SOME OF OUR FAVORITE WORLD WAR II SPY NOVELS
Restless — William Boyd
I’m a huge fan of William Boyd; he’s such a versatile writer, you never know what you are going to get when you pick up one of his books — other than an excellent story. Restless has a sort of urgency to it which is a million miles away from his bestseller, Any Human Heart, but it asks similar questions about what truth is, and how well you can truly know a person. Restless is a brilliant unpacking of a woman’s hidden past — a maze of a book with the sort of compulsive narrative drive to it that I love in thrillers. Eva’s story, and how it comes to a climax which tears through her daughter’s life, is utterly compelling. Boyd is one of those writers who make you feel you are right next to your characters, but still manages to surprise you at every turn.
The World at Night — Alan Furst
This is the first of Alan Furst’s WWII novels I read and I still remember that glow of discovery I felt as I began it, knowing this was a writer I was going to be spending a lot of time with. In The World at Night the spoiled, selfish, charming and talented filmmaker Jean Casson has to confront the fact his life will not go on undisturbed by the German occupation. Furst is a master at keeping the reader and characters on edge and at the same time his novels are so textured and rich in detail you can feel the texture of his characters lives. I saw someone describe his books as ‘paper time machines’ once and that seems right to me.
Behind The Lines The Oral History of Special Operation in WWII — Russell Miller
I know, it doesn’t sound like a page turner! But I loved this book and am so grateful to Miller for gathering the stories of these remarkable men and women working behind the lines in Europe and preserving them in their own words. Miller also does a great job of giving the reader the information they need to put the stories in context and then lets his subjects speak. The result is like spending a night at the bar with some of the most exceptional agents of the war. The stories they tell are often funny, self-deprecating, terrifying and gut-wrenching in turns and just like when reading Nancy’s auto-biography or listening to her interviews, you learn an enormous amount by paying attention to what is unsaid, what is hinted at or shrugged off. It’s like listening to their stories in a bar with a drink in your hand and then watching them go quiet for a second, look off and then order another round.
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy who Helped Win World War II — Sonia Purnell
Purnell’s exhaustively researched work explores the heroic true story of Virginia Hall, an American socialite turned spy. Much like the heroine of our novel, Nancy Wake, Hall volunteered for the British military intelligence service — Churchill’s famed Special Operations Executive — and infiltrated occupied France. Brilliant, bold, and brash, she established herself as a leader of the French Resistance, battling the Nazi menace and narrowly evading capture at every turn. Recounted in harrowing detail, the writing crackles with wit and action, catapulting the reader from one tense scene to the next. It’s some of the best non-fiction I’ve read, and if you’re a fan of this fine book, you’ll surely love Liberation, too.
The Rhinemann Exchange — Robert Ludlum
Set in the middle of World War II, The Rhinemann Exchange follows David Spaulding, a clever, cagey American spy. This novel is an all-time favorite of mine, yet another masterpiece of suspense from one of the best in the business. What I love about Ludlum’s storytelling style is that he manages to unfurl an intricate, exciting plot with tension and panache, effortlessly integrating a host of deftly drawn characters and deeply human conflicts. While lesser spy-thriller authors often bank on cheap surprises and tawdry allure, Ludlum always manages to find the moral core of his story, thereby drawing out thematic resonance from every twist and turn. As usual, his dialogue is sharp and spare, bristling with weary cynicism, a reflection of the fraught world he brings to life for your reading pleasure.
Night Soldiers — Alan Furst
Echoing Imogen’s pick, I’m going with another one of Furst’s World War II novels. Impeccably researched and meticulously plotted, Night Soldiers spans vast lengths of time and distance to draw together a tale of intrigue, power, and the raw brutality of survival. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Furst’s writing is the immaculate detail, the great care he takes with every description, every moment, every choice. In doing so, he really draws you into his world, fleshing out characters who are flawed and fascinating and altogether human. If you’re looking for a sweeping tale about the tragedies and triumphs of war, Night Soldiers is a great choice.