That also goes for detective fiction that typically features moral heroes in corrupt societies: Since it’s harder to find more corruption than Russians have put up with for a century, you might try novels by Martin Cruz Smith, Tom Rob Smith, and William Ryan set in Moscow or thereabouts. Qiu Xiaolong looks at Chinese society similarly. For more about these books, see “Down Moscow’s mean streets” (WORLD, April 18, 2015) and “Down Berlin’s mean streets” (May 17, 2014).
I’ve just read my first spy novel by Alex Berenson, who has a series of 11 starring John Wells, a maverick CIA fighter against Islamic terrorists. Wells curiously becomes a Muslim in an early book, but comments like this from his girlfriend are rare in contemporary fiction: “I’m barely in the door, say I’m pregnant, the first thing the tech says, Is this baby desired? Like, You like this sweater or should I put it back on the shelf? ... This baby desired? Is that really the relevant question? This baby’s a baby. I guess some women say no.”
Berenson also brings us into the brain of a French spy chief who had often gone to interments at Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris. A hand grenade is about to put him there as a victim, not a mourner: “His last thought, not a prayer. For like so many French, he was a rationalist, an atheist. Even now, God didn’t come for him. Instead … All those trips to Père Lachaise, I never guessed at the evil in this world.”
After this look at life-and-death novels, you might enjoy Angela Lu’s look at books that generate more laughs.