The best books about smuggling

Many authors have picked their favorite books about smuggling and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Dog Soldiers

By Robert Stone,

Book cover of Dog Soldiers

This book is set partly in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and partly in the U.S. and revolves around the Vietnam War and drug smuggling. The book deals with the pervasive sense of individual and institutional corruption which Vietnam seemed to embody. A corrupt society with no avenues of redemption, except in the individual’s code of honor, usually invented after the fact. A code that might perhaps save the individual, but not society. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award. The first novel on the Vietnam War to be so honored. The story focuses on Ray Hicks, a sailor on the way home from Vietnam, and John Converse, a hapless war correspondent. If the most bizarre and outrageous behavior seems rational and acceptable to the majority of society, do individuals adjust their abilities and beliefs to determine what is right and wrong, or do they accept they accept the behaviors…


Who am I?

Charles Templeton has been there and understands the stories of those who served in combat. He understands the wounds that do not heal after fifty years and those warriors, who in their writing, try to provide a sense of understanding and vision to their stories. He served as a Marine helicopter crew chief during the American War in Vietnam. His love of Vietnam literature began in 1967 and continues to this day. After fifty years of researching and writing about the war, he believes there is a literature of the Vietnam War, and enough of it that you can identify the good and the bad. He writes book reviews for the Vietnam Veterans of America. Charles also edits and publishes an avant-garde literary online magazine, eMerge. He and his wife started and published a weekly newspaper in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a few years, The Independent.


I wrote...

Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

By Charles L. Templeton,

Book cover of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

What is my book about?

In a world awash in books on War and in particular the unabated American obsession with Vietnam, Boot has artistically created a mosaic that uniquely combines Heller’s famous portrayal of normal society exposed to the frustrating bureaucratic logic of the military with Remarque’s description of the extreme physical and mental stress brought on by detachment from civilian life by soldiers. Boot challenges the reader to think about whether or not truth exists, whether or not there are such things as right and wrong, and finally, whether the idea of morality is flexible based on the context (in this case, in the American War in Vietnam).

With a plethora of books being written with an underlying theme of trying to justify the American War in Vietnam, many reasons have been given for the failure of the U.S. Some of the causes and significance of that failure are misunderstood interests, cultural arrogance, silly military strategies, ill-informed tactics, and adverse domestic politics, among others. Boot asks us to rethink our reasoning and our experiences during those turbulent times and consider for a moment the moral and spiritual landscape in America at this time and the corruption of the South Vietnamese government to which the U.S. turned a blind eye. It is a wound on the soul of America which will continue to fester if it remains unexamined.

The Black God's Drums

By P. Djèlí Clark,

Book cover of The Black God's Drums

This one’s a little different – pirates sail the clouds instead of the ocean. In a world where Haiti won its freedom at a devastating cost, a young Black woman wants to earn a place on an airship, but can’t seem to find any way to prove her worth to the sky pirates she longs to join. Until she learns about a weapon called the Black God’s Drums, that someone plans to use to wipe New Orleans off the map. Add in the whispers of an orisha with its own agenda and a possible romantic attraction to the peg-legged Captain Ann-Marie, and you’ve got everything a pirate might want.


Who am I?

I grew up on the coast of South Carolina, where many of the Golden Age pirates were welcomed as business associates and charming guests by some of the most influential people of the day. They are, to this day, considered local heroes. I read everything I could lay hands on about them, fiction and histories, and I knew my first book would have to be about the pirate I always pretended I could be, if I’d only been born two hundred years ago.


I wrote...

Mad Kestrel

By Misty Massey,

Book cover of Mad Kestrel

What is my book about?

In a world where infants with magical powers are torn from their parents to be raised by the mysterious and powerful Danisoba, who have a monopoly on magic, Kestrel has managed to keep her abilities concealed―and herself free.

As the quartermaster of a pirate ship, Kestrel loves the freedom of living on the seas. But her way of life could end if anyone on board learns her closely guarded secret. When Kestrel's captain is led into a trap and is arrested, she gathers her crew and sets sail in relentless pursuit, even knowing that revealing her own magic ability may be her only means to save him.

Signs Preceding the End of the World

By Yuri Herrera, Lisa Dillman (translator),

Book cover of Signs Preceding the End of the World

Translated from Spanish and 128 pages in length, Herrera’s short novel is a beautiful evocation of one woman's journey from Latin America to the US. Evoked with the brushstrokes of a fairy tale and suffused with a luminous surreality, the book has stuck with me. This is Herrera’s first novel to be published in English, and it has made quite a splash, giving me hope that more will soon follow.


Who am I?

My writing career has been in middle grade and YA, but as a reader I’m always trying to branch out. When I was a kid, literature opened the door to the whole world, and as an adult, I’m still exploring. When I read work in translation I can feel the literary connection to other writers and thinkers and simultaneously appreciate the differences that arise through geographic and cultural heritage. I hope my selections here might help readers like myself who enjoy reaching out to new voices and places.


I wrote...

The Wikkeling

By Steven Arntson,

Book cover of The Wikkeling

What is my book about?

In the futuristic city of The Addition, children are raised safely and efficiently. Their diets are standardized. Their schoolwork is synchronized. Even their sleep is quantized and analyzed. Yes, it’s all figured out . . . but the results aren’t quite as advertised. At least, not for Henrietta Gad-Fly, who lives in a rundown old house, gets bad headaches, and is on the verge of being expelled from school for poor grades. Henrietta is fortunate in one regard, though—she’s got really great friends in her schoolmates Gary and Rose. Friendship can help a person even in the weirdest situations. For instance, let’s say you find a hidden attic above your bedroom in which a mortally wounded magical cat has taken refuge . . .

