8 Classic Political Thrillers to Get You Through Election Season

Like it or not, it’s election season in the US, and though the truth is often stranger than fiction, fiction is still a great way to escape the seemingly never-ending barrage of political intrigue in the news right now.

Deception, espionage, treason and manipulation—no, I’m not talking about the election news cycle, but the books that have it all. Take a look at these eight classic political thrillers to dive into, with full publisher descriptions to help get a taste for the turmoil within.

 

cover_absolute-powerAbsolute Power by David Baldacci

A grizzled professional cat burglar gets trapped inside the bedroom closet of one of the world’s richest men, only to witness, through a one-way mirror, two Secret Service agents kill the billionaire’s trampy young wife as she tries to fight off the drunken sexual advances of the nation’s chief executive. Running for his life, but not before he picks up a bloodstained letter opener that puts the president at the scene of the crime, the burglar becomes the target of a clandestine manhunt orchestrated by leading members of the executive branch.

Meanwhile, Jack Graham, once a public defender and now a high-powered corporate attorney, gets drawn into the case because the on-the-lam burglar just happens to be the father of his former finance, a crusading Virginia prosecutor.

Embroidering the narrative through assorted plot whorls are the hero’s broken romance; his conflict over selling out for financial success; the prosecutor’s confused love-hate for her burglar father; the relentless investigation by a northern Virginia career cop; the dilemma of government agents trapped in a moral catch-22; the amoral ambitions of a sexy White House Chief of Staff; and the old burglar’s determination to bring down the ruthless president.

Meanwhile, lurking at the novel’s center like a venomous spider is the sociopathic president

 

cover_the-pelican-briefThe Pelican Brief by John Grisham

In suburban Georgetown a killer’s Reeboks whisper on the front floor of a posh home… In a seedy D.C. porno house a patron is swiftly garroted to death… The next day America learns that two of its Supreme Court justices have been assassinated.

And in New Orleans, a young law student prepares a legal brief… To Darby Shaw it was no more than a legal shot in the dark, a brilliant guess. To the Washington establishment it was political dynamite. Suddenly Darby is witness to a murder—a murder intended for her. Going underground, she finds there is only one person she can trust—an ambitious reporter after a newsbreak hotter than Watergate—to help her piece together the deadly puzzle.

Somewhere between the bayous of Louisiana and the White House’s inner sanctums, a violent cover-up is being engineered. For someone has read Darby’s brief. Someone who will stop at nothing to destroy the evidence of an unthinkable crime.

 

cover_the-day-of-the-jackalThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The Jackal. A tall, blond Englishman with opaque, gray eyes. A killer at the top of his profession. A man unknown to any secret service in the world. An assassin with a contract to kill the world’s most heavily guarded man.

One man with a rifle who can change the course of history. One man whose mission is so secretive not even his employers know his name. And as the minutes count down to the final act of execution, it seems that there is no power on earth that can stop the Jackal.

 

cover_the-manchurian-candidateThe Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

Sgt. Raymond Shaw is a hero of the first order. He’s an ex-prisoner of war who saved the life of his entire outfit, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the stepson of an influential senator…and the perfect assassin. Brainwashed during his time as a P.O.W., he is a “sleeper”—a living weapon to be triggered by a secret signal. He will act without question, no matter what order he is made to carry out. To stop Shaw and those who now control him, his former commanding officer, Bennett Marco, must uncover the truth behind a twisted conspiracy of torture, betrayal, and power that will lead him to the highest levels of the government—and into the darkest recesses of his own mind…

 

cover_the-constant-gardenerThe Constant Gardener by John le Carré

The Constant Gardener is a magnificent exploration of the new world order by one of the most compelling and elegant storytellers of our time. The novel opens in northern Kenya with the gruesome murder of Tessa Quayle—young, beautiful, and dearly beloved to husband Justin. When Justin sets out on a personal odyssey to uncover the mystery of her death, what he finds could make him not only a suspect among his own colleagues, but a target for Tessa’s killers as well.

A master chronicler of the betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict, John le Carré portrays the dark side of unbridled capitalism as only he can. In The Constant Gardener he tells a compelling, complex story of a man elevated through tragedy as Justin Quayle—amateur gardener, aging widower, and ineffectual bureaucrat—discovers his own natural resources and the extraordinary courage of the woman he barely had time to love.

 

cover_the-hunt-for-red-octoberThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

Here is the runaway bestseller that launched Tom Clancy’s phenomenal career. A military thriller so gripping in its action and so convincing in its accuracy that the author was rumored to have been debriefed by the White House. Its theme: the greatest espionage coup in history. Its story: the chase for a top secret Russian missile sub. Lauded by the Washington Post as “breathlessly exciting.” The Hunt for Red October remains a masterpiece of military fiction by one of the world’s most popular authors, a man whose shockingly realistic scenarios continue to hold us in thrall.

Somewhere under the Atlantic, a Soviet sub commander has just made a fateful decision. The Red October is heading west. The Americans want her. The Russians want her back. And the most incredible chase in history is on…

 

cover_eye-of-the-needleEye of the Needle by Ken Follett

One enemy spy knows the secret to the Allies’ greatest deception, a brilliant aristocrat and ruthless assassin—code name: “The Needle”—who holds the key to ultimate Nazi victory. Only one person stands in his way: a lonely Englishwoman on an isolated island, who is beginning to love the killer who has mysteriously entered her life.

All will come to a terrifying conclusion in Ken Follett’s unsurpassed and unforgettable masterwork of suspense, intrigue, and the dangerous machinations of the human heart.

 

cover_our-man-in-havanaOur Man in Havana by Graham Greene

First published in 1959, Our Man in Havana is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire that still resonates today. Conceived as one of Graham Greene’s ‘entertainments,’ it tells of MI6’s man in Havana, Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true.

 

 

Have we left your favorite classic political thriller off the list? What will you be reading to help you survive the final push of the election season? Let us know in the comments!

    Karen Green

    Karen Green is a freelance writer and big city ex-pat now living in rural Ontario. She writes for numerous print and online publications, and considers her library card to be one of her most valuable possessions.

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