Berlin Noir trilogy by Philip Kerr (1989-1991)
This trilogy, of March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem, is a superb introduction to Berlin detective Bernie Gunther, who narrates the cruel and corrupt world of pre-war Nazi Germany. Kerr’s world-weary protagonist is always droll and occasionally wickedly funny, providing some light-hearted relief from his bleak surroundings.
'The Innocent' by Ian McEwan (1990)
Berlin’s rainy streets is also the setting for this romantic thriller about a Post Office engineer hired by the Americans to tap the phones of Soviet High Command. Naïve Englishman Leonard Marnham, 25, is exposed to the complex world of post-war Germany, a first romance and a murder. Everyone cries when they read this book, or so I told myself.
'The Hanging Garden' by Ian Rankin (1998)
This is the Edinburgh that the tourist board does not want visitors to see – the seedy underbelly rather than the picturesque spires. It’s not the best Inspector Rebus novel, but I read it before starting university in the city. As with all the best crime thrillers, it’s also an insightful social commentary, written as Scotland prepared for its first devolved government in nearly 300 years.
'American Tabloid' by James Ellroy (1995)
Curtis Hanson's adaption of LA Confidential made Ellroy a household name. But no filmmaker has brought American Tabloid to the big screen, probably because it's so complicated. Ellroy mixes fact with fiction in this tale of treachery and murder in JFK-era politics, over three-interweaving narratives. The sequel to The Cold Six Thousand also delivers.
'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow (2005)
A decade before dramas like Narcos, Winslow published his history-meets-fiction epic, from six years’ research into Mexico’s drug wars. DEA agent Art Keller pursues drug lord Adán Barrera over four decades, in a fascinating insight into the narco-economy that law enforcement agencies have failed to disrupt. Ten years on, the story ends in The Cartel (2015).