The best books set during the WWII-era that no crime fiction fan should miss

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an author, reader, and cinephile with a real appetite for all things crime. If it’s a mystery, if it’s a detective story, if there are questionable morals at play in a story with no easy answers and no clear way out, then count me in. I’m also fascinated by the WWII era and was spellbound by the stories my maternal grandfather told me about his time as an infantry soldier in Italy during the war. These passions moved me to write my own novels and continue to inspire me in my embrace of art. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I do!

I wrote...

River City Blues

By Ward Howarth,

Book cover of River City Blues

What is my book about?

It's early 1944 and Richmond, Virginia is a devil's paradise. Ration scams and police corruption are rampant while the inflated black market commands top dollar.

Detective Sergeant Bennie Sherwood, fresh off a soul-scarring tour of duty with the Marines, couldn't care less. His old man was recently murdered under suspicious circumstances and he's on a hunt for the truth. But when an old friend is killed, Bennie is thrust onto a hellride through Richmond's underworld. Suddenly, he's at the front lines of a new kind of war, one that's played out in gentlemen's clubs and back alleys between tobacco kingpins and numbers runners. It's a dark, twisted journey that will test Bennie's every limit, even as it gets him closer to the truth…

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of In a Lonely Place

Ward Howarth Why did I love this book?

Dorothy B. Hughes’ In A Lonely Place is arguably the best crime novel ever written.

Published in 1947, the story centers on Dix Steele, an ex-airman in postwar Los Angeles who, when he’s not passing himself off as a writer, is stalking and strangling women around the city.

Full of self-hatred and misogyny, the suggestively named Dix is perhaps the most unlikeable protagonist you’ll ever come across, but the novel is so hard-boiled, and such a masterclass in plot and character, you won’t be able to put it down.

Side note: while the 1950 film made from Hughes’ novel differs from the source material in several ways, it’s a hallmark of both studio and noir filmmaking and should not be missed.

By Dorothy B. Hughes,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In a Lonely Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Puts Chandler to shame ... Hughes is the master we keep turning to'Sara Paretsky

After the war, cynical veteran Dix Steele has moved to L.A., a city terrified by a strangler preying on young women. Bumping into an old friend, now a detective working on the case, Dix is thrilled by closely following the progress of the police. And meeting his new neighbour, sultry and beautiful actress Laurel Gray, brings even more excitement into his life. But the strangler is still prowling the streets - and Laurel may be in more danger than she realises...

In a Lonely Place was…

Book cover of The Black Dahlia

Ward Howarth Why did I love this book?

James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia needs no introduction to the serious crime fiction fan.

Like Hughes’ novel, we’re in postwar LA, in 1947, following the murder of Elizabeth Short, a young Hollywood hopeful whose disemboweled body is found one morning in a vacant lot.

Ellroy had authored six previous novels by this point, but it’s here, with The Black Dahlia, that many, myself included, find his style truly begins to shine.

It’s a standout of neo-noir literature that stuns with its prose, characters, and plotting. You’ll study it, you’ll re-read it, and you’ll memorize passages from it, so you better get one for the bookshelf.

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Black Dahlia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The highly acclaimed novel based on America's most infamous unsolved murder case. Dive into 1940s Los Angeles as two cops spiral out of control in their hunt for The Black Dahlia's killer in this powerful thriller that is "brutal and at the same time believable" (New York Times).
On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia -- and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history. Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops,…

Book cover of The Long Take: A Noir Narrative

Ward Howarth Why did I love this book?

Robin Robertson’s noir narrative The Long Take might seem like an unusual choice for this list.

Essentially a long noir poem, The Long Take concerns Walker, a Canadian veteran of D-Day with acute PTSD who finds life unraveling in the urban landscapes he inhabits after the war.

With a poet’s precision, Robertson follows Walker as he moves from city to city, taking it all in. Homelessness, crime, race—nothing is spared.

Why, you’d think you were in a 40s film noir, reading about it all, and then you find Walker on the streets of LA in 1948 seeing some of those very films being shot, films like Act of Violence and Criss Cross.

An outstanding achievement, The Long Take is a wholly original work of art.

By Robin Robertson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Long Take as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2018

Winner of The Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018

Winner of the 2019 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

'A beautiful, vigorous and achingly melancholy hymn to the common man that is as unexpected as it is daring.' --John Banville, Guardian

A noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry, The Long Take is one of the most remarkable - and unclassifiable - books of recent years.

Walker is a D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; he can't return home to rural Nova Scotia, and looks instead…

Book cover of Devil in a Blue Dress

Ward Howarth Why did I love this book?

Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, the first of his novels to feature Black WWII-veteran-turned-detective Ezekiel ’Easy’ Rawlins, reads like a hard-boiled blues song.

The prose is both terse and descriptive, flowing easily on the page with Mosley’s fantastic ear for dialogue and the workings of Easy’s inner voice.

Again, we’re in postwar Los Angeles, in 1948, following Easy on a trail of misadventures as he runs afoul of both cops and crooks in his quest to track down a mysterious blonde.

And while Devil in a Blue Dress is most certainly a detective novel, Mosley’s wit and insight into the human condition elevate it into something more.

It’s tough, it’s sexy, and it’s not to be missed.

By Walter Mosley,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Devil in a Blue Dress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Devil in a Blue Dress honors the tradition of the classic American detective novel by bestowing on it a vivid social canvas and the freshest new voice in crime writing in years, mixing the hard-boiled poetry of Raymond Chandler with the racial realism of Richard Wright to explosive effect.

Book cover of Five Decembers

Ward Howarth Why did I love this book?

Winner of the 2022 Edgar Award for Best Novel, James Kestrel’s Five Decembers tells a gripping story of survival that spans the entirety of World War II.

It’s got it all, man, and it is a helluva fantastic read. The story begins in Honolulu, Hawaii, and follows detective Joe McGrady on the trail of a murder that takes him far from home and far from the woman he loves.

Before he knows it, he’s in the middle of the war, in Japan, no less, and nothing for him will ever be the same.

Don’t walk for this one, run, and keep a copy on your shelf. You’re sure to reread it a few times and the cover’s a true beaut.

By James Kestrel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Five Decembers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2022 Edgar Award for Best Novel

"War, imprisonment, torture, romance...The novel has an almost operatic symmetry, and Kestrel turns a beautiful phrase."
-New York Times

Five Decembers is a gripping thriller, a staggering portrait of war, and a heartbreaking love story, as unforgettable as All the Light We Cannot See.



"Read this book for its palpitating story, its perfect emotional and physical detailing and, most of all, for its unforgettable conjuring of a steamy quicksilver world that will be new to almost…

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