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Best books of 2020: Thrillers


Box 88, by Charles Cumming, HarperCollins, RRP£14.99, 496 pages

Bonjour Tristesse meets Len Deighton in this ambitious fusion of coming-of-age novel and gripping espionage thriller that switches between the south of France and London. Box 88 is a secretive, elite Anglo-American mini-spy agency on the trail of Lachlan Kite, one of its officers who has been kidnapped by the Iranians. Cumming skilfully weaves back and forth between Kite’s schooldays and the present, taking his writing to a new level.

The Dead Line, by Holly Watt, Raven, RRP£14.99, 460 pages

Watts’ high-octane second novel roams from London to Bangladesh via Greece and Washington DC. Casey Benedict, her protagonist, is a journalist on the trail of an international conspiracy involving surrogate mothers, kidnapped Rohingya refugees, corruption and dirty money. An award-winning former investigative journalist herself, Watts’ prose crackles with energy.

The Englishman, by David Gilman, Head of Zeus, RRP£18.99, 480 pages

When Raglan, a former soldier in the French Foreign Legion, is recruited by MI6 for an off-the-books operation, he is pitched into a fast-paced, dangerous journey through organised crime in London and Russia that ends in a Siberian prison camp. The narrative goes at breakneck speed but between the action Gilman slowly and deftly unveils Raglan’s back-story.

The Runner, by Stephen Leather, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP£16.99, 336 pages

Sally Page, a junior MI5 officer, goes out for coffee one morning and returns to the agency safe house to find a bloodbath. Her colleagues have been murdered and Page is soon on the run. Leather delivers an enthralling read in this well-engineered, fast-paced chase thriller. Bring on Page’s next adventure.

Best Books of the Year 2020

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Business by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Wednesday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Thursday: History by Tony Barber
Friday: Critics’ choice
Saturday: Crime by Barry Forshaw

The Paladin, by David Ignatius, WW Norton, RRP$27.95, 320 pages

No spy novelist knows the world of American spookery better than Ignatius, a prizewinning columnist for the Washington Post. His latest complex, well-informed work is one of his best. Michael Dunne is a CIA officer working off-the-books navigating internet deep fakes, a collapsing marriage and ruthless bosses, ready to sacrifice him whenever necessary.

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