Essential Political Thrillers

We've taken a broad approach to political thrillers otherwise we'd simply be recommending a lot of novels by Vince Flynn. Our list stretches between unabashed page-turners featuring spies, explosions and big finales to award-winning high-end literary fiction set in political circles where the drama comes from intricate details and metaphorical back-stabbing.

Political Thrillers

The Constant Gardener by John le Carré

The Constant Gardener
by John le Carré

This novel tells the story of a British diplomat in Kenya whose activist wife is murdered. Believing there are untold reasons behind her killing, he seeks to uncover an international conspiracy of corrupt bureaucracy and pharmaceutical money.

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The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The Day of the Jackal
by Frederick Forsyth

A classic 1971 thriller about a professional assassin who is contracted by the OAS, a French dissident paramilitary organization that really existed, to murder Charles de Gaulle, president of France. Edward Fox starred in the memorable movie adaptation.

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House of Cards by Michael Dobbs

House of Cards
by Michael Dobbs

Published in 1989, House of Cards tells the story of Francis Urquhart, the chief whip, and his amoral schemes to become leader of the governing party and, thus, prime minister. The BBC adaptation aired in 1990, long before the Netflix version set in the U.S. starring Kevin Spacey. This novel was followed by two sequels, To Play The King and The Final Cut.

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The Parallax View by Loren Singer

The Parallax View
by Loren Singer

This superb 1970 political thriller was turned into a movie in 1974 with Warren Beatty. A reporter investigates a series of deaths of witnesses who saw the assassination of a presidential candidate, whose death had been attributed to a lone gunman. The book followed a series of actual assassinations in the 1960s, and was inspired by the growing culture of conspiracy paranoia in the US.

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The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

The Manchurian Candidate
by Richard Condon

First published in 1969, this Cold War thriller is about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin in a Communist conspiracy. It's been adapted into a movie twice. The book's themes include anticommunist hysteria and a domineering mother.

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Dark Horse by Fletcher Knebel

Dark Horse
by Fletcher Knebel

Three weeks before the US election day, a presidential candidate dies... in a hastily called party meeting. Eddie Quinn is named to take his place. Eddie who? Quinn is an obscure highway official from New Jersey, who loves fast cars, bowling and women.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63
by Stephen King

A high school English teacher in Maine reads a gruesome but enthralling essay penned by janitor Harry Dunning that reveals 50 years ago Harry somehow survived his father's sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. More bizarre secrets come to light when the teacher's friend, the owner of the local diner, enlists him to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

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All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

All the King's Men
by Robert Penn Warren

First published in 1946, this novel describes the career of Willie Stark, a back-country lawyer whose idealism is overcome by his lust for power. The story is narrated by Jack Burden, a political reporter who comes to work as Stark's right-hand man. The trajectory of Stark's career is interwoven with Burden's own story and philosophical reflections.

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Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn

Transfer of Power
by Vince Flynn

Flynn's introduces readers to Mitch Rapp in this breathless thriller. Rapp is a CIA agent working in Iran who discovers a possible terrorist attack planned against the American capital. There's a hostage situation, a scheming president, a love interest and plenty of action.

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The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Quiet American
by Graham Greene

Not so much a thriller but really an insight into colonialism. This 1955 novel depicts French colonialism in Vietnam being uprooted by the Americans. This book foresees the Vietnam War and America's disastrous foreign policies in Asia. Greene was a war reporter in French Indochina from 1951 to 1954.

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Six Days of the Condor by James Grady

Six Days of the Condor
by James Grady

First published in 1974, this is a suspense drama where CIA agent Ronald Malcolm becomes embroiled with a rogue group operating inside the CIA. He flees from both the rogue operatives and legitimate colleagues as the plot thickens. Another example of 1970s conspiracy literature when no-one can be trusted.

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The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva

The Kill Artist
by Daniel Silva

A 2000 spy novel featuring the first appearance of Gabriel Allon, who leaves the spy world after a bomb attack on his family and becomes an art restorer. However, he is tempted back into the field and this becomes a story of Israel, terrorism, and a covert assassination operation.

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The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum

The Matarese Circle
by Robert Ludlum

Pure fluff but fun. This thriller captures the paranoia of post-Watergate America. A secret society of assassins-for-hire has been revived by a powerful organization that is controlling entire governments. Only two men can come to the rescue and they are sworn enemies - one is a rogue CIA agent and the other works for the KGB. You know there's a big finish!

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Libra by Don DeLillo

Libra
by Don DeLillo

DeLillo reimagines the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This novel is a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theories. A CIA operative wants to force an invasion of Cuba so he enlists a pawn, Lee Harvey Oswald, to unwittingly carry out a failed assassination. What can go wrong?

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It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis

A charismatic Democratic senator is elected president after promising to make America great again. Sound familiar? He takes control of the major banks and insurance companies, and forces Congress to give him unlimited emergency powers. Less of a thriller and more of a dystopian political satire, which became a huge bestseller in 1935.

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The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

The Pelican Brief
by John Grisham

A young law student goes underground after witnessing a murder. She finds there is only one person she can trust - an ambitious reporter looking for the next Watergate. This novel stretches from the bayous of Louisiana and to the White House inner sanctums.

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Harry's Game by Gerald Seymour

Harry's Game
by Gerald Seymour

A British politician is murdered by an IRA gunman, Billy Downes, in front of his wife and children as he leaves for work. Downes then escapes to Belfast and army officer Harry Brown is sent undercover into Belfast's Catholic community to track down the assassin.

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Archangel by Robert Harris

Archangel
by Robert Harris

Researcher Fluke Kelso is approached by Papu Rapava, a former Kremlin bodyguard with an amazing story to tell - there's a diary left by Joseph Stalin himself. But other people want the diary too. This is a novel stretching from Moscow's seedy underbelly to the industrial city of Archangel, where Russia once built her fleets of submarines, and to a remote camp in Siberia.

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The Knives by Richard T Kelly

The Knives
by Richard T Kelly

As home secretary in Her Majesty's Government, David Blaylock's daily work involves the control of Britain's borders, the oversight of her police force, and guarding against terror threats. He's a former soldier who finds the threat of danger coming close to home.

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel

Oh yes, a political thriller from the Tudor era. Thomas Cromwell is the archetypal fixer, sorting out the king's problems while knowing the executioner's block is never far away. Mantel's historical fiction novel is top drawer in terms of writing quality. We also recommend Bring up the Bodies by Mantel. Both books won the Man Booker Prize.

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Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

Advise and Consent
by Allen Drury

An epic tale of corruption and ambition across the landscape of Washington DC. From a Senate old-timer's wily maneuvers, a vicious smear campaign, and ugly personal jealousies to a tragic presidential aspirant who refuses to sacrifice his principles for his career. A revealing picture of Washington's intricate world.

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Harlot's Ghost by Norman Mailer

Harlot's Ghost
by Norman Mailer

Mailer unfolds a riveting story of an American spy. Harry Hubbard is the son and godson of CIA legends. His journey takes him through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Kennedy assassination.

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Primary Colors by Anonymous

Primary Colors
by Anonymous

Written by journalist Joe Klein, this work of fiction is based on Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992. The story is told from the point of view of Henry Burton, who joins the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton - a man with an eye for the ladies. A tremendous insight into how a campaign can veer off course in a single day.

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