Typewriter with book and flowers

6 Historical Noir Reads with Pulse-Pounding Mysteries

August 22 2022
Share 6 Historical Noir Reads with Pulse-Pounding Mysteries

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “compulsively readable”? Besides the obvious (“something only people in publishing say”), the entire noir genre very often comes to mind. It’s no secret our society is downright obsessed with crime culture and the darkness associated with it, whether in documentary films, podcasts, or pulse-pounding noir novels. But there’s just something extra special about historical noir—with its depiction of deviousness in an alternate era and thrilling plots that explore places and people of the past in pursuit of solving a well-packaged mystery.

If you’re looking to get hooked, to leave the constant churn of crime fiction set in modern-day, then settle in for some of the best, most suspenseful, completely compulsive historical noir novels available today.

The Last Embrace
by Denise Hamilton

Welcome to old Hollywood, the setting of some of the greatest historical noir. Taking place in 1949 Los Angeles, Denise Hamilton’s THE LAST EMBRACE follows Lily Kessler as she arrives in L.A. to find her late fiancé’s sister Kitty—an actress who is newly missing from her Hollywood boardinghouse. It isn’t long before the “missing persons” case becomes what appears to be a homicide. When the cops ignore Lily’s requests for a more thorough investigation, she elects to do the dirty work herself. Luckily Lily, a former stenographer and spy for the Office of Strategic Services, has the chops to take the case, but as readers quickly come to realize, she’ll also need the stomach for it. Encountering some of Hollywood’s most devious personalities, including over-eager starlets, violent gangsters, and movie backlot eccentrics, Lily must untangle the web that seemingly ensnared Kitty . . . before she becomes the next victim. With colorful characters and a pulse-pounding plot, THE LAST EMBRACE depicts the ugly side of old Hollywood while outlining a blockbuster storyline fit for the big screen. You won’t want to miss it.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo
The Last Embrace
Denise Hamilton

Los Angeles 1949. A city of big dreams and dark shadows...

Lily Kessler, a former stenographer and spy for the OSS, comes to Los Angeles to find her late fiancé's sister Kitty, an actress who is missing from her Hollywood boardinghouse. The next day, Kitty's body is found in a ravine below the Hollywood sign. Unimpressed by the local police, Lily investigates on her own. As she delves into Kitty's life, she encounters fiercely competitive starlets, gangsters, an eccentric special-effects genius, exotic denizens of Hollywood's nightclubs, and a homicide detective who might distract her from her quest for justice. But the landscape in L.A. can shift kaleidoscopically, and Lily begins to see how easily a young woman can lose her balance and fall prey to the alluring city's dangers....

With vibrant characters and unerring insight into the desires and dark impulses that can flare between men and women, The Last Embrace showcases Denise Hamilton at the height of her storytelling powers as she transports readers to a fascinating, transitional time in one of America's most beguiling cities.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

The 10 Most Popular Books of September

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 30, 2022

10 Historical Fiction New Releases Blessing Our Shelves This Fall

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 29, 2022

10 Eerie Book Club Picks Best Read with Others Nearby

By Alice Martin | September 28, 2022

10 Life-Affirming Reads for Fredrik Backman Fans

By Karen Bellovich | September 27, 2022

Editors Recommend: 6 Rewarding Memoirs for Readers of All Types

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 26, 2022

Staff Picks: 9 Books We’re Loving Lately

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 23, 2022

Close
Our Man in the Dark
by Rashad Harrison

Shifting from a historical setting to a noir novel revolving around a historical figure, Rashad Harrison’s gripping debut, OUR MAN IN THE DARK, follows an FBI informant in the period leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. John Estem isn’t exactly an informant by choice. Hired as a bookkeeper for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Estem stumbles upon an erroneous contribution that he decides to pocket, but when agents from Hoover’s FBI, who’ve been monitoring the SCLC, learn of Estem’s actions, they pressure him into playing spy. Seeking to expose King and the SCLC as a communist organization, the FBI agents and Estem look to take advantage of King’s newly revealed sexual infidelities and undermine his credibility. With a beautiful depiction of Dr. King, as described through fictional conversation, readers won’t be able to resist the drama of this debut. OUR MAN IN THE DARK is historical noir featuring one of the most important Americans and his tragic demise.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo
Our Man in the Dark
Rashad Harrison

A suspenseful debut novel based on a real person who worked for a civil rights organization and became an informant for the FBI during the months leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his stunning noir debut, Rashad Harrison shines a provocative light on the months leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When the FBI approaches John Estem, a bookkeeper for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), they offer him a stipend to work as an informant. But they also issue a warning: they know he stole ten thousand dollars from the organization.

