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Novels set in Europe

Now that I am spending more time at home and am not traveling this year, I have been reading novels set in Europe.

Here are some authors and settings:

Andrea Camilleri - Sicily
Michael Dibdin - Italy
Philip Kerr - Germany
Henning Mankell - Sweden
Jo Nesbo - Norway
Daniel Silva - various
Donna Leon - Italy

Note: In a later post I have prepared a list of all authors mentioned in this thread.

Posted by
3649 posts

I recently read Jo Nesbo's take on MacBeth. It is set in Scotland instead of Norway and it's a modern crime thriller set in a fictional city that I interpret to be Glasgow. Lately I've been reading some crime fiction by Gilly MacMillan set in the Bristol, UK region.

Posted by
8043 posts

Ian Rankin - Inspector Rebus - Edinburgh
Alan Bradley - Flavia De Luce - England
Andrea Cailleri - Inspector Bruno - Sicily
Henning Mankell - Kurt Wallender- Sweden
MIchael Dibdin - Investigator Aurelio Zen - Italy
Also consider Chris Pavone's books:
The Expats, The Paris Diversion, The Accident, The Travelers. Luxembourg, Paris, Zurich, Copenhagen.

Posted by
5290 posts

Not a bad list at all, but for those who have a lot of time I can add a few Swedish authors to the list.

Vilhelm Moberg - one of the big names in Swedish literature. For North American readers the four Emigrants novels should be interesting. It tells the story about a group of Swedes emigrating from Småland and finally settling at lake Ki Chi Saga (Chisago) in present day Minnesota.

Astrid Lindgren - no further introduction should be needed.

Frans G. Bengtsson - Not the most productive writer, but his novel Röde Orm (Red Orm or The Long Ships depending on translation) is one of the great pieces of Swedish 20th century literature. It is a historical novel set all over Europe during the viking age.

For more crime novels/Nordic noir you should also check out:

Sjöwall Wahlöö - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote ten crime novels that are often considered as the first examples of Nordic noir.

Kjell Eriksson

Camilla Läckberg

Stieg Larsson

Posted by
8076 posts

Once you start going down the rabbit hole of foreign detective novels, you'll never emerge. Here is the website that someone mentioned here on the RSE forum a few years ago: stop you're killing me You can search for authors by country.

I think three authors in Iceland are particularly good (I will mangle their names, but you'll figure it out) Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Arnauld Indraeson, Ragnar Jonnason. Tana French in Ireland, Stuart MacBride (Scotland - England), Ann Cleeves (Shetland and North England), Peter Lovesey, (Bath), Martin Walker (Bruno series in the Dordogne), Olen Steinhauer (communist era Central Europe), Gary Disher (Australia), and Vilmos Kondor for 1930s Budapest. Some of these series are more serious than others, and some are light reading, but are fun for their glimpses of local life. Mark Billingham for the Tom Thorne series (London) is dark like Jo Nesbo. Very fun is Mario Giordano on Sicily.

Posted by
6857 posts

I also recently read Circe by Madeline Miller and was really impressed with her writing. Its a very good novel and quite different from some of the other books I've read recently. I'm anxious now to read her first novel Song of Achilles which won awards also.

Posted by
1426 posts

For Barcelona, anything by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Brilliant writer.

For mysteries set in England, then Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. She makes the very ordinary very creepy.

England, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Munich by Robert Harris. Characters involved in events surrounding Chamberlain's dilly-dallying (in a more sympathetic way).

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Very good and different novel about Dracula, set all over the place.

Vlad:The Last Confession by C.C.Humphreys. Also about you-know-who and also different.

To add to Badger’s Swedish list, Jonas Jonasson’s 100 Year Old Man (abb.)

