The Top 10 Tales of Political Intrigue
Readers who enjoy espionage and high-stakes action are likely to be addicts of political intrigue. The machinations of those who desire power are captivating, partly because we all wonder how far we would go if the throne were our only, life-defining goal. The tales of these devious political animals are timeless. Below, we consider the books and the characters that have shaped this genre, and it’s easy to see how the excitement will always remain current and relevant.
I’ve listed here the top ten works of fiction that inspired me to write in this genre. Many cross over into military or spy fiction, but the single red thread that runs through all these works is the slippery amorality of the main characters; their ruthlessness and self-confirmed integrity are hypnotic.
Many of you might be disappointed not to see the Game of Thrones series in this list; it is a worthy contender, but I believe that it is more of a military tale and the true politicians wage war rather than maneuver through long-term wisdom.
- House of Cards (Michael Dobbs)
The origin of Frank Underwood: Francis Urquhart. He was camp and cruel in the way only a scheming, suave elitist can be. A brilliant tale by the former advisor and chief of staff to Margaret Thatcher, the author Dobbs was called the “baby-faced hitman” while roaming the corridors of power. He got his writing chops during an early career at The Boston Globe, ultimately returning to pen and paper when he left Thatcher’s employ. The Netflix series is based upon only the first book in his brilliant House of Cards trilogy.
- The Mitch Rapp series (Vince Flynn)
No, the political mastermind is not the iconic assassin with the death wish. Possibly the greatest modern spymaster in pulp fiction was born and explained on the pages of the first few books: Thomas Stansfield. The director of the CIA managed the strengths and weaknesses of his political masters with a finesse unmatched by many other fictional characters, and Flynn brings him to life with a love that implies that possibly he should have been the main character of the series.
- Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick)
A melange of characters appears in HBO’s adaptation of Dick’s work. The author of the books behind Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall transcends genres to step into alternative history with the account of a victorious German empire at the end of WWII. Frightening, shameful, and captivating: this is the ultimate broad-brush political saga.
- The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
This was the original political scandal that introduced the concept of the evil spymaster. Richelieu was, allegedly, a very good man and a force for justice. Dumas was a drunkard, a womanizer, and a bankrupt. Thus, through this enmity did we receive the father of all wicked political masterminds.
A little-known fact is also true of Dumas’s work: he was so unreliable as an author that the newspaper editor who published his work on a weekly basis would only commission the next installment if his current chapter demonstrably helped to sell copies. Thus, Dumas made popular the idea of finishing every chapter with a cliffhanger.
- The Cicero Trilogy – Imperium, Lustrum, Dictator (Robert Harris)
Harris is the greatest author of all mainstream political thrillers. His body of work includes not just the Cicero trilogy, but also Conclave, An Officer and A Spy, and The Ghost. All are addictive page-turners with tangible roots in real-world circumstances.
- The Godfather (Mario Puzo)
Puzo’s book spawned a multitude of Mafia fiction and a million teenage boys’ ambitions. Written by an insider, this novel is as perfect a story as I’ve read. This is possibly the most frequently read book on my shelves.
- Submission (Michel Houellebecq)
Another alternative history tale, but this time set in the very recent past. Houellebecq watches the slow, manifest Islamization of France through the eyes of a character inspired by Camus’s Meursault.
- Spies Against Armageddon (Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman)
This time a nonfiction work, but one so steeped in the legend of the Mossad that it feels like a novel. Raviv and Melman strip down the characters, the motives, and the operations that propelled Israel through the latter quarter of the twentieth century up to the present time.
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid)
A remarkable novel and an allegory for our time. This work of fiction contrasts the inherent racism in our society against the constant suspicion of whether the main character is a lone-wolf terrorist.
- The Manchurian Candidate (Richard Condon)
The classic tale of the brainwashed candidate who is supported by a foreign superpower to take the highest political office in the US. With allegations of Russian tampering in the 2016 elections, Google registered a huge spike in searches for the book just before Trump’s inauguration. Ironically, the bad guys in this original tale are the all-powerful communists; it seems that twisted plots in political thrillers remain young, even if the circumstances change.
JB has lived and studied in eight different countries so far, scattered across Europe, East Africa, and Latin America. Passionate about high-level politics, he studied the inner workings of the European Union as an undergrad with a view to eventually working in the arena of international border disputes. Although his career has (obviously) taken a rather different route, he is now writing about the obsession that has captivated him his entire life: the tectonic movements of states. JB is now resident in the darkest depths of leafy West London, where he writes using the inspiration of the India-Pakistan split, the founding of Israel, the identity crisis of Brexit, and the maelstrom within the EU.
Loreticus is his debut novel and the first in the Lost Emperor trilogy.