William Ryan's favourite
historical crime novels

22 August 2016

By Pan Macmillan

the best historical crime novels, as chosen by william ryan, author of the constant soldier, a thrilling tale of survival set against the final bitter weeks of the nazi regime. 

dark fire
cj sansom

sansom is an excellent purveyor of tudor historical mischief-solving but in his second novel, dark fire, he excelled even himself.

shardlake, his hunchback lawyer hero, is our guide through a tortuous, twisting investigation on behalf of thomas cromwell, henry viii’s vicar-general and right hand man. highly recommended.

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the snake stone
jason goodwin

jason goodwin is, above all, a very fine writer - but when you combine that with a fascinating central character, a eunuch called yashim, and an even more fascinating location, 1830s istanbul, then you’re looking at historical crime gold. and when you add in yashim’s culinary achievements, it moves to a whole different level of excellence. the snake stone is my favourite of the five yashim novels so far but they’re all excellent - you shouldn’t hesitate.

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the devil in the marshalsea
antonia hodgson

when thomas hawkins is thrown into the marshalsea prison for unpaid debts, it’s the start of a brilliant, witty and thrilling georgian whodunit that leaves you wanting just a little bit more. so it’s just as well that hodgson has written two further novels in the series with, hopefully, more to come.

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j. robert janes

janes’s kohler and st cyr series is a bit of a hidden gem. janes published twelve novels between 1992 and 2002, of which beekeeper is the eleventh and for those of us who have followed the adventures of german detective kohler and his french partner st cyr through the labyrinthine complexities of nazi-occupied france, janes’s decision to start writing them again in 2012 was very welcome. you might have to hunt them out – but they’re worth it.

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the maze of cadiz
aly monroe

in this, monroe’s first novel, a young british spy called peter cotton is sent to cadiz to deal with a rogue colleague – except that when he arrives, he finds that the colleague is dead. monroe’s evocation of franco’s spain and cadiz, a town where she lived for some time, is dreamlike and other-worldly and cotton’s own role is often ambiguous even, it seems, to him. it’s a splendid spy novel and well worth a look.    

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william ryan's the constant soldier, an elegant and powerful thriller which sheds light upon a bleak and lesser known period of the second world war, is out now. 

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william ryan is part of the team behind first mondays, a monthly evening of crime fiction held at city university, london. tickets, special guests and further information available here.

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