Posted by
2916 posts

I've read everything by Andrea Camilleri, Henning Mankell, and Donna Leon, and would definitely recommend any of them. I started each author at the beginning, and while I'm not sure that's essential, it's a good idea.
I also read all of the Sjöwall Wahlöö books years ago, and would heartily recommend them. They definitely are the precursors to modern Scandinavian Noir.
I'm looking forward to checking out the other Swedish authors mentioned by Badger.

Posted by
3520 posts

When mentioning the Brits, don’t forget Peter Robinson and Robert Barnard. For mystery novels set in Italy, Ian Pears. Pears also wrote some serious novels. His “Dream of Scipio,” set in and around Avignon, remains one of my all-time favorites.

Posted by
5827 posts

I enjoy the Jo Nesbø/Hole and Mankell/Wallander crime novels. I especially enjoy Nesbø's settings. FYI Harry Hole's Oslo:

Expanding the Nordic list, add James Thompson's Inspector Vaara series. Thompson was born in the US but studied and lived in Finland.

Not a novel, but a film. One of my favorite Scandinavian films is "Kitchen Stories". During one of my trips to Oslo a Norwegian and I got to talking about favorite movies and I mentioned "Kitchen Stories". He practically lept in the air agreeing about my choice.

Posted by
6092 posts

Surprised that no one has mentioned Alan Furst's "historical spy novels," starting with Night Soldiers and about a dozen after that, set in Europe before and during World War II. The last few aren't as strong as the earlier ones, I think. Some are set mainly in Paris, all include Paris at least in part, otherwise Italy, Greece, Poland, Romania, Spain, Bulgaria, Russia, and elsewhere. Hint: the Nazis are the bad guys.

Posted by
2912 posts

I am always drawn to novels and memoirs set in and around fin-de-siecle Vienna and Austria-Hungary. I am reading "The Radetsky March" right now.

Alan Furst is a continuing favorite for my wife and myself.

Posted by
738 posts

I always like the various Agatha Christie’s novels. And of course Sherlock Holmes. But many books set in Victorian London are of interest to me.

One book that this thread reminded me of was set a long time ago and was centered around the construction of a cathedral but I can’t remember the name....

Posted by
6857 posts

One book that this thread reminded me of was set a long time ago and was centered around the construction of a cathedral but I can’t remember the name....

Maybe Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett? Fantastic novel about building a cathedral over about a century and several generations.

Posted by
3040 posts

Jean-Luc Bannalec - Brittany
Cara Black - Paris
M L Longworth - Provençe
Frank Tallis - Vienna
Martin Walker - the Perigord
Barbara Nadel - Istanbul
Peter Mayle - Provençe and Southern France
C J Sanson - England (16th century)
Magdalen Nablus - Florence
Georges Simenon - France

Posted by
1277 posts

Susan howatch, a series of 9 historical fiction books based on the Anglican church in England

Posted by
5290 posts

To add to Badger’s Swedish list, Jonas Jonasson’s 100 Year Old Man

That is also a great addition. Another modern book that should be on the list is A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

And another crime author to add to the list is Gösta Unefäldt who has written 11 crime novels set in Strömstad on the Swedish west coast, close to the Norwegian border.

Posted by
3649 posts

I've been slowly making my way through Ian Fleming's James Bond series. Having grown up with the movies I'm surprised how insecure and emotional and ordinary Bond can be in the books. And less women.

Posted by
2912 posts

If you enjoy detective novels, there are several series which are great:

1) The Father Brown stories: The current TV adaptation of the Father Brown stories by GK Chesterton takes great liberties with the stories. The stories were really Christian apologia - using the mystery form to discuss philosophical ideas with a Catholic perspective. Great stories really.

2) The stories of Edmund Crispin (The Moving Toyshop): The detective is Gervase Fen, professor of English at Oxford. These books are great fun if you know literature. For instance, in one book, he does a completely hysterical version of "The Raven".

