The best books about international crime both fiction and nonfiction

Brian Klingborg Author Of The Magistrate
By Brian Klingborg

Who am I?

I grew up in a small town in the days before the internet and cable television, so books were my escape, and through them, I traveled to faraway places and learned about different customs and cultures. Later, I studied Chinese cultural anthropology and lived and worked in Asia for many years. Now, I write a series about a Chinese police inspector in the brutally cold far north province of Heilongjiang and use mystery stories to unpack some of the more fascinating and essential aspects of Chinese society, politics, and religion.

I wrote...

The Magistrate

By Brian Klingborg,

Book cover of The Magistrate

What is my book about?

A cabal of high-level civil servants has a tight grip on graft and corruption in Northern China's Harbin City. For years, the members of this group, the so-called Nangang Benevolent Society, have raked in ill-gotten riches at the expense of ordinary citizens, but now they are being targeted by a shadowy figure who calls himself the Magistrate. 

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Inspector Lu Fei is called to the scene of a brutal murder - the body of a foreign gangster has been found burned beyond recognition. His investigation reveals that someone is systematically attacking local sex-trafficking networks that prey on young women who have defected from North Korea. Lu Fei soon finds himself drawn back to Harbin City, connecting the threads of vice, corruption, and murder.

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The books I picked & why

The White Tiger

By Aravind Adiga,

Book cover of The White Tiger

Why this book?

The White Tiger is a witty and searing portrayal of a “self-made” man who has risen from the depths of abject poverty to a position of wealth and influence. 

The India portrayed is far from the glitz and romantic notions of Bollywood. It is a desperately poor place where the “haves” live like kings and the “have-nots" live like slaves.

In addition to shedding light on some of the harsh realities of class, economics, and corruption in India, The White Tiger somehow manages to subvert expectations and coax the reader into rooting for a murderer and thief who justifies his actions, not entirely convincingly, by describing himself as a sort of working-class hero.

In reality, he is more of a cautionary tale.

The White Tiger

By Aravind Adiga,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The White Tiger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Balram Halwai is the White Tiger - the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The city is a revelation. As he drives his master to shopping malls and call centres, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he…

Book cover of Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel

Why this book?

I’d never heard of or seen a copy of this book before I randomly encountered it in the Frankfurt central train station.

I was instantly captivated by the unique voice of the protagonist, a Bangkok police detective named Sonchai Jitpleecheep. 

Sonchai is half-white, half-Thai, and acts as the reader’s guide to the seedier side of Thai culture, politics, and society. As with any crime novel, the focus of the narrative is on sex, drugs, and crime, but this is balanced with witty and insightful bon mots, courtesy of Sonchai’s Buddhist upbringing.

While none of the subsequent novels in the series quite equaled the tasty blend of humor, mystery, and travelogue author Burdett concocted in Bangkok 8, I can think of few other books written about Asia by Western authors that captured a local feel and mindset as authentically.

Bangkok 8: A Royal Thai Detective Novel

By John Burdett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bangkok 8 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In surreal Bangkok, city of temples and brothels, where Buddhist monks in saffron robes walk the same streets as world-class gangsters, a US marine sergeant is killed inside a locked Mercedes by a maddened python and a swarm of cobras. Two policemen - the only two in the city not on the take - arrive too late. Minutes later, only one is alive.

The cop left standing, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, is a devout Buddhist and swears to avenge the death of his partner and soul brother. To do so he must use the forensic techniques of the modern policing and his…

Book cover of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Why this book?

This is an autobiographical tale by an American journalist on the crime beat in Tokyo.

It’s not only a riveting tour of the underbelly of Japanese society – hostess bars, yakuza gangs, murder, and mayhem – it’s a fascinating cultural journey.

The author, Jake Adelstein, studied at a Japanese university and fell into journalism almost as an afterthought.

His description of the stringent procedures for getting hired, the brutally hierarchical nature of working for a major Japanese daily, and his growth as an intrepid investigative reporter is a must-read for anyone interested in Japanese culture, society, media, and crime.

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

By Jake Adelstein,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tokyo Vice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A riveting true-life tale of newspaper noir and Japanese organised crime from an American investigative journalist. Soon to be a Max Original Series on HBO Max



From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, first-hand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from the underbelly up.

At nineteen, Jake Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility. What he got was a…

In the Miso Soup

By Ryu Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (translator),

Book cover of In the Miso Soup

Why this book?

Ryu Murakami is a musician, writer, and film director. He deals in surrealism and the dark side of a rigid Japanese society – drugs, sex, alienation. 

In this book, Murakami relates the tale of Kenji, a young man who makes his living guiding foreigners through Tokyo’s red-light district. Kenji’s new client is an extremely odd American named Frank.

As Kenji leads Frank through a labyrinth of hostess bars and peep shows, he comes to suspect that Frank may be the serial killer who has been on a rampage, murdering and dismembering teenage girls.

In the Miso Soup

By Ryu Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Miso Soup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From postmodern Renaissance man Ryu Murakami, master of the psychothriller and director of Tokyo Decadence, comes this hair-raising roller-coaster ride through the nefarious neon-lit world of Tokyo's sex industry. In the Miso Soup tells of Frank, an overweight American tourist who has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's sleazy nightlife. But Frank's behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion-that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It is not until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how…

Book cover of God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre

Why this book?

This is a non-fiction travelogue deep into the heart of Mexican narco country.

Journalist Richard Grant’s borderline insane self-inflicted quest was to travel through the Sierra Madre mountains, some of the world’s toughest and most dangerous terrain, home to bandits, drug smugglers, opium cultivators, cowboys, folk healers, and hermits.

His adventures are fascinating, entertaining, and hair-raising. One episode in particular, when he was hunted through the night by a couple of Mexicans who seemed bent on killing him for sport, sent chills down my spine.

I recommend this for anyone interested in the outlaws, outcasts, shamans, and the realities of narco-economics.

God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre

By Richard Grant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked God's Middle Finger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of Dispatches From Pluto and Deepest South of All, a harrowing travelogue into Mexico’s lawless Sierra Madre mountains.

Twenty miles south of the Arizona-Mexico border, the rugged, beautiful Sierra Madre mountains begin their dramatic ascent. Almost 900 miles long, the range climbs to nearly 11,000 feet and boasts several canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The rules of law and society have never taken hold in the Sierra Madre, which is home to bandits, drug smugglers, Mormons, cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians, opium farmers, cowboys, and other assorted outcasts. Outsiders are not welcome; drugs are the primary source…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Tokyo, poverty, and police?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Tokyo, poverty, and police.

Tokyo Explore 61 books about Tokyo
Poverty Explore 69 books about poverty
Police Explore 178 books about police

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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