The best thrillers set in Asia

Why am I passionate about this?

I've lived in Asia for more than 22 years and have extensively traveled around the region, both for work and pleasure, from the Middle East and central Asia to Japan, and Australia, New Zealand, and every country in between. Asia is the perfect setting for a thriller, as a region that’s deeply rooted in traditions, but where modernity and growth are also breathless. There can be political instability at times, and even corruption, unsurpassed wealth and shocking poverty, bankers, and prostitutes. I worked for many years as an investment banker and my experiences inspired me to write my debut thriller, Hard Underwriting, in Hong Kong, and uncover the dark side of Asia’s financial capital. 

I wrote...

Hard Underwriting

By Philippe Espinasse,

Book cover of Hard Underwriting

What is my book about?

Hong Kong, 2017. Year of the Rooster. Twenty years after the handover of the British colony to communist China. Amid social unrest, an expatriate investment banker is found at dawn on his doorstep, murdered, his body almost cut in half. More financiers are soon killed, triggering a game of cat and mouse across Asia’s financial capital between the police and a mysterious Japanese assassin. The investigation takes Chief Inspector Ethan Blake and Inspector Suki Lam from the trading floors of international banks to industrial warehouses, and seedy bars in the red-light district, as they race against time to solve the series of murders. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hungry Ghost

Philippe Espinasse Why did I love this book?

A fast-paced thriller set in Bangkok and (mainly) Hong Kong in 1991, prior to the retrocession of the Crown colony to Chinese rule.

The plot includes assassins, kidnapers, triads, gangs, and the police, in a well-researched book that is difficult to put down.

For readers who have lived in Asia, there is a ring of authenticity to what Leather writes, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given his previous life as a journalist on the South China Morning Post. Well worth a read, alongside Leather’s many other thrillers.

By Stephen Leather,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hong Kong, 1991. The colony is preparing for Chinese rule.

Geoff Howells, a government-trained killing machine, is brought out of retirement and sent to there. His brief: to assassinate Chinese Mafia leader, Simon Ng. Howells devises a dangerous and complicated plan to reach his intended victim - only to find himself the next target.

Patrick Dugan, a Hong Kong policeman, has been held back in his career because of his family connections: his sister is married to Simon Ng. But when Ng's daughter is kidnapped and Ng himself disappears, Dugan gets caught up in a series of violent events and…

Book cover of Reliable in Bangkok

Philippe Espinasse Why did I love this book?

This is the first book in Valerie Goldsilk’s extensive ‘Reliable man’ series about former Royal Hong Kong Police inspector-turned assassin Bill Jedburgh, who plies his trade across Asia – and beyond, and who is known to those who use his services only as (you would have guessed it), “the reliable man”.

This thriller is set in Pattaya, Thailand, and involves a high-octane chase between Jedburgh, triad devotees, and European mafiosos, amid the exotic scenery of Southeast Asia. Nothing is missing, including bar girls, massage parlours, and sophisticated shoot outs.

Goldsilk herself has lived in Hong Kong for more than 30 years and is married to a former Hong Kong policeman. The story feels authentic (if not politically correct!) and is well written, as are the other books in the series.

Highly recommended!

Book cover of Blowback Burma

Philippe Espinasse Why did I love this book?

This is the latest book in Boczar’s Eric Ketch series, which follows the adventures of an American international man of mystery across Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Burma, in the pursuit of rubies, exotic women, and ruthless assassins.

Boczar himself knows the region very well, having lived in Hong Kong for over three decades, and worked as a war correspondent, on the porous borders of the golden triangle and in Lebanon during the civil war.

The descriptions, whether of cities, weapons, smugglers, or guerilla fighters, all feel true, and Boczar knows only too well how to tell a convincing and edge-of-your-seat story that is difficult to put down.

By Peter Boczar,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Southeast Asia. Eric Ketch returns to take down bad guys while still making time to take out bad girls. Some things have stayed the same while some things have changed. Communist countries have become capitalist markets. But powerful, entitled elites continue to control politics and business. The communist cadres have simply become the capitalist kingpins.
Ketch gets hired as a freelance agent to do what he does best. Delivering justice. His way. However, the game board continues to elude him and he still gets torn between completing the mission and doing the right thing. Meanwhile, he remains vulnerable to exotically…

Book cover of A Clean Kill in Tokyo

Philippe Espinasse Why did I love this book?

