The Second World War inspired a slew of timeless literature from people who lived through one of the most the most devastating conflicts in human history: from Arthur Koestler‘s novels, to the journalist Alan Moorehead’s classic account of the Desert War, and Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel My Father Bleeds History.
Years later, the 1939-1945 war still inspires authors. Any single day in the seven-year period of the war created a seemingly endless number of unbelievable stories. Stories of naval assaults; tank battles in the North African desert; aerial bombardment of ancient cities; guerilla fighting among the ruins; daring civilian escapes. Stories of resistance, stories of exhaustion, of surrender, love, and murder.As the last remaining neutral port in Europe, Lisbon was a hotbed of spies - both German and Allied. And so it's hardly surprising there are so many good thrillers set in Lisbon during this time. Click To Tweet
My personal favorites are the stories of civilians escaping occupied Europe via the last remaining port outside of German control – the port of Lisbon. Portugal, while a fascist dictatorship, was neutral throughout WWII. And so anyone escaping the Nazis would have to get to France and then be lead by guides south over the Pyrenees, across northern Spain and finally into Portugal.
As the last remaining neutral port in Europe, Lisbon was a hotbed of spies – both German and Allied. And so it’s hardly surprising there are so many good thrillers set in Lisbon during this time. Like Eric Maria Remarque’s The Night in Lisbon and Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon among others.
Authors of all stripes are drawn to these narratives of life and death like moths to a flame, but especially those who write thrillers. Wikipedia defines thrillers by “the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation, and anxiety”. And because the war is over 75 years in the past, novels set in WWII are historical novels as well, so they tend to reach even wider audiences.
At Nomad Reader, we love historical thrillers, and so we’ve curated a selection of some of the most highly acclaimed thrillers set during the war in locations such as Cairo, Lisbon, Berlin, Paris, Prague, Madrid and Warsaw. See the list below to dive into another time and place.