3) The Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy Sayers

4) The endless stories about dotty peers, lords whose entire obsession was raising pigs, and other wacky books of PJ Wodehouse

I read most of these in high school, but they gave me a very strange view of the English countryside

Posted by
1973 posts

Thanks for the thread. Anne Perry for many detective novels set in Victorian England that offer interesting glimpses into life in those times. And glad to see PJ Wodehouse! We were listening to a book on tape driving cross country and literally had to pull over onto the shoulder of the freeway because we were laughing so hard, tears were running down our faces. Please give him a try if you haven’t. Happy and healthy reading to all.

Posted by
8076 posts

If you like P.J. Wodehouse, and those old-fashioned British detective novels, try the books of Cyril Hare.

Posted by
6857 posts

I haven't noticed anyone mention the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, set in mostly in Scotland but other parts of the world also (England, France, America, West Indies). I love the video series but I found the books much much better. They are big but good reads.

Posted by
3520 posts

I forgot to include in my earlier post the mystery novelists Elizabeth George and Barry Maitland. The latter’s Brock and Kolla series is superb. His Australian trilogy is okay, but not up to the standard of the ones set in England. Too violent for my tastes.
While we’re at it, we shouldn’t forget Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Anthony Trollope.

Posted by
471 posts

Dorothy Dunnett. Two series: one starting in 1560's Scotland (The Game of Kings), then ranging the world, second in 1460's Bruges
(Niccolò Rising), ditto. Wonderful writing, settings, protagonists & all characters, invented & historical. In Game of Kings, Mary Queen of Scots is a feisty four-yr-old. Mention Dunnett's name & someone's eyes will light up like Christmas.

Posted by
482 posts

Jussi Adler Olsen for Denmark.
His Department Q novels are set in Denmark and great fun to read.

Torquil MacLeod
for Sweden and add a vote for Daniel Silva whose novels are set all over Europe in just about every story.

Posted by
526 posts

Eric Amblers first novels, set in pre WW 2 Europe and written in the late 1930's. The Dark Frontier, Uncommon Danger, Epitaph for a Spy, Cause for Alarm, The Mask of Dimitrios. They are spy/intrigue novels, and at that time Ambler was on the left and so the Soviet agents are portrayed sympathetically. Being written in the late 1930's they stand out from other spy novels that are about that era in that Ambler wrote them while the political drama of Europe of that period was actually happening.

Posted by
2421 posts

Loving all the suggestions everyone!! I ordered a book by Donna Leon to try.

My first ever trip to Europe (Northern Italy and Switzerland) was cancelled earlier this year. So, I’ve been keeping myself distracted by reading travel books and planning future trips. I only have about 5 trips planned. 😊 Maybe I can actually take one someday.

All these recommendations will help pass the time.

Posted by
3649 posts

I haven't noticed anyone mention the Outlander series by Diana

My wife is hooked on the Outlander books and TV series, in fact her quest to find Jamie Frasewr was supposed to start on May 31st when were were to fly to Glasgow. She's finding the books to have a bit too much detail and is enjoying the show more.

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99 posts

Maeve Binchy's novels (set in Ireland, mostly Dublin): Circle of Friends, Echoes, Tara Road, Quentin's, etc.

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2184 posts

These are true stories that I find were delightful and they all inspired me to visit the area where they took place, the first two were also made into a movie and the last series became a British T V series. 84 Charing Cross Road about London, The Hiding Place about Haarlem (town outside Amsterdam) and any of the books by James Herriot about the Yorkshire dales in the western part of England. Oh another one about the Holocaust Sara's Suitcase. This was sad but also amazing.

Posted by
6857 posts

So many of these posts keep bringing to mind other novels I love. My favorite Maeve Binchy novel of Ireland is The Copper Beech. I also recommend The Hiding Place and I absolutely loved 84 Charing Cross Rd.

Posted by
1168 posts

For Italy, more specifically Venice, try Philip Gwyne Jones. Four books, the fifth is in editing now.

The Venetian Game

Vengeance in Venice

The Venetian Masquerade

Venetian Gothic.

