Cliffhangers' Favorite
Historical Mysteries
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Directory of Historical Mysteries
(Bestsellers first, then alphabetically by author's last name)

Bernie Gunther Mystery Books by Philip Kerr
1930. Former cop Bernie Gunther chases murderers in the most murderous regime in history: Nazi Germany. Bernie left the Berlin police force before the Nazi's could throw him out and hangs out his P.I. shingle, investigating missing persons and providing security for the Hotel Adlon. Eventually he is forced to become a military cop and is posted to different locations in Nazi-occupied Europe. (Bestsellers. Noir aka Hardboiled. Historical. Cops.  Set in Nazi-Occupied Europe.)

Mary Russell/ Sherlock Holmes Mystery Books by Laurie R. King
1915. In late middle-age, Sherlock Holmes takes on an obnoxious fifteen year-old girl,   Mary Russell, first as an apprentice, teaching her everything he knows about deduction, disguise and danger, then as a partner, and finally as a spouse. Russell is Holmes's equal in everything except age and experience. Both are fiercely intelligent, independent, stubborn, arrogant, tall, witty and lonely. (Bestsellers. Cozies. Historical. Female Hero. Set between World Wars I and II in various locations.)

Karla Trilogy Featuring George Smiley by John le Carré
The Cold War. A generation of British spies with similar backgrounds (Oxford, military intelligence in World War II) came home to lead their country's Cold War fight against the Soviet Union. This trilogy tells their story. (Bestsellers, Historical, Espionage, Literary, Set during the Cold War in various locations.)

Hannah Vogel Mystery Books by Rebecca Cantrell
1931. Journalist Hannah Vogel tries to keep one step ahead of the Gestapo as she struggles to free people from the murderous grasp of the Nazis.
(Historical. Private Investigators. Noir aka Hardboiled. Female Heroes. Set in Nazi Germany.)

Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thrillers by Robert Butler Olen
When his country called, war correspondent Christopher "Kit" Cobb answered. Recruited to be a spy for the United States in 1914, Cobb has ridden with Pancho Villa, gone down with the Lusitania and parachuted from a zeppelin in this series set during World War I by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer. (Espionage. Historical. World War I.)

Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery Books  by Colin Cotterill
1976. Dr. Siri Paiboun was ready to retire after a lifetime in the jungle as a battle surgeon when his government, the communist People's Democratic Republic of Laos, made him a job offer he couldn't refuse: national coroner.
One thing led to another and Dr. Siri discovered he had a real knack for solving crimes, aided by the Mahosot Hospital Irregulars (Nurse Dtui, Det. Phosy, and Mr. Geung) and the occasional psychic communication from an unhappy ghost. (Cozies. Historical. Funny. Forensics. Set in 1970s Laos.)

John Russell Spy Novels by David Downing
Can professional journalist/ amateur spy Russell and his loved ones survive the Nazi reign of terror of the privations and perils of World War II. In each book, Russell takes on lots of tasks--finding missing people, keeping his friends and family out of jail, getting intelligence to the good guys and keeping it away from the bad guys, smuggling people out of Germany. (Historical. Set in Nazi Germany.)

Inspector Pekkala Mystery Books by Sam Eastland
1929. Pekkala, once private eye to Tsar Nicholas II, is freed from a Siberian labor camp and given his old job back, this time working for Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Plentiful flashbacks to Pekkala's life with the royal family give these books exceptional historical breadth. (Historical. Noir aka Hardboiled.  Stalin. Russia. Soviet Union)

Willi Kraus Thrillers by Paul Grossman
1929. Berlin, Germany teeters on the brink of madness. In the last months of the Weimar Republic, a manic energy fills the city's streets--a city where every excess, deprivation and depravity can be found. Inspector Willi Kraus, the most famous detective on the Berlin police force (and its only Jewish one), follows the evidence wherever it leads, even if that gets him into trouble with his superiors or makes him a target for Nazi persecution.
(Historical. Police Procedural. Weimar Republic. Berlin, Germany. Anti-Semitism. Nazi rise to power.  Europe between World Wars I and II)

Stuyvesant/ Grey Mystery Books by Laurie R. King
1926. A shell-shocked British officer, Bennett Grey, and an angry United States Bureau of Investigation agent, Harris Stuyvesant,  team up to catch killers and terrorists in this dark, daring new series by the excellent Laurie R. King.
(Noir aka Hardboiled. Historical. Private Investigators. Set Between World Wars I and II in France and England.)

Gregor Reinhardt Mysteries by Luke McCallin
1943. Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
Gregor Reinhardt, a former police detective, currently an officer in the occupying German Army, is posted to Sarajevo where he investigates the murders of German soldiers. Usually, the German Army responds to the deaths of their soldiers with reprisals against the civilian population, not investigations. So his fellow soldiers respond to Reinhardt with significant hostility.
(Historical. Police Procedural. World War II. Military. Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Bosnia and Herzegovina.)
Crime novels set in other historical eras
Crime Novels that Breathe Life into the Past
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
(1974, Karla Trilogy Featuring George Smiley #1)
by John le Carré

In the Karla Trilogy, John le Carré sets the standard by which all other Cold War spy novels are judged.

Summary:  This trilogy tells the story of a generation of British spooks, a group who went from studying in the ivy-decked halls of Oxford, to spying behind the lines in Europe during World War II and home to hush-hush jobs in the intelligence service in London, fighting the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union.
In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, retired British spook George Smiley is called back to duty to hunt for a Soviet mole among the highest ranking officers in the secret service. The intellectual, self-effacing Smiley is the anti-Bond. Instead of physical daring, he dares to think the unthinkable: can the most well-loved and successful spy in the service really be a double agent?

