Did you know that the thriller genre has technically been around since the time of Homer in Ancient Greece? It’s true! The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered thrilling epic poems. And since then, books published in several genres can be considered thrillers. Grimm’s Fairytales? The original ones are SCARY and quite thrilling. There have been revenge thrillers, mystery thrillers, horror thrillers, and espionage thrillers on the bestseller lists for decades now. People love thrillers!
Another amazing offshoot of the thriller genre is the historical thriller: thrillers where the action and intrigue take place in an earlier time period. This subset has been responsible for some of the best books in the business, like The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett and The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Sometimes, they’re even a great way to learn about real things that happened in history!
Whether you’re a historical thriller aficionado or are trying to decide which one to pick up first, here is a list with nine wonderful options–from several different time periods–for you to consider.
New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci, who has several thrilling series under his belt, now introduces readers to a new series set just a few years after the end of World War II. Veteran Aloysius Archer is a new parolee, having just been released from prison. He's supposed to keep his nose clean, but his first job as a debt collector for a powerful businessman brings heaps of trouble down on his head. Now Archer must solve a murder he's suspected of committing, or he'll wind right back up in the slammer–this time for life.
At the start of this book, Frannie Langton, a servant and former slave who is accused of murdering her employer and his wife, is writing her confession. But is it about the crimes she's accused of, or does she have a different story to tell? From a Jamaican sugar plantation to the home of wealthy patrons in London, this is a riveting and shocking story of love and murder.
This thrilling World War II novel is based on an actual person! One day, Nancy Wake is living a quiet life with the man she loves in France, and the next, she's the White Mouse, the Nazis' most-wanted resistance fighter. With a 5-million-franc bounty on her head, she escapes to Britain, where her actions against the Germans place her and the ones she loves in even greater danger. But Nancy isn't going to let a little danger stand in her way.
This is a gripping thriller set in the Victorian era. When a terrifying killer strikes London, his crimes are similar to ones committed 43 years earlier. They seem to be influenced by an essay about murder as a fine art by Thomas De Quincey, a known writer in the area. So, of course, suspicion falls on Thomas. Desperate to clear his name, but struggling with an opium addiction, he turns to his daughter, Emily, to help him solve the case.
The fact that the HMS Terror set off as part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition to search for the legendary Northwest Passage in the Arctic Circle is actual history. What happened to the crew when the ship became trapped in the ice is unknown—but Simmons provides one chilling, thrilling option. This is an amazing look at men faced with the nightmare of isolation, madness, and the unknown. (And the television series is also quite wonderful!)
This gripping novel is set in the Soviet Union in 1953, where the citizens supposedly live crime-free under Stalin. But when a vicious murderer goes on a killing spree, security officer Leo Demidov must figure out who is responsible and stop them, before the citizens learn that they are not as safe as they were told.
Robin Buss (Introduction by, Notes by, Translator); Alexandre Dumas
This is probably the most famous historical revenge thriller of all time! While imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, Edmond Dantès learns of a hidden treasure on the Isle of Monte Cristo. He becomes determined to escape, find the treasure, and use his riches to take down the three men responsible for his incarceration.
Set in medieval Cambridge, England, this novel follows Adelia, a female forensics expert, who is summoned by King Henry II to solve a series of horrific murders. But will her investigation lead her to the killer's door before they can strike again?
And last, but not least, another wonderful novel based on real events! Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI in 1986. Under-appreciated and often ignored by her superiors, she accepts an assignment from the CIA. Her mission? To travel to Burkina Faso and get close to the country's revolutionary president, Thomas Sankara, whose Communist ideology has put him on the CIA's radar. But when Marie meets Sankara, she is charmed by him and even believes in some of what he is saying. Can she bring herself to turn over what she learns to the CIA?
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor and velocireader living in the great state of Maine with her three cats, who hate to read.