When you think of espionage fiction, only a handful of names come quickly to mind. John le Carré, of course. Ian Fleming, unfortunately. You might also name Alan Furst, Joseph Kanon, possibly Charles Cumming. And if you’ve been reading books in the genre for a long time, as I have, you’ll think of Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton, Graham Greene, and Eric Ambler, among others. The name Alex Gerlis isn’t likely to roll off the tongue. But if he keeps writing at the level he displays in his first four spy novels, that’s going to change. Even the fifth, though not as good, is promising.
Four top-notch spy novels from Alex Gerlis
The Best of Our Spies—An extraordinary World War II spy story grounded in historical fact
The XX Committee—otherwise, the Twenty Committee or the Double Cross Committee—was a high-level body in the British government charged with mounting a number of secret operations to deceive the Germans about the location of the Normandy Invasion. Their work, code-named Operation Fortitude and kept secret for decades, was spectacularly successful. It may have made the difference between the success or failure of the all-important invasion. Naturally, a historical event so rich in detail and possibilities has also given rise to many spy novels as well. The most satisfying of those I’ve read is The Best of Our Spies.
The Swiss Spy—World War II spies in Switzerland
The role that Switzerland played in World War II is reasonably well known. Swiss banks laundered the equivalent of billions of dollars in funds seized from Jews and others by the Nazi regime in neighboring Germany. Because the country was officially neutral in the war, Zurich, Geneva, Bern, and other Swiss cities housed spies from every major power in the conflict. In his novel, The Swiss Spy, Alex Gerlis artfully brings together both factors in a gripping novel of espionage.
Vienna Spies—A stirring tale of spies in wartime Vienna
Gerlis’ tale revolves six principal characters. Rolf Eder, who is Viennese, and Katharina Hoch, a German, are matched by British intelligence for a sensitive mission in Vienna, masquerading as a married couple. To assist them, they are to locate and meet with Sister Ursula, an Austrian nun who has been helping the British since the war started. Viktor Krasotkin, one of Moscow’s top spies, is dispatched to Vienna, in part to undermine their mission. His handler is Ilia Brodsky, a senior Soviet official who has “the ear of Stalin.” Above all, the spies from both nations must elude capture by the sadistic Kriminaldirektor Karl Strobel, the Gestapo’s top investigator of Communists and resistance fighters.
The Berlin Spies—The best spy novelist you’ve never read
The Berlin Spies is the fourth novel Gerlis has written since he left his job teaching journalism at the BBC in 2011. Like his first three books, The Berlin Spies is solidly rooted in historical reality, cleverly plotted, and features characters whose interactions are invariably plausible. Unlike the first three, this novel is extraordinarily complicated. The cast of “main characters” is four pages long. I was more than one-quarter of the way through the book before I figured out what was going on. But I’m glad I stuck it out. The story is richly rewarding.
A new spy series from Alex Gerlis
Prince of Spies (Richard Prince #1)—British spies and the Nazi V-2 rocket
In 2020, Gerlis launched a new series featuring Richard Prince, an English cop pressed into the Special Operations Executive for a mission behind enemy lines in Denmark and Germany. It’s September 1942. Like nearly all of Europe, Denmark is occupied by Nazi Germany. And a businessman there has gotten word to London that he has access to top-secret information about the Nazis’ miracle weapons, the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket. They’re under development at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast in Germany near the Danish border. Prince is to infiltrate into Denmark, make contact with the businessman, retrieve the information, and hightail it back to London. But of course it’s nowhere nearly as simple as that.
For additional reading
You might also enjoy my posts:
- My 20 favorite espionage novels;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
You’ll find my other most-read novelists at Your gateway to my reviews of my favorite novelists.
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