Books

Essential political thrillers

We've taken a broad approach to political thrillers otherwise we'd simply be recommending a lot of novels by Vince Flynn. Our list stretches between unabashed page-turners featuring spies, explosions and big finales to award-winning high-end literary fiction set in political circles where the drama comes from intricate details and metaphorical back-stabbing.

The best political thrillers

By John le Carré
This novel tells the story of a British diplomat in Kenya whose activist wife is murdered. Believing there are untold reasons behind her killing, he seeks to uncover an international conspiracy of corrupt bureaucracy and pharmaceutical money.

By Frederick Forsyth
A classic 1971 thriller about a professional assassin who is contracted by the OAS, a French dissident paramilitary organization that really existed, to murder Charles de Gaulle, president of France. Edward Fox starred in the memorable movie adaptation.

By Michael Dobbs
Published in 1989, House of Cards tells the story of Francis Urquhart, the chief whip, and his amoral schemes to become leader of the governing party and, thus, prime minister. The BBC adaptation aired in 1990, long before the Netflix version set in the U.S. starring Kevin Spacey. This novel was followed by two sequels, To Play The King and The Final Cut.

By Richard Condon
First published in 1969, this Cold War thriller is about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin in a Communist conspiracy. It's been adapted into a movie twice. The book's themes include anticommunist hysteria and a domineering mother.
By Stephen King
A high school English teacher in Maine reads a gruesome but enthralling essay penned by janitor Harry Dunning that reveals 50 years ago Harry somehow survived his father's sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. More bizarre secrets come to light when the teacher's friend, the owner of the local diner, enlists him to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
By Robert Penn Warren
First published in 1946, this novel describes the career of Willie Stark, a back-country lawyer whose idealism is overcome by his lust for power. The story is narrated by Jack Burden, a political reporter who comes to work as Stark's right-hand man. The trajectory of Stark's career is interwoven with Burden's own story and philosophical reflections.
By Vince Flynn
Flynn's introduces readers to Mitch Rapp in this breathless thriller. Rapp is a CIA agent working in Iran who discovers a possible terrorist attack planned against the American capital. There's a hostage situation, a scheming president, a love interest and plenty of action.
By Graham Greene
Not so much a thriller but really an insight into colonialism. This 1955 novel depicts French colonialism in Vietnam being uprooted by the Americans. This book foresees the Vietnam War and America's disastrous foreign policies in Asia. Greene was a war reporter in French Indochina from 1951 to 1954.
By James Grady
First published in 1974, this is a suspense drama where CIA agent Ronald Malcolm becomes embroiled with a rogue group operating inside the CIA. He flees from both the rogue operatives and legitimate colleagues as the plot thickens. Another example of 1970s conspiracy literature when no-one can be trusted.
By Robert Ludlum
Pure fluff but fun. This thriller captures the paranoia of post-Watergate America. A secret society of assassins-for-hire has been revived by a powerful organization that is controlling entire governments. Only two men can come to the rescue and they are sworn enemies - one is a rogue CIA agent and the other works for the KGB. You know there's a big finish!
By Don DeLillo
DeLillo reimagines the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This novel is a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theories. A CIA operative wants to force an invasion of Cuba so he enlists a pawn, Lee Harvey Oswald, to unwittingly carry out a failed assassination. What can go wrong?
By Sinclair Lewis
A charismatic Democratic senator is elected president after promising to make America great again. Sound familiar? He takes control of the major banks and insurance companies, and forces Congress to give him unlimited emergency powers. Less of a thriller and more of a dystopian political satire, which became a huge bestseller in 1935.
By John Grisham
A young law student goes underground after witnessing a murder. She finds there is only one person she can trust - an ambitious reporter looking for the next Watergate. This novel stretches from the bayous of Louisiana and to the White House inner sanctums.
By Robert Harris
Researcher Fluke Kelso is approached by Papu Rapava, a former Kremlin bodyguard with an amazing story to tell - there's a diary left by Joseph Stalin himself. But other people want the diary too. This is a novel stretching from Moscow's seedy underbelly to the industrial city of Archangel, where Russia once built her fleets of submarines, and to a remote camp in Siberia.
By Richard T Kelly
As home secretary in Her Majesty's Government, David Blaylock's daily work involves the control of Britain's borders, the oversight of her police force, and guarding against terror threats. He's a former soldier who finds the threat of danger coming close to home.
By Hilary Mantel
Oh yes, a political thriller from the Tudor era. Thomas Cromwell is the archetypal fixer, sorting out the king's problems while knowing the executioner's block is never far away. Mantel's historical fiction novel is top drawer in terms of writing quality. We also recommend Bring up the Bodies by Mantel. Both books won the Man Booker Prize.
By Norman Mailer
Mailer unfolds a riveting story of an American spy. Harry Hubbard is the son and godson of CIA legends. His journey takes him through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Kennedy assassination.
By Daniel Silva
A 2000 spy novel featuring the first appearance of Gabriel Allon, who leaves the spy world after a bomb attack on his family and becomes an art restorer. However, he is tempted back into the field and this becomes a story of Israel, terrorism, and a covert assassination operation.

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