotting. You can find copies of Murder at Cape Three Points available for special order via bookpeople.com.