The best historical thrillers set just before the Second World War

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and the time immediately preceding the Second World War is one of the most interesting. How inevitable was the tragedy that unfolded in Germany, Europe, and then around the globe? I was drawn to it after the 2008 economic crash, and the parallels of economic hardship and the resurgence in populist nationalism. I’ve read all that history in an attempt to learn from it, and I hope that some of that comes through in The Fulcrum Files.


I wrote...

The Fulcrum Files

By Mark Chisnell,

Book cover of The Fulcrum Files

What is my book about?

On the 7th March 1936, after almost two decades of peace in Europe, Hitler ordered the German Army back into the Rhineland. It was a direct challenge to Britain and France. Still unnerved by the toll of the Great War, the politicians dithered. The French Army stayed in its barracks, while the aristocratic British elite looked on from their country retreats. History teetered on a knife edge, but the spymasters were busy.

Just one man could make the difference between war and peace, victory or defeat. And that man was Ben Clayton. Thrown into the maelstrom of plot and counter-plot, into a world of murder, spies, and traitors, Ben must battle not just to survive, but to protect all that he loves and holds most dear.

The Books I Picked & Why

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Early One Morning

By Robert Ryan,

Book cover of Early One Morning

Why this book?

The key to a successful historical thriller is a strong sense of time and place, but not so strong that it slows down the plot – it’s still a thriller after all, and while it’s so tempting to find somewhere to put all that research, discipline is essential. I loved this book because Robert Ryan does it particularly well. I took a lot from it for The Fulcrum Files, particularly the mix of action and romance and the basis in real events.


March Violets: A Bernie Gunther Novel

By Philip Kerr,

Book cover of March Violets: A Bernie Gunther Novel

Why this book?

This book is part of the Berlin Noir series featuring former Berlin cop and private eye, Bernie Gunther. It’s a great mystery thriller leaning on the wonderful American tradition of pulp noir. Set in pre-War Berlin, I loved the sense of place, dark foreboding, and the humour – something I’d love to inject more of into my own books.


Dark Star

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of Dark Star

Why this book?

Alan Furst specialises in thrillers set in pre-War Europe with all the moral ambiguity of that time. I loved that aspect of this book, and I wanted to capture some of that in The Fulcrum Files; the idea that the horrors to come were not as inevitable as they now seem.


Brighton Rock

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Brighton Rock

Why this book?

It’s not strictly historical fiction since it was published in 1938 and set in pre-War Brighton, nor does it deal with the coming War, since Greene couldn’t know about that at the time. However, anyone interested in this moment in history should read one of its best novels by one of the period’s greatest writers.


Epitaph for a Spy: A Spy Thriller

By Eric Ambler,

Book cover of Epitaph for a Spy: A Spy Thriller

Why this book?

Another book published in 1938, so it was written in the period. It’s argued that Ambler created the mould for modern thrillers, so it’s another essential stop for anyone interested in pre-War spy fiction. I loved the fact that the hero is an amateur in this story, something that I took into The Fulcrum Files


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