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Spy Fiction is a genre that involves espionage, the covert gathering of information to be delivered to a third party.


Issues with Diversity and Representation

Spy fiction tends to be written by white men. Because of this, female characters are often subject to sexist treatment, or are placed in non-consensual sexual situations. Characters of color, when they appear at all, are subject to slurs and stereotyping.


Extreme violence such as torture and gun violence is common in spy fiction.


The oldest spy story can be found in the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible. Spy fiction is generally associated with the World War Two and Cold War eras, but spying and secret agents have existed during many wars as well as in times of peace.

Spies can work solo, as investigators for hire who report to the person who hired them, or be part of a larger organization. After the Cold War, the discovery of espionage training programs led to the appearance of spy schools in fiction.

Spy fiction in the 1960s could be extremely serious, reflecting the fears of the public during the Cold War era or it could be humorous and lighthearted, in an attempt to push back against these fears. Humorous spy fiction often parodies more serious spy fiction with references to characters and titles which existed previously.

In the late 20th century, spy fiction began to be marked to children. Children's spy fiction is free from the violence and sexual content common in spy fiction created for adults.


  • guns
  • blood
  • poisons and chemicals
  • gadgets
  • maps
  • sports cars
  • fire
  • explosions
  • passports
  • a signature drink, such as James Bond's martini
  • abandoned and condemned buildings
  • airplanes, especially private jets
  • yachts
  • fictional technology
  • English manor houses and estates
  • castles
  • secret passageways
  • codes

Typical Character Types

  • The Handler - can be a mentor figure or a figure the spy is trying to escape from
  • The Spy (sometimes called an Agent or Secret Agent) - always the best, unless it is a comedy. Then the spy is clumsy and clueless.
  • The Femme Fatale
  • The Gadget Expert - usually much younger than The Spy
  • The Love Interest. Can be:
    • A Femme Fatale
    • A Civilian
    • another Spy
    • an Enemy Spy
  • The Enemy Spy - a rival with similar or better skills than The Spy
  • The Civilian/s - innocent bystanders and sometimes providers of helpful information. Most likely to be seen shouting about their produce stand being knocked over after a chase.


Spies have a large variety of skills which they can be called upon to use during missions. Many of these are associated with the lifestyles and aesthetic of the wealthy.


  • Tennis
  • Golf
  • Skiing
  • Swimming
  • Archery
  • Hunting/Shooting
  • Martial Arts - Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Judo, Aikido, Jujutsu
  • Boxing
  • Sailing
  • Gymnastics


  • Chess
  • Cards: Baccarat, Blackjack, Poker


  • Ballroom dance
  • Chemistry
  • Coding
  • Cooking
  • Disguise
  • First Aid
  • Knowledge of foreign languages and codes
  • Mixing drinks
  • Seduction
  • Wilderness survival


Spies often desire to blend in with their surroundings as opposed to standing out. Colors like black, gray, tan, brown, navy and green are worn in clothing. Layers are worn for warmth and for ease of disguise. Shoes are usually easy to run, jump, and climb in. Much of the clothing associated with Spy Fiction is inspired by spy movies from the 1960s, when characters wore black turtlenecks and tan trench coats. A trench coat and fedora hat is often used to symbolize a spy's disguise, although this outfit is so out of fashion in today's world that it would be a completely ineffective one.


  • Blazers
  • Turtlenecks
  • Button down shirts


  • trousers
  • jeans
  • skirts


  • scarves
  • umbrellas
  • briefcases and duffle bags
  • duel purpose items like pens with hidden cameras
  • Tacticlip


  • heavy coats for cold climates
  • trench coats



Music in spy fiction covers nearly every musical genre from opera and classical music to pop and rock music. Classical music and opera is often associated with villains in spy fiction who are wealthy or who enjoy the aesthetic of wealth and luxury. If the spy fiction is set during a historical time period, popular music from the day is used. Extremely annoying or loud music can be played as a torture technique.


  • Opera
  • Pop
  • Classical music


  • A Man for All Seasons by Robbie Williams (theme from Johnny English movies)
  • I Wish I Was James Bond by Scouting for Girls
  • Skyfall by Adele


Other Media


  • Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by Erskine Childers
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Orczy
  • The Secret Agent (1907) and Under Western Eyes (1911) by Joseph Conrad
  • The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) by G. K. Chesterton
  • The Thirty-nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan
  • Ashenden: Or the British Agent (1928) by W. Somerset Maugham
  • The Mystery of Tunnel 51 (1928) by Alexander Wilson
  • Water on the Brain (1933) by Compton Mackenzie
  • The Eunuch of Stamboul (1935) by Dennis Wheatley
  • Saint series by Leslie Charteris
  • James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
  • Gallagher Girls novels by Ally Carter
  • Maids of Honor series by Jennifer McGowan
  • Spy School series by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Agency series by Y.S. Lee
  • Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews


  • Codenames
  • Secrets
  • Spy Alley
  • Web of Spies


  • A Call to Spy (2019)
  • Argo (2012)
  • Atomic Blonde (2017)
  • Austin Powers movies
  • Black Widow (2021)
  • D.E.B.S. (2004)
  • James Bond movies
  • Johnny English (2003) and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
  • Miss Congeniality (2000) and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous (2005)
  • Mr. And Mrs. Smith (2005)
  • My Spy (2020)
  • Red Sparrow (2018)
  • Salt (2010)
  • Spies In Disguise (2019)
  • Spy (2015)
  • Spy Kids movies
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)
  • The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
  • The Ipcress File (1965)
  • This Means War (2012)

Stand Up Comedy

TV Shows

  • Agent Carter (2015-2016)
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-2020)
  • Alex Rider (2020)
  • Archer (2009-)
  • Au service de la France (2015-2018)
  • Burn Notice (2007-2013)
  • Chuck (2007-2012)
  • Get Smart (1965-1970)
  • Homeland (2011-2020)
  • Nikita (2010-2013)
  • Spy (2011-2012)
  • The Americans (2013)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1965)
  • TURN: Washington's Spies (2014-2017)
  • Quantico (2015-2018)

Notable Figures


  • Harriet Tubman, a former enslaved woman, spied for the Union during the American Civil War. She was remarkably successful, considering she never learned how to read.


  • Ian Fleming worked for the Naval Intelligence Division during the Second World War. In 1952 he published his first James Bond novel.


  • John le Carré (real name, David Cornwell) worked for the British Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the 1950s and 1960s. He published his first spy novel in 1965.





  • Spy by Richard Platt (DK Eyewitness book)
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception - declassified training manual used by the OSS, the precursor to the CIA


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