Domestic Surveillance: The Internal Spy Novel

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Tales of espionage used to mean (to me, anyway) stories of international intrigue with more mileage accrued in the course of an adventure than the travel plans of an international jetsetter, and more locations than the TV show Sens8. To spy does not necessarily mean to travel – the FBI keeps tabs on plenty of Americans, just as the KGB kept a close watch on the doings of many a Soviet citizen. Here’s a few suggested reads for those curious about the intimate nature of spying on one’s own people, on one’s own soil.

9781496712356The Striver’s Row Spy by Jason Overstreet

After graduating from a prestigious university with an engineering degree and a hunger for justice and success, Sidney Temple finds himself recruited to be the FBI’s first African-American agent instead. Told to spy on Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement for the FBI, he decides to funnel useful information over to WEB Du Bois and the NAACP. Discussions of the disagreements between supporters of Du Bois and followers of Marcus Garvey immerses readers in the internal debates of Harlem Renaissance America. Temple’s apolitical artistic wife rounds out the portrayal of the time period’s Harlem intelligentsia, for a novel that excels as both spy fiction and historical fiction. The Striver’s Row Spy comes out in paperback on Tuesday, July 25th. Pre-order now! 

9780802126542The State Counsellor by Boris Akunin

Inspector Fandorin continues to stylishly crush internal dissent in Akunin’s latest tale of hardened revolutionaries and the secret police assigned to take them down in late 19th century Russia. He’s got a worthy opponent in the anarchist known only as Green, whose cell of revolutionaries has just moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow, where their targets are less used to protecting themselves from the wrath of the people. Never has the phrase “iron fist in a velvet glove” been more applicable to a  series detective. You can find copies of The State Counsellor on our shelves and via 

red deathA Red Death by Walter Mosley

In Walter Mosley’s second Easy Rawlins mystery, Easy is recruited by the FBI to spy on LA’s few committed Communists after the IRS backs him into a corner over back taxes. Despite his growing sympathy for his targets and their cause, there’s little he can do to protect them from the a 1950s America in the grips of anti-Communist paranoia. The Red Death  brings plenty of action while also demonstrating the paralyzing emotional effects of informing on those you love. You can find copies of A Red Death on our shelves and via

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen9780802124944

The unnamed narrator of Thanh Nguyen’s Edgar-and-Pulitzer-winning novel admits from the start that he is a double agent – to the character, this means the unique ability to see both sides, aided by his mixed heritage as the child of a French priest and a Vietnamese mother. Committed to the revolution as a cause, but also committed to the general who provided him with safety and mentorship, the narrator must commit increasingly heinous acts that deny him a comfortable distance between the information he passes along and any consequences deriving from that information. You can find copies of The Sympathizer on our shelves and via 

The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan9781250055170

Community policing meets domestic surveillance in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s second novel to feature handsome, poetry-quoting detective Esa Khattack. When an antagonistic colleague gets Esa assigned to a case surveilling a mosque suspected to contain a terrorist cell, Esa already feels torn between protecting his community and obeying his superiors. To complicate his life further, Esa finds out his estranged sister is engaged to a man suspected of planning an attack against the Canadian government. Meanwhile, his partner Rachel Getty goes undercover at the mosque as a convert, her guilty conscience growing as she notes the positive impact of the small religious community on its hopeful congregants. You can find copies of The Language of Secrets on our shelves and via

9781925240955Good People by Nir Baram

This tale of individual behavior warped by totalitarian states is one of the most chilling you’ll read all year. Sasha, a mediocre Russian poet, develops a talent for extracting confessions from her more talented peers after her parents are arrested and her KGB boyfriend recruits her to spy on her family’s artistic circle. Meanwhile, a German capitalist uses market data gathered by his advertising firm to aid in German military domination over Poland. Good People is both a vicious send-off of stunning hypocrisy and an intimate look at how we can convince ourselves to destroy all those that we love. You can find copies of Good People on our shelves and via 

9781616956455Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street by Héda Margolius Kovàly

This unique and long-buried tale of reluctant informers highlights the destruction visited by Soviet Occupation on the lives of women desperate to save or reunite with their loved ones, and ready to achieve their goals by whatever means necessary – whether that meant informing on those they loved, or sleeping with those they despised. Essential reading for those curious about the most intimate consequences of Cold War politics. You can find copies of Good People on our shelves and via

9781936787418Watchlist: 32 Stories of Persons of Interest

Edited by Bryan Hurt

Stories of surveillance have always fascinated me, especially those focusing on watching as a method of control. Like the cameras at an intersection, the panopticon, or all-seeing eye (traditionally a watchtower) works on the principle that people who do not know when they are being observed will self-regulate their behavior just in case. Now linguistically used to represent all the cameras, drones, data mining, and command centers that together monitor our and others’ behavior, the panopticon hides the observer from the observed, emotionally distancing each from the other in the process.

Watchlist is the perfect antidote to the distancing effect of American panopticons (whether those be drones, news cameras, medical monitoring devices, or the hole in a prison door) as we immerse ourselves in the experiences of the surveilled. The 32 stories included in this  collection explore the nature of surveillance in determining our behavior and the increasing imbalance of power between the watchers and the watched. At turns heartbreaking and mindblowing, international and domestic, far-reaching and intensely personal, the stories in Watchlist are essential reading for those interested in the rise and long-term implications of the surveillance state. You can find copies of Watchlist on our shelves and via


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