Review: The gorgeous writing brings a rich world to life. Le Carré has invented an entire language for his spooks: they work at the "Circus," their job is "running Joes," field men are "hard men," desk officers are "juju men." (For more, see "Welcome to the Circus" in the series guide on this page.) The complex, layered, suspenseful story is full of lovely, flawed people facing hard choices with varying degrees of grace. The social commentary sparkles.
This historical mystery captivates me because the plot is unusual, the theme is betrayal in all its forms and the social milieu and minor characters are so convincingly portrayed.

More about the Karla Trilogy Featuring George Smiley including list of books in chronological order, series review, series guide, book reviews and book summaries (Bestsellers. Historical. Espionage. Literary. Cold War. United Kingdom.)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974, The Quest for Karla  #1)  by John le Carré
Cliffhanger's 5 Heart Rating
Slash and Burn (2011, Dr Siri Paiboun #8) by Colin Cotterill
Cliffhanger's 5 Heart Rating
Slash and Burn
(2011, Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery Books #8)
by Colin Cotterill

Social satire of the highest order. Plus, loveable characters, satisfying stories and a unique setting.

Summary: In 1975 the Pathet Lao (communists) came to power in Laos after fighting a very long civil war in the jungle.  After twenty years as a battle surgeon, Dr. Siri Paiboun, an unconvinced communist, to say the least, is looking forward to retirement. Unfortunately, his government has another idea and insists that he become the country's one and only coroner.  Reluctantly, Dr. Siri obeys and moves himself and a few carefully chosen colleagues into the morgue at the Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane, Laos where, together, they solve murder mysteries and make trouble for the bureaucrats who try to control them.
In Slash and Burn, Dr Siri takes his friends and colleagues on a government-sponsored holiday in the country. The catch? They must accompany a group of Americans searching for an Air America helicopter pilot who may have survived a crash landing.

Review: Cotterill is in top form. The humor kept me laughing and the mystery kept me guessing until the very end.
This historical mystery captivates me because the hero and his group of friends have such great warmth and humor and because the context is so unusual and interesting. And the political satire isn't too shabby either.

More about the Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery Books including list of books in chronological order, series review, series guide, book reviews and book summaries (Cozies. Historical. Funny. Forensics. 1970s Laos.)
Field Gray
(2010, Bernie Gunther Mystery Books #7)
by Philip Kerr
FINALIST! 2012 Edgar Award for Best Mystery

When murderers rule a country, how can one man's search for justice matter?

Summary: At the beginning of this series (1930), Bernie Gunther is a homicide detective in Berlin, Germany who is forced to resign when the Nazi government decrees that only Nazi Party members can be policemen. Gunther quits the department and sets up shop as a P.I. looking for missing people, mainly Jews. As the Nazi reign of terror tightens its hold on Germany, and then on the rest of Europe, Bernie does many things, most of them at least morally problematic and at most horrifying, in order to survive and to help those he loves survive.
Field Gray starts in 1954. Having survived the war, Bernie finds himself in Cuba where he is arrested by the Americans as a possible war criminal and sent back to Germany where he remembers his past on the Eastern front as a reluctant participant in atrocities.

Review:  Intense situations. Masterful writing. Big themes. Dramatic stories. Bernie Gunther is an outstanding character, trying to survive in evil times and hang on to some shreds of his conscience.

More about the Bernie Gunther Mystery Books including list of books in chronological order, series review, series guide, book reviews and book summaries (Bestsellers. Noir aka Hardboiled. Historical. Cops.  Nazi-Occupied Europe. Cuba.)
Field Gray (2010, Bernie Gunther #7) by Philip Kerr
Cliffhanger's 5 Heart Rating
Eye of the Red Tsar
(2010, Inspector Pekkala Mystery Books #1)
by Sam Eastland

Boldly imaginative, beautifully written,  breathtakingly suspenseful and very, very dark.

Summary:  In 1929, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin frees Inspector Pekkala from the Siberian labor camp where he is in his ninth year of a thirty year sentence for Crimes Against the State. Pekkala's crime was working for the last government--that of Tsar Nicholas II, the emperor deposed in the Russian Revolution. Pekkala had served the Tsar as a personal private investigator. Stalin gave Pekkala his old job back with a new boss: Stalin himself.
In Eye of the Red Tsar, Pekkala is charged with discovering what really happened to the Tsar and his family. The Communist government had imprisoned the royal family in an off-the-beaten-track town and was planning to bring the Tsar to trial. But in the chaos of the Russian Civil War, the family disappeared. The Communists announced that they were dead but there was no actual evidence substantiating this so rumors of the family's survival abounded.

Review:  So many terrible things happened in twentieth century Russian history that it is incredible that anyone survived. But of course, some did. The fictional Pekkala is a hero who is so tough that he can withstand whatever horror Russian history throws at him. But what almost does him in is having to work with his own brother, from whom he had long been estranged. This is a compelling combination of very human vulnerability and near-superhero endurance. Plus, a fascinating story with flashbacks to Pekkala's exploits during the Tsar's regime that give the book great historical breadth.

More about the Inspector Pekkala Mystery Books including list of books in chronological order, series review, series guide, book reviews and book summaries (Historical. Noir aka Hardboiled. Stalin. Russia. Soviet Union. World War II)
Eye of the Red Tsar (2010, Inspector Pekkala Mystery Books #1) by Sam Eastland
Cliffhanger's 5 Heart Rating
Author Sam Eastland
Above: Author Sam Eastland
Author Philip Kerr
Above: Author Philip Kerr
Author John le Carre
Above: Author John le Carre
 Author Colin Cotterill
Above: Author Colin Cotterill