Phil lives in Venice, and his books have a great feel for “place”, particularly if you have been to Venice. It is almost as though Venice herself plays a part.

Phil’s apartment overlooks Campo de San Basegio, near the San Basilio vap stop.

Posted by
341 posts

So, Patrick Taylor from BC, Canada (originally from Ireland) writes the Irish County Doctor series. Came across the first book In Bellingham, WA on our way to Italy. There are 18 or so now. They do jump across a couple of different time periods and as I haven't been to Ireland, not sure how authentic they are, but they are lovely books, and I hope convey the time periods he sets them in. He also has a couple of books on the Irish "troubles" which are a bit more intense, but still good reads.

And if you can still find them, the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters.

Huge fan of Andrea Camilleri.

Posted by
738 posts

I think you are right I believe it was Pillars of the Earth. I was thinking of.

In 5th grade Spanish my teacher read us Don Quixotic flipping between Spanish and English. She was very gifted in languages speaking fluent Spanish and French as well as English. Having lived a number of years in Spain and Paris when younger,

Posted by
1103 posts

I am enjoying seeing all the recommendations.

In addition to a good story and character development, I appreciate an author's ability to create a sense of place. In addition, it is interesting when an author can convey a sense of the national psyche.

Another genre often set in Europe is the spy novel - for example, almost anything by John Le Carre or Len Deighton.

I read novels on my Kindle and borrow items for free from my local library. Not all authors are available, although I can request that the library add a title.

Posted by
8076 posts

Bob, if you like spy novels, a really good current British author is Mick Herron. Try to read the "Slough House" series in order as the same characters re-appear, and references to past events are frequent.

Posted by
1279 posts

Several by Edward Rutherfurd, James Michener and Dan Brown.

Posted by
1103 posts

Some have mentioned historical fiction. Here is a link to a website listing some good choices:

Following are some of my favorites in this category:

Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

The Paris Architect - Charles Belfoure

Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo - Stephanie Storey

Posted by
1277 posts

Star of the sea, a pretty intense novel about a "coffin ship" fleeing the potato famine

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1426 posts

"A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman." - yes Badger, read that one too, very good. Also read Bachman's 'Beartown', a bit of a darker novel about an incident which takes place in a small hockey town.

Wasn't so crazy about the old lady and her gang of robbers, whoever wrote that (?).

Posted by
5697 posts

Rhys Bowen "Her Royal Spyness" series -- light, funny. Set in 1930's London.

Posted by
3649 posts

And for 9th/10th century England, Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series.

Think shield wall

Love that series of books. After watching the Last Kingdom on Netflix I'm now re-reading the series; started Book 2-The Pale Horseman on the weekend.

Another Cornwell book I enjoyed was Fools and Mortals. The main character is Shakespeare's brother trying to make it in the theatre world while brother Wil is on top of his game.

Posted by
1147 posts

So many interesting books/series listed here. I am going to plunder my backroom for Bro Cadfael and Dorothy Sayers novels. Too bad I recycled my 80s paperbacks by Georgette Heyer (the paper was disintegrating). Before the local library went into quarantine, I stocked up on some Daphne du Maurier and Angela Thirkell (Barsetshire). And, I have been able to tap into Flavia De Luce audiobooks via the library's Overdrive subscription. Am also looking to order Miss Garnet's Angel (Venice) from our local bookshop which is doing pick-up.

Happy Reading!

Posted by
1103 posts

In the non-fiction arena, I liked The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCulloch. This is the story of American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris in the 19th century, fell in love with the city and its people, and changed America through what they learned. Like most McCulloch works, it reads like a novel.

Posted by
1305 posts

All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot

The novels of Jane Austen

The novels of Anthony Trollope, especially the Barchester series

The novels of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte

The novels of Thomas Hardy

I'm currently reading Mr Britling Sees It Through by H G Wells set during WWI and written before the outcome of the war is known.

