The best books on gripping historical thrillers, both fiction and non-fiction

Brendan Gerad O'Brien Author Of Dark September
By Brendan Gerad O'Brien

The Books I Picked & Why

The Lost Wisdom of the Magi: the memoirs of Sophia Zealotes

By Susie Helme

Book cover of The Lost Wisdom of the Magi: the memoirs of Sophia Zealotes

Why this book?

This is a really well-told story and deserves praise for the detail and the observations throughout the book. Sophia, an elderly Babylonian Jew, is telling her account of her years in Palestine to the Sisters of Alexandria. As a little girl she studied the ancient languages because her father was a keeper of the royal archives of the Parthians. When she turned fifteen, her mother tried to commit her to an arranged marriage. Sophia runs away and joins a Nabataean caravan. Helme’s forensic research captures the atmosphere of Sophie’s travels brilliantly. The detail is amazing and her description of the everyday struggles brings the story vividly to life.

At 521 pages, it’s a long story, but like any journey, if it’s enjoyable and exciting, it ends all too soon.


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The Ashes of London (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1)

By Andrew Taylor

Book cover of The Ashes of London (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1)

Why this book?

Excellent story - set in 1666 during the fire of London it captures the religious tensions and conflicting politics of the era. Charles 11 is on the throne and in pursuit of anyone involved in the execution of his father. No-one feels safe. James Marwood, son of a Puritan, and Cat Lovett, daughter of a renegade Protestant are in a fast-paced murder plot through the narrow streets and ruins of London. Cat is manipulated by her untrustworthy uncle. Marwood is pursuing the murderer while trying to protect his elderly father. Cat tries to escape her uncle’s home and disguises herself as a servant. The intricate plot takes you through the Royal Court, the plans to rebuild St Paul’s and the intricacies of society of that time in history.


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Bravo Two Zero: The Harrowing True Story of a Special Forces Patrol Behind the Lines in Iraq

By Andy McNab

Book cover of Bravo Two Zero: The Harrowing True Story of a Special Forces Patrol Behind the Lines in Iraq

Why this book?

Sergeant Andy McNab recounts the extraordinary story of the top-secret mission in Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1998 - to destroy vital enemy communication links and to find and destroy mobile Scud launchers.

Eight members of the elite SAS regiment are dropped behind the Iraq lines in a highly covert operation. But the mission is compromised and they’re engaged in a fierce battle. Trying to escape on foot to the Syrian border, three men die and one escapes. But four men are captured. Taken to Baghdad, they are brutally tortured. This is a story of courage, strength, and endurance. And dark humour in the face of overwhelming odds. Written in the plain language of a serving soldier, it adds significantly to the authenticity of the story.


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Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

By C.J. Sansom

Book cover of Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

Why this book?

Henry VIII, as Head of the Church, is determined to dissolve the monasteries. The description of the cold and damp 1537 England adds a depressing layer to the tension amongst the monks as Cromwell sends administrators around the country to evaluate their status.

When the administrator is beheaded in a Sussex monastery, a black cockerel is sacrificed on the altar, and the Relic disappears, Cromwell sends lawyer Dr. Matthew Shardlake to investigate. Shardlake, a hunchback who is often cruelly mocked, is a man of integrity and his sharp brain and grasp of detail confounds his distracters and takes the reader on a clever and intriguing journey. I immediately bought the next Shardlake book.


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The Dark of the Sun

By Wilbur Smith

Book cover of The Dark of the Sun

Why this book?

I saw the film before I discovered the book, and as usual, the book was far superior, allowing your imagination to crank up the tension. Set in Africa 1960, Bruce Curry’s band of mercenaries go to relieve a diamond-mining town cut off by rebels in the Belgian Congo. Of course, the real mission is to retrieve a consignment of diamonds. Along the way, Curry falls in love with a Belgian woman, Shermaine.

When they reach the town, Curry’s ill-disciplined unit is pitted against bandits, guerrillas, and unfriendly tribes. The action is brutal and unforgiving and the mercenaries are struggling to stay alive. Then Curry discovers something the reader has already suspected - his deadliest enemy is not the one he's facing. It’s the one who’s right there beside him!


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