Where are the female spies in fiction?

(R) Josephine Baker
American-born entertainer, dancer and singer Josephine Baker collected information on German troop movements during WWII and carried notes in invisible ink written on her sheet music. Female spies like Baker are not an anomaly in history, but they're rarely the central character in fiction. Photo taken circa 1940.
Hulton Archive | Getty Images

Every week, The Thread tackles your book questions, big and small. Ask a question now.

This week's question: Where are all the female spies in fiction?

This question was sparked by an article in the Guardian by Natasha Walter, who proclaimed: "Fiction needs more female spies."

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In a genre popularized by Ian Fleming and dominated by Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and John le Carre, roles for women characters generally fall into two categories: the imperiled wife/girlfriend or the villain's sexy sidekick — a femme fatale whose most powerful weapon is her body.

Walter wrote:

Despite its richness, I have often felt alienated by spy fiction because it has often seemed so rigidly masculine, and nowhere more so than in the escapades of the evergreen Bond. Reading or watching spy narratives can feel claustrophobic when it means entering a world in which it is so often men who see and women who are seen — and seen as sexualised bodies above all.

So where are the female characters? History serves up no lack of real-world inspiration for spies, from Josephine Baker to Julia Child. Why haven't they made their way into novels?

This summer, we have two (very different) books featuring women spies in our Take It to the Lake summer fiction series: Manuel Gonzales' "The Regional Office is Under Attack" and "Enchanted Islands" by Allison Amend. Those looking for more can check out Stella Rimington's novels; Rimington is the former director of MI-5, Britain's counter-intelligence agency. "Restless" by William Boyd and "Red Sparrow" by Jason Matthews are also good reads with female spies as central characters.