Creolization and Contraband

By Linda M. Rupert,

Book cover of Creolization and Contraband: Curaçao in the Early Modern Atlantic World

The Dutch were a force to be reckoned with in the early modern Caribbean, trading with everyone and insinuating themselves everywhere. Rupert’s book shows how the small desert island of Curaçao became a trading entrepôt and in particular how Dutch suppliers, enslaved Africans, and Spanish consumers became entangled. One amazing aspect of this history that Rupert uncovered is the fact that the Protestant Dutch on Curaçao allowed the slaves there to be catechized by Spanish priests from the mainland (today’s Venezuela), working across not only imperial boundaries but also those of religion.


Who am I?

I am a historian of the early English Atlantic who began studying New England but soon turned to the Atlantic more generally and the Caribbean in particular. All the aspects of 17th century Atlantic history that most intrigue me played out in the Caribbean. A fascinating and complicated place, the West Indies—although claimed by the Spanish as their exclusive purview—became diverse, witness to a variety of interactions. I’m particularly interested in works that allow us to see these changes in the period when the region was a global meeting place undergoing vast shifts. Much excellent scholarship explores the later era of sugar and slaves, of major imperial wars, of movements for independence and emancipation. What interests me most is the period before that, when the region was being transformed into a crucible of global transformation.


I wrote...

English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell's Bid for Empire

By Carla Gardina Pestana,

Book cover of English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell's Bid for Empire

What is my book about?

In 1655, England attempted to conquer Spanish America. Believing that Spain was weak and that the African and Native residents of its American lands longed to be liberated from Spanish oppression, the English expected to conquer vast lands. They failed in this ambitious agenda for many reasons, not the least because of the unrealistic nature of their expectations.

This book chronicles those expectations, the preparations that went into the campaign, its humiliating failure on the poorly defended island of Hispaniola, and its limited but nonetheless significant results. Jamaica, taken as a place where the demoralized and sickly force could regroup, proved difficult to conquer; it was five years before the Spanish residents ended their resistance to the English invasion. Despite an inauspicious beginning, Jamaica emerged as Britain’s most valuable colony. 

Rise of the Red Hand

By Olivia Chadha,

Book cover of Rise of the Red Hand

Oh wow, the world in this book was as amazing as it was scary and realistic. The country is ruined by climate change and ruled by a ruthless, technocratic government that sacrifices the poor to finance a utopia for the rich. So two poor, revolutionary girls from the streets work with a politician’s son (and secret hacker) to change that. I really enjoyed reading about these kick-ass heroines!


Who am I?

I grew up loving sci-fi and fantasy, but especially today, I recognize how a lot of older sci-fi is patriarchal or even misogynistic. When I started to write my own books, like A Dragonbird in the Fern, I vowed to create my fantastical settings as I’d like our world to be someday—with all genders considered equal. Whether it’s a queen wielding all of the power or a witch who can save the world, women and girls in my stories get things done, and no one bats an eye. 


I wrote...

A Dragonbird in the Fern

By Laura Rueckert,

Book cover of A Dragonbird in the Fern

What is my book about?

A Dragonbird in the Fern is a young adult fantasy about a dyslexic princess named Jiara whose older sister Scilla is assassinated. Despite not speaking the language, Jiara takes her sister’s place as the bride to the young king of a faraway country, hoping she can catch Scilla’s murderer before her vengeful ghost kills their family. But that makes Jiara the assassin’s next target.

Be ready for women and girls who rule countries, wield knives and javelins as bodyguards, and are political strategists—and also men who care about what women think and don’t stand in their way.

Black Water

By Barbara Henderson,

Book cover of Black Water

Black Water is a thrilling tale of adventure by master storyteller Barbara Henderson. Thirteen-year-old Henry’s adventures trying to foil the smugglers, while facing the dangers of pistols, quicksand, and of course, the treacherous sea which could sweep him away at any moment, keep readers turning the pages to find out more!

This is a wonderful introduction to smuggling, the work of Excise men on the Scottish coast, to the job that Robert Burns did for a time, and even to some of his poetry. With an atmospheric setting and wonderful authentic narrative, this tale based on real historical events is a must-read for primary school children and a great choice for a class novel.


Who am I?

I grew up in the heart of Scotland addicted to visiting museums and exploring local stories and legends. Now as an adult I’m either to be found with my nose in a history book or out on an archaeological dig. I love to weave the lives of Scottish heroes such as Roberts Burns into books filled with fantasy and adventure for children, and to write spine-chilling tales for adults where supernatural creatures from Scottish myths lurk between the pages. I recently co-created a series of educational writing videos for school children to help them explore the history of their local area, and hopefully inspire the historical authors of the future!


I wrote...

Hag Storm

By Victoria Williamson,

Book cover of Hag Storm

What is my book about?

The witches are gathering... 

It’s autumn 1771, and 12-year-old Rab spends all of his time doing backbreaking work on his family’s farm instead of attending school, but when he finds a hag stone in one of the fields, everything changes. Looking through its circular hole, he sees witches gathering in a coming storm, and they’ve set their sights on his family. Can Rab save his sisters from the clutches of the witches’ coven before their Halloween ceremony in the old church? Filled with mystery and magic, Hag Storm is a spooky historical adventure with a supernatural twist, based on the life of the young Robert Burns, and his most famous poem, "Tam o' Shanter."

Bookshelves related to smuggling