Cover image of "A Cold Red Sunrise," one of the very best Russian mysteries

Okay, it’s not entirely accurate to call the books listed below as “Russian mysteries and thrillers.” If the truth be told, none of them are. They’re mysteries and thrillers written by people who aren’t Russian. But they’re set in Russia, some of them in the present day, others in the past. Or the action takes place mostly or entirely elsewhere but involves Russians engaged in espionage or criminal activities, all of which leads back to Russia. 

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Below you’ll find two lists. The first is a short one of the very best Russian mysteries and thrillers I’ve read over the past dozen years. The longer bunch that follows includes the whole lot—more than 40 books all told. Within each list they appear in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. And, oh, I’ve included only one title from each author in the list at the top. Otherwise, a couple of these authors would dominate the list.

The very best Russian mysteries and thrillers

A Cold Red Sunrise (Porfiry Rostnikov #5) by Stuart M. Kaminsky— A historical mystery about a murder above the Arctic Circle

Defectors by Joseph Kanon—A superb new novel about defectors in Moscow

Red Widow by Alma Katsu—A poisoned CIA asset, and a hunt for a CIA mole

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre—Is this the best spy novel ever written?

Red Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1) by Jason Mathews—Authentic espionage tradecraft in this gripping novel by a CIA veteran

Moscow X by David McCloskey—A CIA plot to destabilize the Russian government

The Soul of Viktor Tronko by David Quammen—Digging down deep to find the mole in the CIA

Three Stations (Arkady Renko #7) by Martin Cruz Smith—A detective inside Russia under Vladimir Putin

The Cold War Swap by Ross Thomas—Making the Cold War seem like fun

The Mercenary by Paul Vidich—A superb Cold War thriller from Paul Vidich

None of the action in any of these books takes place in St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. But it’s such a familiar image, redolent of all things Russian, that I couldn’t resist including it here. 

All the best Russian mysteries and thrillers

The Silent Man (John Wells #3) by Alex Berenson—An able spy story about terrorism, nuclear weapons, and Russia

The Deceivers (John Wells #12) by Alex Berenson—Russia takes the next step in the latest John Wells spy novel

Secret Service (Kate Henderson #1) by Tom Bradby—Is Britain about to elect a Russian spy as its new Prime Minister?

Double Agent (Kate Henderson #2) by Tom Bradby—Upheaval in MI6—and a prime minister who may be a traitor

Berlin Game (Bernard Samson #1) by Len Deighton—A classic novel of Cold War espionage reminiscent of John le Carré

Mexico Set (Bernard Samson #2) by Len Deighton—In Len Deighton’s classic spy series, Bernard Samson goes to Mexico

Lenin’s Roller Coaster (Jack McColl #3) by David Downing—A novelist revisits the Russian Revolution

Moscow Sting (Anna Resnikov #2) by Alex Dryden—A former British intelligence officer imagines a female Russian superspy

Stuart M. Kaminsky’s Inspector Rostnikov novels set in the USSR:

Defectors by Joseph Kanon—A superb new novel about defectors in Moscow

Red Widow by Alma Katsu—A poisoned CIA asset, and a hunt for a CIA mole

Red London (Red Widow #2) by Alma Katsu—A joint MI6-CIA operation targets Russian oligarchs in London

John le Carre’s espionage novels:

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes—Nazis, Communists, and Western spies clash in this classic spy novel

The Red Sparrow Trilogy by Jason Matthews:

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott—Doctor Zhivago and the women in the CIA typing pool

The Soul of Viktor Tronko by David Quammen—Digging down deep to find the mole in the CIA

Breaking Cover (Liz Carlyle #9) by Stella Rimington—Russian agents under cover in the UK

The Moscow Sleepers (Liz Carlyle #10) by Stella Rimington—An interesting new twist on Russian sleeper agents

The Captain Alexei Korolev novels by William Ryan, set in Stalin’s Soviet Union:

The Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith:

The Cold War Swap by Ross Thomas—Making the Cold War seem like fun

The Mercenary by Paul Vidich—A superb Cold War thriller from Paul Vidich

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams—American defectors in Moscow mirror the Cambridge Five

The Envoy (William Catesby #1) by Edward Wilson—The CIA, the KGB, British intelligence and the H-bomb

The Whitehall Mandarin (William Catesby #4) by Edward Wilson—In the early days of the Cold War, nuclear espionage in search of the H-bomb

For related reading

If you’re looking for books about Russia, try this post: Good books about Vladimir Putin, modern Russia and the Russian oligarchy.

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