The necessary element for espionage thrillers

November 26, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, writers, writing.

We all know what the essential element of a murder mystery is. It’s the murder.

The essential element of an espionage thriller is more elusive, but I have a candidate in mind. It’s betrayal.

And thereby lies the tale. What drives a person to betray friends, family, colleagues, and/or country? How deeply will the element of betrayal reside in the character? Will the character betray anyone at any time? Probably not, but when will betrayal arise.

I have been reading some espionage thrillers lately and have become fascinated by the world of spies, espionage, and, yes, betrayal. Betrayal is the running theme of Joseph Kanon’s Defectors, a book I finished last week. Kanon’s books are written with grace and depth of feeling, and they include all of the other elements that make espionage a good companion for a dark, winter night — things like deception, danger, high stakes, and even murder.

But I keep coming back to betrayal.

So I was delighted to find this article on that is an interview of Joseph Kanon by another shooting star across the espionage genre’s sky: Paul Viditch. In the article, Vidich writes:

I have read most of Kanon’s books and have come to appreciate him as a worthy successor to Graham Greene. Kanon’s novels, which are filled with complex characters who struggle with moral questions, have achieved publishing’s trifecta—commercially successful, critically well-received, and admired by other writers. They are spy novels, but only in in the sense that one or more of the characters is a current or former spy, and they deal with identity, duplicity, and betrayal. Plot doesn’t drive his novels, characters do. They adhere to a basic principle of storytelling: character is plot; plot is character. And this is true of Kanon’s new book, The Accomplice, which is one of his most accomplished. Source: Joseph Kanon: Why Spies Are the Ideal Subjects for Writers | CrimeReads

Kanon has just published his latest thriller, The Accomplice. As with all of his books, the physical and moral questions that his characters must confront are fascinating.

Vidich has published two novels, An Honorable Man and The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, will be out early in 2020.

The article cited above will give you a good insight into both of these writers.

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