No. Not every example of a spy novel has the word 'Spy' in its title.
Some use the word 'Agent' instead.
But seriously... it does seem as though publishers of espionage fiction have stopped crediting readers with the initiative to identify a spy novel as a spy novel unless it literally spells it out and, as the ads for a certain brand of wood preservative always say in the UK, 'does exactly what it says on the tin'.
Now let me be clear, I'm not blaming the authors, the editors or – ironically – the agents. My guess, from personal experience, is that this trend (if it is a trend) emanates from the dark arts practised by marketing departments, who will always be quick to cite metrics, analytics and that deathblow to interesting writing, Search Engine Optimisation, to support the deep dive down to the lowest common denominator.
But here's an example. See what you think.
Rightly or wrongly, Alex Gerlis is one of those authors of spy fiction who is touted as a successor to John Le Carré. His first book series, Spy Masters, comprises The Best of Our Spies, The Swiss Spy, Vienna Spies and The Berlin Spies. His next, Prince of Spies, Sea of Spies, Ring of Spies and End of Spies. And perhaps that really is the end of spies, because his current series so far comprises Agent in Berlin, Agent in Peril and Agent in the Shadows... ah, collectively known as the Wolf Pack Spies books.
Or you might choose Tom Bradby's latest novel, Yesterday's Spy. Or, as I have just done, Manda Scott’s move into WWII espionage fiction, winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize A Treachery of Spies. Or perhaps continue reading the novels of that stalwart of the genre, Alan Furst, who used to publish books called things like Dark Star and The Polish Officer but whose more recent titles have included The Spies of Warsaw and Spies of the Balkans.
But hang on, I hear you cry. Le Carré himself was responsible for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (and, by extension, all the imitative titles, like Len Deighton's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy a year or so later).
Yes, but Le Carré published something like 26 novels, of which four had spy/spies in the title. Ian Fleming 13, plus short stories, with only a single example. Helen MacInnes 26, no spies, one agent. Anthony Price 19, no examples. Eric Ambler something like 18 novels, with only one example (Epitaph for a Spy), and an anthology titled To Catch a Spy. And call it 27 actual Robert Ludlum novels and 19 for Tom Clancy, with absolutely no examples between them.
Then let's look at the aforementioned Len Deighton. Yes, there's the example above, together with Spy Story and (another) Yesterday's Spy. And there's the clunkily branded Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker series, which certainly feels like another progenitor of the current title trend (if it is a trend). But that's it, out of 27 novels or so. And The IPCRESS File alone absolves him from Title Shame.
So is it a trend? I don't know. Among currently active writers in this genre, Joseph Kanon has contributed only The Prodigal Spy from among ten novels, and Charles Cumming A Spy By Nature and A Divided Spy from 11.
Added to which, you could very well say it all started with The Spy; or, A Tale of the Neutral Ground by James Fenimore Cooper (1821) or The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907).
Not to mention all those I-Spy books I grew up with...!
But my impression, even if only half-formed and half-substantiated, is of a gradual drift towards titles that contain the word Spy just for the sake of it and little else besides – sacrificing both nuance and drama for the optimised search and the quick, easy buck of the blatantly, blandly, boringly obvious.
And surely, unlike wood preservative, we want our spies and spy stories to be none of those things.
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.