The best fiction books set during the Third Reich

The Books I Picked & Why

Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem

By Philip Kerr

Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem

Why this book?

This book – well, technically, the first three books in the series – is for anyone who enjoys mysteries or detective stories, especially the hardboiled variety. The core of the book is Bernie Gunther, who is – depending on the situation – a protagonist, a hero, and/or an anti-hero. A former Berlin detective turned private investigator, he’s cynical and sardonic, not to mention a hopeless romantic who repeatedly falls for the femme fatale or damsel in distress while on a case, which pretty much always leads him into trouble. The first book is set in Berlin in 1936, the second in Berlin in 1938, and the third in Berlin and Vienna in 1947, which means Bernie has more than a few brushes with the Nazis.


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Fatherland

By Robert Harris

Fatherland

Why this book?

This is another great detective story. Fans of The Man in the High Castle (the Amazon series) will also be interested in Fatherland because it is an alternate history where Germany has won the Second World War. Set in Berlin in 1964, police detective Xavier March comes across a body in a posh neighborhood – I can’t say which one, no spoilers! But what begins as a murder investigation quickly devolves as March realizes there is a much larger conspiracy and cover-up, and each clue he finds puts him in greater danger.


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The Eagle Has Landed

By Jack Higgins

The Eagle Has Landed

Why this book?

This book is a classic action-adventure story with a touch of spy thriller mixed in. It was apparently inspired by the rescue of Benito Mussolini led by SS officer Otto Skorzeny in 1943. But in this novel, also set in 1943, the plan isn’t to rescue someone. Rather, the objective is to kidnap Winston Churchill. Tasked with this daunting assignment is Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Steiner, a disgraced airborne paratrooper, allied with IRA operative Liam Devlin. Both make quite interesting protagonists – that's one of Higgins's best skills as a writer: with a brief sketch, he creates compelling characters. As this is not alternate history, readers know from the outset these characters have to fail, and yet, Higgins wrote a gripping narrative that keeps readers wondering what the characters will do next and how their mission will turn out.


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Winter: The Tragic Story of a Berlin Family 1899-1945

By Len Deighton

Winter: The Tragic Story of a Berlin Family 1899-1945

Why this book?

While technically a prequel to Deighton’s well-known Cold War Game, Set, Match trilogy, Winter can certainly be read as a standalone novel. As the subtitle indicates, this is a book about a family. But really, this is a novel about two brothers, Peter and Pauli. The evolution of their relationship over the course of nearly half a century, 1900-1945, is the foundation on which Deighton explores this tumultuous period of German history. From their innocent and carefree youth in the late Wilhelmine period, to the trauma of their military service during the First World War, through the rise and rule of the Nazi party – can the ties that bind the Winter brothers survive?  


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The Kommandant's Girl

By Pam Jenoff

The Kommandant's Girl

Why this book?

This historical romance is set in German-occupied Krakow. Emma, a young Jewish woman, is separated from her husband just weeks after their marriage because of his involvement in the resistance. Sent to live with Krysia, her husband’s gentile aunt, the women quickly bond with each other as well as with a toddler, the son of a Jewish rabbi, who is placed in their care. The plot thickens when Emma comes to the attention of Georg Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official in Krakow who, unaware that Emma is Jewish, wants her to work for him. She does, knowing the information she has access to will help the resistance, including the clandestine work of her husband. Richwalder’s feelings for her, along with her conflicted feelings for him, drive the plot to its intense conclusion.


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