One of America’s top espionage novelists is an Iowa native and her newest work, “The Book of Spies,” revolves around a real-life Library of Gold that vanished in a shroud of mystery. Gayle Lynds grew up in Council Bluffs and tells Radio Iowa her fictional adventure is based on a collection of centuries-old tomes that would be priceless for their content as well as their construction.

“It’s one of those treasure hunts that anyone who loves books would like to be a participant in,” Lynds says. “My goodness, when you stop and think about walls of books, of actually illuminated manuscripts, all covered in gold and each embedded with gems. I’d be… (laughs) Just the thought of being able to stand in a room filled with books like that is inspiring.”

Lynds’ latest novel is about a fictional book in the real — and missing — library. It’s believed to contain a wealth of perhaps 800 diamond, ruby and emerald-encrusted books, dating back to the ancient Greeks. Lynds first heard the legend of the library more than 20 years ago and has been fascinated by it ever since.

“I was so captured by the idea that a library like this had existed at one point,” Lynds says. “The last known owner was Ivan the Terrible. The library initially came from the Byzantine Empire, that was the heart of the Imperial Collection.” When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, the library disappeared and some believe it’s hidden it in the maze of tunnels under the Kremlin, though many have searched for it in vain.

Lynds, a University of Iowa graduate, once had top-secret clearance and worked in what’s now referred to as a government think tank.

Lynds is the author of five other solo thrillers as well as three co-written with legendary spymaster Robert Ludlum. Her new “The Book of Spies” is the first book in what will be a series, which Lynds says presented a new challenge for her as a writer. “As a stand-alone writer, my readers would come back to me and they would want me to continue on with characters in various books and really, I’d said all I wanted to say about them,” Lynds says. “I didn’t have another story for them. But this time, I’m deliberately creating a situation in which I’m having several stories for these characters and I’m seeing a long developmental arc for them. It’s very exciting.”

Critics have referred to Lynds as today’s finest espionage writer. Lynds’ 1996 novel, “Masquerade,” is ranked number-eight on a publishing house’s list of the top 15 spy novels of all time, along with other spy-world staples like Ian Fleming’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” and Robert Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity.” She says “Masquerade” was initially rejected by a publisher who said “no woman could have written this.” It became a New York Times best-seller.

A few fortunate Iowans may find themselves mentioned in Lynds’ new novel. She asked devoted fans to submit their own names for her to use as characters in the thriller and incorporated about 30 of them. She’s still taking more names for the next book in the series. “I know how important it would have been to me before I started writing to see my name in a book and I thought that this might be a nice thank you to my readers,” Lynds says. “On my website, there is a place where you can sign up. You have to promise not to care if you end up a mangled corpse, or a villain or a hero.”

Lynds now lives in southern California. “The Book of Spies” went on sale nationwide last week. Her website is her name:

Listen to Matt Kelley’s full interview with Lynds here: Lynds inteview 8:46 MP3