Reconnaissance, Espionage, and Counter-Surveillance: 9 Cold War Thrillers

Cold War Thrillers_NovelSuspectsWhen I was in school, I didn’t really understand what the Cold War was… to me, if there was no violence, and no one dying at the hands of the enemy, then it wasn’t really a “war.”

As an adult, I understand it better: even though America and Soviet-Era Russia fought together to win the second World War, it was an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation. Ideologically, the countries as they existed through the 40s through the 80s were at direct odds. Both were ready for a “real” war, but neither wanted to throw the first punch, which led to (essentially) decades of high-stakes reconnaissance, espionage, and counter-surveillance.

For that reason, the best—or at least the most famous—thrillers about spies are all set during the Cold War. Here’s a dead drop of books, from contemporary to historical, to get you started down that path.


Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.