Top Five Inspirational Thrillers by Charles Cumming

Top Five Inspirational Thrillers by Charles Cumming

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

There are moments in both Thomas Kell books that deliberately pay tribute to John le Carré, particularly the opening scene of A Colder War, which is an homage to the first chapter of The Spy Who Came in the Cold (in which an East German spy is shot while trying to cross to the West at Checkpoint Charlie). When it was first published in the 1960s, Graham Greene described this book as the finest spy novel he had ever read, and who would disagree? Le Carré has written deeper, more elaborate novels, but as an exercise in structure and suspense, it’s unimprovable.

A Coffin for Dimitros by Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is the grandfather of the serious spy novel and this exploration of pre-World War II Europe is probably his masterpiece. For Ambler, it wasn’t about martinis and gadgets, but rather an interest in character and behaviour, as well as political motivation. Both Le Carré and Greene acknowledged the debt they owe to Ambler. He showed the way.

Archangel by Robert Harris

Robert Harris is another master of the literary thriller and Archangel is among his very best. Set in Russia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it’s about an historian who discovers a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin. My novel, The Trinity Six, also involves the discovery of a life-changing document and, while the circumstances are very different, I may well not have written it had I not been inspired by Archangel.

The Prisoner of Guantánamo by Daniel Fesperman

Daniel Fesperman is America’s answer to le Carré: a writer of great elegance and sophistication whose novels are always of the highest quality. It was clear from reading The Prisoner of Guantánamo the sheer volume of research that went into it, impressing on me the importance of doing your homework before writing any thriller that has a political undercurrent. In this respect, Prisoner had a big influence on my China thriller, Typhoon.

The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

A lot of people discovered Len Deighton thanks to the film adaptation of his first novel, The Ipcress File. In the book, Deighton’s mischievous narrator remains anonymous – in the movie, he was played by Michael Caine and given the entirely appropriate name, Harry Palmer. The early Deighton novels are extremely well-written; there’s a clear debt to Raymond Chandler. I was trying to capture something of this witty, ironic tone in the first part A Foreign Country, when the reader encounters Thomas Kell for the first time.