This is one of the best books in Eisler’s John Rain series, featuring half-American, half-Japanese assassin and Vietnam veteran John Rain.

Eisler himself was a covert operative with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, and his descriptions of fieldcraft, surveillance, torture, and killing techniques all ring so true, as does his extensive knowledge of modern Japan.

Tokyo is, of course, a fascinating playground for Rain’s adventures. Eisler’s books and unputdownable, and well worth discovering.

By Barry Eisler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Previously published as Rain Fall

Name: John Rain.
Vocation: Assassin.
Specialty: Natural Causes.
Base of operations: Tokyo.
Availability: Worldwide.

Half American, half Japanese, expert in both worlds but at home in neither, John Rain is the best killer money can buy. You tell him who. You tell him where. He doesn’t care about why…

Until he gets involved with Midori Kawamura, a beautiful jazz pianist—and the daughter of his latest kill.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo was previously published as Rain Fall, the first in the bestselling John Rain assassin series.

Book cover of Ultimatum

Philippe Espinasse Why did I love this book?

A best seller from BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.

MI6 agent Luke Carlton is on a mission to uncover a secret cave system at a military complex south-east of Tehran, in which scientists work round-the-clock on a banned nuclear device, at the behest of ultra-conservative Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Gardner himself was ambushed and left paralyzed by Islamist gunmen, while on assignment in Riyadh. This is a rare thriller set in Iran, although the action also extends to neighbouring countries such as Armenia.

Fast-paced, well-written, and authentic. What more can you ask for?

By Frank Gardner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Authentic, unnervingly current and action-packed, Ultimatum is the explosive new thriller from BBC security correspondent and No.1 bestseller Frank Gardner.
Deep within a cave system at a military complex south-east of Tehran, hidden from the prying eyes of Western satellites, scientists are working round-the-clock on a banned device. Acting on the orders of a renegade cell within the ultra-conservative Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, their intention is to propel Iran into the elite club of nuclear-armed nations - and seal its domination of the Middle East.

Britain's intelligence agencies know something is up. They have someone on the inside ready to…

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Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

Book cover of Returning to Eden

Rebecca Hartt Author Of Rising From Ashes

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Idealistic Storyteller Teacher Mother Seeker

Rebecca's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Looking for clean romantic suspense with spiritual undertones?

Look no further than the Acts of Valor series by Rebecca Hartt. With thousands of reviews and 4.7-5.0 stars per book, this 6-book series is a must-read for readers searching for memorable, well-told stories by an award-winning author.

A dead man stands on her doorstep.

When the Navy wrote off her MIA husband as dead, Eden came to terms with being a widow. But now, her Navy SEAL husband is staring her in the face. Eden knows she should be over-the-moon, but she isn’t.

Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has no recollection of their fractured marriage, no memory of Eden nor her fourteen-year-old daughter. Still, he feels a connection to both.

Unfit for active duty and assigned to therapy, Jonah knows he has work to do and relies on God, who sustained him during captivity, to heal his mind, body, and hopefully his family.

But as the memories lurking in his wife's haunted eyes and behind his daughter's uncertain smile begin to return to him, Jonah makes another discovery. There is treachery in the highest ranks of his Team, treachery that not only threatens him but places his new-found family in its crosshairs.

Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

What is this book about?

Presumed Dead, Navy SEAL Returns Without Memory of His Ordeal in the Christian Romantic Suspense, Returning to Eden, by Rebecca Hartt

-- Present Day, Virginia Beach, Virginia --

A dead man stands at Eden Mills' door.

Declared MIA a year prior, the Navy wrote him off as dead. Now, Eden's husband, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has returned after three years to disrupt her tranquility. Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, he has no recollection of their marriage or their fourteen-year-old step-daughter. Still, Eden accepts her obligation to nurse Jonah back to health while secretly longing to regain her freedom, despite the…

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Interested in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Japan?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Japan.

Hong Kong Explore 49 books about Hong Kong
Bangkok Explore 17 books about Bangkok
Japan Explore 471 books about Japan