Posted by
6173 posts

France - A friend sent me a Peter Mayle book, which I found very entertaining. I’m planning to read more of his books.

I did enjoy reading several of Donna Leon’s books that you mentioned on one flight to/from Italy. Later, I remembered the one set at the La Fenice opera house when I attended my first European opera.

Posted by
1503 posts

Nancy and Laurie, I too love Maeve Binchy. Have you tried Nicky Pellegrino? Her books read a bit like Binchy's but set in Italy. A Dream of Italy is very much in that style and is about different people who buy a €1 house in Italy (like one of those schemes that pop up on the news from time to time).

Posted by
1273 posts

For Sevilla, if you like a good murder, the "Javier Falcon" series by Robert Wilson are enjoyable. There's plenty of local colour and the plots have lots of twists with quite a bit of blood & gore.

Posted by
99 posts

Andrea, thanks for the Nicky Pellegrino suggestion. I'll check out his work!

Posted by
548 posts

Thank you for starting this thread! I've read many of the books, but many of the authors are new to me.
I am currently waiting for the latest Donna Leon from my library. Have enjoyed her books since a friend in Germany mentioned her name many years ago. We can order online and then do curbside pickup. Love it!

Posted by
8076 posts

For some of the old authors, you can get compilations inexpensively for an e-reader. I think I got the complete works of Anthony Trollope for 99¢. It was a challenge and took several months, but I made it all the way through.

Posted by
1433 posts

Hille: Years ago in Venice we met a German tourist who recommended these Donna Leon books, which take place in Venice. I started reading them in order. We saw that the movies were on PBS but you can imagine our surprise when we started watching and the actors were speaking in German! Quite a culture shock! It seems Donna Leon trusted the German producers to portray her stories more accurately than others.

Posted by
1103 posts

Here is list of all authors mentioned in this thread as of 6/18/20:

Eric Ambler
Kate Atkinson
Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Fredrik Backman
Jean-Luc Bannalec
Robert Barnard
Charles Belfoure
Marie Benedict
Frans Bengtsson
Mark Billingham
Maeve Binchy
Cara Black
Rhys Bowen
Alan Bradley
Charlotte Bronte
Emily Bronte
Anne Bronte
Dan Brown
Mikail Bulgakov
Andrea Camilleri
Miguel de Cervantes
Anton Chekhov
GK Chesterton
Agatha Christie
Chris Cleave
Ann Cleeves
Jenny Colgan
Vilmos Condor
Bernard Cornwell
Len Deighton
Michael Dibdin
Charles Dickens
Gary Disher
Anthony Doerr
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dorothy Dunnett
George Eliot
Kjell Eriksson
Ian Fleming
Ken Follett
CS Forester
Tana French
Alan Furst
Diana Gabaldon
Neil Gaiman
Elizabeth George
Stella Gibbons
Mario Giordano
Nikolai Gogol
Martha Grimes
Cyril Hare
Robert Harris
James Herriot
Mick Herron
Susan Howatch
CC Humprheys
Arnauld Indraeson
Jonas Jonasson
Philip Gwynne Jones
Ragnar Jonnason
Alexander Kent
Philip Kerr
Elizabeth Kostova
Camilla Lackberg
Stieg Larsson
John Le Carre
Donna Leon
Astrid Lindgren
M L Longworth
Stuart MacBride
Torquil MacLeod
Gilly MacMillan
Barry Maitland
Henning Mankell
Peter Mayle
David McCulloch
James Michener
Madeline Miller
Denise Mina
Vilhelm Moberg
Heather Morris
Magdalen Nabius
Barbara Nadel
Vladimir Nabokov
Jo Nesbo Nesbo
Martin Nexo
Patrick O'Brien
Jussi Adler Olsen
Edith Pargeter
Chris Pavone
Ian Pears
Nicky Pellegrino
Anne Perry
Ellis Peters
Alexander Pushkin
Hannu Rajaniem
Ian Rankin
Ruth Rendell
Peter Robinson
Edward Rutherfurd
C J Sanson
Jean-Paul Sartre
Dorothy Sayers
Jeffrey Siger
Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Daniel  Silva
Georges Simenon
Olen Stenhauer
Stephanie Storey
Frank Tallis
Patrick Taylor
James Thompson
Amor Towles
Anthony Trollope
Mark Twain
Gosta Unefaldt
Leon Urus
Maj Sjöwall Wahloo, Per
Martin Walker
Ruth Ware
HG Wells
Robert Wilson
PJ Wodehouse
Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Posted by
1426 posts