Estem is told he is performing his American duty, protecting the SCLC from communist infiltration. Once the FBI discovers evidence of King’s sexual infidelities, however, they set out to undermine his credibility as a moral leader and bring down the movement. Our Man in the Dark is a timely novel that comes on the heels of numerous recent revelations about informants within black movement organizations. With historical facts at the core of his writing, Harrison uses real life to create a poignant, page-turning drama.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

The 10 Most Popular Books of September

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 30, 2022

10 Historical Fiction New Releases Blessing Our Shelves This Fall

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 29, 2022

10 Eerie Book Club Picks Best Read with Others Nearby

By Alice Martin | September 28, 2022

10 Life-Affirming Reads for Fredrik Backman Fans

By Karen Bellovich | September 27, 2022

Editors Recommend: 6 Rewarding Memoirs for Readers of All Types

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 26, 2022

Staff Picks: 9 Books We’re Loving Lately

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 23, 2022

Close
Every Cloak Rolled in Blood
by James Lee Burke

Sometimes history is personal. For James Lee Burke and his work, EVERY CLOAK ROLLED IN BLOOD, the crime drama that unfolds is semi-autobiographical as it depicts a writer grieving the death of his daughter. Author Aaron Holland Broussard is haunted by the loss of Fannie Mae after her abrupt passing from a deadly combination of alcohol and medication. In the aftermath, Aaron seeks peace but (naturally) finds himself surrounded by a set of sudden murders in the local town. State police officer Ruby Spotted Horse is eager to solve the cases and take advantage of Aaron’s insights—some of which seem to be coming from the ghost of Fannie Mae, seeking to guide her father. What’s more, in addition to visits from Fannie, Aaron is plagued by visions of a historic massacre of indigenous people that took place in the late nineteenth century. But perhaps the ghosts of the past can help him and Ruby solve the crimes of the present. EVERY CLOAK ROLLED IN BLOOD is yet another hit from Burke and offers a unique spin on the historical noir genre.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
Every Cloak Rolled in Blood
James Lee Burke

In his most autobiographical novel to date, James Lee Burke continues the epic Holland family saga with a writer grieving the death of his daughter while battling earthly and supernatural outlaws.

Novelist Aaron Holland Broussard is shattered when his daughter Fannie Mae dies suddenly. As he tries to honor her memory by saving two young men from a life of crime amid their opioid-ravaged community, he is drawn into a network of villainy that includes a violent former Klansman, a far-from-holy minister, a biker club posing as evangelicals, and a murderer who has been hiding in plain sight.

Aaron’s only ally is state police officer Ruby Spotted Horse, a no-nonsense woman who harbors some powerful secrets in her cellar. Despite the air of mystery surrounding her, Ruby is the only one Aaron can trust. That is, until the ghost of Fannie Mae shows up, guiding her father through a tangled web of the present and past and helping him vanquish his foes from both this world and the next.

Drawn from James Lee Burke’s own life experiences, Every Cloak Rolled in Blood is a devastating exploration of the nature of good and evil and a deeply moving story about the power of love and family.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo

MENTIONED IN:

6 Historical Noir Reads with Pulse-Pounding Mysteries

By Chris Gaudio | August 22, 2022

Books as Gifts: 16 Reads Dad Will Love This Father’s Day

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 11, 2021

Close
Leaving Berlin
by Joseph Kanon

A New York Times Notable Book of 2015, LEAVING BERLIN is Joseph Kanon doing what he does best: a thrilling historical noir set in one of the world’s darkest periods. Berlin native and Jewish writer Alex Meier never intended on returning to the place of his birth. Having fled the Nazis for America in the years before the war, Alex, now in 1948, is facing trouble in the US for his politics. Hoping to clear his record, he agrees to return to Germany as a spy following top CIA targets like a Russian who just so happens to be romantically involved with a woman Alex once loved—and may still have feelings for. But their rocky reunion is just the start of Alex’s tenure as a spy, which quickly involves a failed kidnapping, a killing, and an escapee from a labor camp. What’s left for Alex is a choice: whether to stay true to his promise to the CIA in an effort to clear his name or switch sides for the only woman he’s ever loved. It’s all here in Joseph Kanon’s thrilling novel that brings to life a shadowy period of history to entertain us with every last page.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
Leaving Berlin
Joseph Kanon

New York Times Notable Book * NPR Best Books 2015 * Wall Street Journal Best Books of 2015

The acclaimed author of The Good German “deftly captures the ambience” (The New York Times Book Review) of postwar East Berlin in his “thought-provoking, pulse-pounding” (Wall Street Journal) New York Times bestseller—a sweeping spy thriller about a city caught between political idealism and the harsh realities of Soviet occupation.

Berlin, 1948. Almost four years after the war’s end, the city is still in ruins, a physical wasteland and a political symbol about to rupture. In the West, a defiant, blockaded city is barely surviving on airlifted supplies; in the East, the heady early days of political reconstruction are being undermined by the murky compromises of the Cold War. Espionage, like the black market, is a fact of life. Even culture has become a battleground, with German intellectuals being lured back from exile to add credibility to the competing sectors.

Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war. But the politics of his youth have now put him in the crosshairs of the McCarthy witch-hunts. Faced with deportation and the loss of his family, he makes a desperate bargain with the fledgling CIA: he will earn his way back to America by acting as their agent in his native Berlin. But almost from the start things go fatally wrong. A kidnapping misfires, an East German agent is killed, and Alex finds himself a wanted man. Worse, he discovers his real assignment—to spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved. Changing sides in Berlin is as easy as crossing a sector border. But where do we draw the lines of our moral boundaries? At betrayal? Survival? Murder? Joseph Kanon’s compelling thriller is a love story that brilliantly brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo

MENTIONED IN:

The 10 Most Popular Books of September

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 30, 2022

10 Historical Fiction New Releases Blessing Our Shelves This Fall

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 29, 2022

10 Eerie Book Club Picks Best Read with Others Nearby

By Alice Martin | September 28, 2022

10 Life-Affirming Reads for Fredrik Backman Fans

By Karen Bellovich | September 27, 2022

Editors Recommend: 6 Rewarding Memoirs for Readers of All Types

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 26, 2022

Staff Picks: 9 Books We’re Loving Lately

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 23, 2022

Close
The Glass Forest
by Cynthia Swanson

Sometimes a historical noir is at its best when operating through family dynamics. THE GLASS FOREST by Cynthia Swanson does just that. Taking readers back to 1960, we meet Angie Glass and her idyllic life in Wisconsin. Married to a handsome man, Paul, and mother to a six-month-old, all is well until a phone call from Paul’s niece Ruby comes in. It seems that Paul’s brother, Henry, has killed himself and that Henry’s wife, Silja, is now missing. Springing into action, Paul and Angie travel to New York in an effort to take care of Ruby and whatever her parents left behind in their sprawling, ultra-modern home in the woods. But it’s not long before Angie notices Ruby’s resistance to their affection and discovers the nefarious role she may have played in her parents’ marriage. Told from three different perspectives, readers are treated to family dynamics from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, as we learn of the Glass woman’s previous relationships. Suspenseful and, at times, shocking, THE GLASS FOREST is a delicious take on the genre.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo
The Glass Forest
Cynthia Swanson

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

6 Historical Noir Reads with Pulse-Pounding Mysteries

By Chris Gaudio | August 22, 2022

10 Literary Thriller and Horror Novels Wordsmiths Will Admire

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | August 25, 2021

From Stephen King to Ruth Ware: 12 Edge-of-Your-Seat Reads

By Off the Shelf Staff | January 11, 2019

Close
The Time In Between
by Maria Duenas

It feels appropriate to round out our list with María Dueñas’ international bestseller THE TIME IN BETWEEN. In what feels like a staple of the historical noir genre, this novel features an unassuming bystander-turned-spy for the Allies in their efforts to defeat the evil Nazis in World War II. Sira Quiroga grew up sweeping the floors of a clothing maker, but it wasn’t long before she picked up the skills of the trade herself. And just as she’s beginning to come into her own as a seamstress in Madrid, she’s whisked away to Morocco by love and war having met a handsome man and seeking to escape the brewing Spanish Civil War. When she’s ultimately abandoned by her lover and left penniless in Morocco, Sira, again, works her way to the top only this time her goal is high society, where she quickly becomes a designer to some of the most powerful women . . . including those married to or affiliated with the Nazis. It’s not long before Sira is taking advantage of her unique position, absorbing the gossip and strategic insights and feeding them to British Intelligence. Her role as spy only gets more serious when she’s convinced to return to her native Spain and operate in espionage for the Allies on the front lines of World War II. Masterfully written and perfectly paced, THE TIME IN BETWEEN is the definition of great historical noir, perfect for your next beach trip.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo
The Time In Between
Maria Duenas

An outstanding success around the world, The Time in Between has sold more than two million copies and inspired the Spanish television series based on the book, dubbed by the media as the “Spanish Downton Abbey.” In the US it was a critical and commercial hit, and a New York Times bestseller in paperback. It is one of those rare, richly textured novels that enthrall down to the last page. María Dueñas reminds us how it feels to be swept away by a masterful storyteller.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

6 Historical Noir Reads with Pulse-Pounding Mysteries

By Chris Gaudio | August 22, 2022

May 2021 eBook Deals: 11 Thrilling Reads to Add to Your Digital Library

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 4, 2021

14 Extra-Long Reads to Cure Your Winter Blues

By Sarah Jane Abbott | February 1, 2019

Secrets, Spies, and Sacrifice: 11 Captivating Novels About World War II

By Chris Delaney | December 3, 2015

A Woman’s Guide to Latin America in 7 Books

By Off the Shelf Staff | November 11, 2014

Close

Photo credit: iStock / undefined undefined

You must be logged in to add books to your shelf.

Please log in or sign up now.