The best historical thrillers for history lovers

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a journalist and writer by profession, one who has a passion for history and historical fiction. Eventually these things came together when I came up with the idea for Drabble and Harris and wrote my first historical thriller – Rule Britannia. Before going into journalism I studied history at university, a bedrock that continues to support and feed my writing. I’ve also written broadly on various historical topics throughout my career, including for National Geographic. In my protagonists, Drabble and Harris, I have the perfect vehicle to travel back in time to the recent past and revisit it through modern eyes – and more than that, to challenge our perceptions of it.

I wrote...

Rule Britannia

By Alec Marsh,

Book cover of Rule Britannia

What is my book about?

It’s London, December 1936 and the story begins when historian (and amateur mountaineer) Ernest Drabble boards a sleeper train for Cornwall, where he’s due to inspect the head of Oliver Cromwell, an artefact which has come to light after nearly a century of being missing. Drabble’s journey does not go as planned and he rapidly becomes embroiled in a conspiracy, one that goes to the heart of power in Britain and beyond. Meanwhile Drabble’s old school friend, Harris, has also become involved in the plot. Described as "a rollicking good read" by Ian Rankin, Rule Britannia is the first in the Drabble and Harris series. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Act of Oblivion

Alec Marsh Why did I love this book?

Having brought us Fatherland (which deserves its own entry, of course) Robert Harris’s new thriller is set in the 1660s and centres on the hunt for the regicides, the men who signed the death warrant of King Charles I in 1649. The story focuses on two regicides in particular – Colonel Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, William Goffe, who fled to the Puritan colonies of New England to escape capture. The dark heart of the story is a fictional official named Richard Naylor – a man with a grudge who leads the hunt for Whalley and Goffe and pursues them for years... what follows is a gripping tale of cat and mouse, full action – The Fugitive meets The Revenant

By Robert Harris,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Act of Oblivion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A belter of a thriller' THE TIMES
'A master storyteller . . . an important book for our particular historical moment' OBSERVER
'His best since Fatherland' SUNDAY TIMES

'From what is it they flee?'
He took a while to reply. By the time he spoke the men had gone inside. He said quietly, 'They killed the King.'

1660. Colonel Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, Colonel William Goffe, cross the Atlantic. Having been found guilty of high treason for the murder of Charles the I, they are wanted and on the run. A reward hangs over their heads - for their…


Book cover of Dominion

Alec Marsh Why did I love this book?

Famous for his crookbacked sleuth Shardlake series, CJ Sansom sets this standalone counter-factual historical thriller in 1950s Britain – one where the United Kingdom had capitulated to Nazi Germany in 1940 (with Lord Halifax and not Winston Churchill becoming prime minister) and has become a German client state. It conjures up the 1950s – the smog, the coal smoke, the tea shops – while sketching out an alternate reality, one which is highly plausible, thereby doing one of the things I love best about historical fiction – showing us how different things could easily have been and shaking us from any complacency. More than this, Dominion is a highly effective thriller, as civil servant David Fitzgerald becomes the man in the middle of a politico-spy page-turner that keeps you guessing till the end.

By C.J. Sansom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dominion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At once a vivid, haunting reimagining of 1950s Britain, a gripping, humane spy thriller and a poignant love story, with Dominion C. J. Sansom once again asserts himself as the master of the historical novel.

1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours…


Book cover of A Rising Man

Alec Marsh Why did I love this book?

In this first of Abir Mukherjee’s Wyndham and Banerjee series we meet his super protagonists, officers in the Imperial Police Force, and their setting – 1920s Calcutta during the days of the high Raj. Wyndham, a damaged British First World War veteran and Banerjee, his Bengali sergeant, navigate a complex world of politics and crime in this incredibly impressive debut – one which has established Mukherjee as a rising man of historical crime fiction himself.  

By Abir Mukherjee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Rising Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Calcutta, 1919. Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. He is immediately overwhelmed by the heady vibrancy of the tropical city, but with barely a moment to acclimatize or to deal with the ghosts that still haunt him, Wyndham is caught up in a murder investigation that threatens to destabilize a city already teetering on the brink of political insurgency.

The body of a senior official has been…


Book cover of The Last Protector

Alec Marsh Why did I love this book?

Set in the aftermath of the English Civil War; this is the fourth in Andrew Taylor’s bestselling series involving a government agent named James Marwood and his friend, Cat Lovett, who happens to be Oliver Cromwell’s daughter. In The Last Protector 1668 and Marwood and Lovett are on the trail of a mystery that goes back to the days of the republic, one quite literally hidden away in the bowels of the past, but also one which involves a very credible danger to both them individually and society at large. It’s gripping and immersive, and offers delicious personal and political jeopardy right up to the end.

By Andrew Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Protector as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of The Ashes of London comes the next book in the phenomenally successful series following James Marwood and Cat Lovett. Over 1 Million Andrew Taylor Novels Sold!

A dangerous secret lies beneath Whitehall Palace...

Brother against brother. Father against son. Friends turned into enemies. No one in England wants a return to the bloody days of the Civil War. But Oliver Cromwell's son, Richard, has abandoned his exile and slipped back into England. The consequences could be catastrophic.

James Marwood, a traitor's son turned government agent, is tasked with uncovering Cromwell's motives. But…


Book cover of The Devil in the Marshalsea

Alec Marsh Why did I love this book?

This is the first in Antonia Hodgson’s so-good-you-could-eat-it Thomas Hawkins series. It’s set in London in 1727 and the plot revolves around a likeable rake, Hawkins, whose dedication to dice, booze, and women leads him to ruin – but with the help of others. Finding himself in the notorious Marshalsea Prison – think Alcatraz but without the water and with leprosy and lice instead – and you have the makings of a wonderful prison-break type story. Hodgson’s characters – Hawkins, but also his love interest, Kitty Sparks – aren’t just alive but bring the past alive with them. It’s like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones with the vividness of the Sixties, but then, if you know anything about eighteenth-century London, you’ll know that it was pretty wild place. This, after all, was long before the Victorians came along with their rather puritan social mores.


By Antonia Hodgson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Devil in the Marshalsea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE CWA HISTORICAL DAGGER AWARD 2014.

Longlisted for the John Creasey Dagger Award for best debut crime novel of 2014.

London, 1727 - and Tom Hawkins is about to fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses into the hell of a debtors' prison.

The Marshalsea is a savage world of its own, with simple rules: those with family or friends who can lend them a little money may survive in relative comfort. Those with none will starve in squalor and disease. And those who try to escape will suffer a gruesome fate at the hands…


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Shadow of the Hidden

By Kev Harrison,

Book cover of Shadow of the Hidden

Kev Harrison Author Of Below

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Traveller Horror addict Reader

Kev's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s Seb’s last day working in Turkey, but his friend Oz has been cursed. Superstition turns to terror as the effects of the ancient malediction spill over, and the lives of Oz and his family hang in the balance. Can Seb find the answers to remove the hex before it’s too late?

Journey with Seb, Oz, and Deniz across ancient North African cities as they seek to banish the Shadow of the Hidden.

Shadow of the Hidden

By Kev Harrison,

What is this book about?

It’s Seb’s last day working in Turkey, but his friend Oz has been cursed. Superstition turns to terror as the effects of the ancient malediction spill over and the lives of Oz and his family hang in the balance. Can Seb find the answers to remove the hex before it’s too late?

From Kev Harrison, author of The Balance and Below, journey with Seb, Oz and Deniz across ancient North African cities as they seek to banish the Shadow of the Hidden.


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