Great work Bob and thanks.

I'd buy you a beer if I was close by and not so cheap.

Posted by
1273 posts

Charlotte, Emily and Anne are each mentioned - but poor old Bramwell gets forgotten again!

Which leads naturally to suggesting Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. A very funny novel set in (the fictional rural backwater of) Howling, Sussex.

Posted by
1503 posts

As I was the one who mentioned Nicky Pellegrino's novels set in Italy, I'd like to add that this year she was planning to start Italy tours. Her novels include a lot of cooking and I think that was the focus of her tours. I'll probably never take one but I'm looking forward to seeing if they ever go, and what the itineraries look like.

Posted by
503 posts

To Bob's very comprehensive list, I would add Martha Grimes. Her Inspector Jury and his cronies solve many a crime in England and are a delight to read.

Posted by
1277 posts

Because I just finished a great book set in 1916 Colorado I'm going to jump to "beyond Europe " and see if a list will start there of books that make you want to explore new parts of North America
Please come join us!

Posted by
552 posts

Thanks for the great suggestions. Many I have enjoyed, but plenty of new ideas too.

Posted by
328 posts

I'll put another vote in for Alan Furst. His novels featuring WWII era spies / intrigue give a wonderful sense of place. There are some wonderful renderings of Paris in the pre-war era and during occupation (e.g., Midnight in Europe). They're short and you can get through them a good clip as well!

Posted by
3089 posts

I don't see Jeffrey Siger mentioned. He writes crime novels based in Greece. Excellent, IMO.

Posted by
1350 posts

I can recommend the following:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Posted by
1503 posts

I'll add Jenny Colgan's series that takes place on the fictional Scottish island of Mure. Definitely in the "chick lit" category (I do hate that term), but to me captured the feel of Orkney.

Posted by
15448 posts

Not a novel, but perhaps my very favorite book about Europe (and the Middle East) is Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. You can still recognize and relate though it's 150 years old (and therefore available for free as a pdf file). He did write a couple novels set in England (The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee . . . ) and a couple short stories set in Germany.

Posted by
265 posts

These aren’t novels, but I just signed up for an online adult education class on Russian Short Stories. It will include stories by Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Nabokov and others. This year I almost went on the RS St. Petersburg, Tallinn, and Helsinki tour so these should be interesting.

And thanks for the list, Bob.

Posted by
3649 posts

Speaking of short stories and other non-novel methods of telling a tale...maybe everyone but me already knew, but Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy wasn't originally a novel. It was released in installments in a magazine over a number of years. In any case, it's an outstanding story and the reason I started using my ereader full time. My wife had the book and recommended I read it. I took one look at the size of the book and told her I'd download it instead.

Posted by
265 posts

Allan, I didn’t know that about Anna Karenina. It will be interesting to find out if a number of those other Russian authors to be covered in my class also published some of their books in installments in magazines over a period of years.

Posted by
12154 posts

For non-fiction, I really enjoyed reading George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" before I visited Spain.

Rick talked heavily about the Spanish Civil War in his Spain book. In truth, I didn't notice much that would remind me of civil war when I was there. Before the trip, however, I read Orwell's book. It's a fascinating autobiography of his time reporting on the war and fighting with a Communist brigade. His experiences seemed to feed his 1984 dystopian vision.