The Secret Empress is a new and exciting thriller from author Frank Heller. It details the adventures of former C.I.A agent Joe Wilder as he is embroiled in an international plot that revolves around modern drug trafficking, ancient Chinese history and a lost heir. It follows in the long tradition of literature called the spy novel.

Spies have long been the source of inspiration for writers. The uncertainty with how spies do their jobs, and even the very nature of their jobs seem to invite vivid imagination. Of course, when imaginations are excited, the pens and typewriters of authors get busy and stories about clandestine operations and backstabs and betrayals, as well as secrets and shadows have kept authors writing and audiences thrilled for a very long time. For the record, you could even consider the Hebrew Bible to include one of the earliest spy stories, when General Joshua, sent spies in order to scope out the City of Jericho.

The term spy novel did not get popular until Irish author Erskine Childers released his novel “The Riddle of the Sands” in 1903. In it, readers find two British yachtsmen who become amateur spies in the effort to thwart an upcoming German plan to invade Britain. Not only did this become the “spy novel” but it also created a market for invasion literature sub-genre in the era. Until then spies only served as just peripheries to tales of European colonial power rivalry, their dominance in Asia and the looming threat in Europe as well as backgrounds for historical romances. The works of Joseph Conrad also stand out as they used the spy to examine psychology and ideology. Even the Sherlock Holmes novels joined in on the fun as the titular detective served as a spy hunter for the British Government in at least two novels.

Spy fiction really came to the forefront with the advent of the Second World War and its evolution into the Soviet-American Cold War. Though remaining a mystery, the operations led by the American O.S.S (Office of the Strategic Services) as well as its successor, the C.I.A. (Central Intelligence Agency) and their Soviet counterparts of the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnost) just galvanized the minds of the people. But the most popular spy in the era, and arguably of all time, did not come out from these two organizations but from the British Secret Service. Sir Ian Flemming, a former member of British Naval Intelligence, published Casino Royale in 1953. In doing so, he introduced the gentleman spy himself, James Bond. Sauve, smooth, and sophistical, James Bond become a cultural phenomenon. All the guys want to be him while all the girls want to be with him.

Spy novels waned in popularity after the end of the Cold War. However, it regained its steam post 9/11 and during the start of the War on Terror. The public regained its interest on thrilling stories of espionage as once again, the greater public found a new threat to democracy. New spies like Jason Bourne (Bourne Series), Lisbeth Salander (Stieg Larsson, Millennium Series), and Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible series) entered the public consciousness along with their older counterparts.

Audiences also enjoyed spy adventures in the silver screen. The aforementioned James Bond had its cinematic debut in 1962 with Dr. No. To date, it has produced at least 25 films with the latest one No Time to Die released in 2021. Other notable spy films in the cinema include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Bourne Series (2002 – present), The Mission Impossible Series (1996-present).  The cinema also introduced some spy movie parodies some of which include Austin Powers as portrayed by Mike Myers. Newer movies like Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and its 2017 sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle as well as superhero-spy movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) and Black Widow (2021) keeps the genre fresh. Without a shadow of a doubt, the future is bright for the spy fiction genre.