10 Historical Thrillers Like The Alienist

Frightening tales of mystery and murder…

books like the alienist

Published in 1994, The Alienist was instantly popular upon its release—making bestseller lists within the first month. Rooted in historical fact with a riveting plotline, the story keeps readers on their toes.

When the horribly mutilated body of a young boy is found on the partially finished Williamsburg Bridge in 1896, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is summoned to investigate. Set in the Gilded Age, Kreizler, an “alienist”—now referred to as a psychiatrist, teams with local reporter John Moore, at the behest of NYC police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, to piece together the case and solve the murder. Their dangerous hunt takes them through revolutionary methods of criminology as they connect similar cases that lead them into the tortured and twisted mind of a murderer who is determined to kill again. 

Over 10 years later, the book has been adapted into a TNT television series. Check out the trailer below, and keep reading for a list of books similar to The Alienist. 

Related: The Past Is Present: Our Favorite Historical Fiction Novels 

The Woman in White

The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins

Published in 1959, The Woman in White is considered to be one of the first mystery novels—blending Gothic horror and psychological realism. The story begins late one night on a vacant road with Walter Hartright. He encounters an eerie woman dressed entirely in white, and as fate would have it, later finds himself at her former home, Limmeridge House, where he’s been hired as a drawing master. 

There, he meets a series of peculiar characters, including Laura, the heiress to Limmeridge, and her betrothed, Sir Percival Glyde—whose sinister interests keep readers enthralled until the very end. Walter and Laura fall in love despite her engagement, but a series of twists and turns keep the characters—and readers—guessing. Throughout the story, Wilkie Collins pursues the questions of identity and insanity through the corridors of an enchanting madhouse. 

A Morbid Taste for Bones

A Morbid Taste for Bones

By Ellis Peters

Set in 1137, Brother Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in western England, and spends most of his time caring for his garden. This peace is interrupted when Cadfael is asked to serve as a translator for a group of monks traveling to Gwytherin in Wales. They’re making the trek to collect the holy remains of Saint Winifred, but are met with opposition by the townspeople. 

Complicating the situation further, the lead protestor is found dead at the gravesite with an arrow lodged in his chest. It’s assumed he was tampering with the grave, and Brother Cadfael has an idea who the murderer may be. He takes it upon himself to find the killer, but may end up uncovering more than he asked for. 

Related: The Best Book Series, According to Genre 



By Richard Ben Sapir

When a very valuable saltcellar becomes available for sale in New York, the public becomes frenzied trying to figure out where it came from. But the outer jewels of the saltcellar aren’t even its most valuable part. It’s rumored that inside the saltcellar lies the Holy Grail. But such a priceless piece comes at a deadly price: Soon after it’s put on the market, the owner of the saltcellar is brutally murdered and the artifact is stolen. 

Claire Andrews’ father was the owner of the saltcellar, and now she’s teaming up with NYPD detective Artie Modelstein to find the men responsible—and make them pay. But their search lands them in the middle of a deadly quest for power…and they’ll have to do whatever it takes if they hope to survive. 

historical thrillers like the alienist forever


By Pete Hamill

In this sprawling novel, readers watch the evolution of New York City through the eyes of the immortal Cormac O’Connor. He arrives in the city in 1740, and is informed he can remain immortal so long as he stays on the island of Manhattan forever. Cormac endures everything from love to war. 

It’s through his eyes that we watch the city transform from a tiny town on the tip of an island to the booming superpower it is today. Walking the boundary between magical and realistic with stunning poise, Pete Hamill’s novel will leave readers equally full and wanting more with the turn of the last page.  

Related: Remembering Pete Hamill, Legendary Journalist and Author 

historical thrillers like the alienist the name of the rose

The Name of the Rose

By Umberto Eco

In 1327, Brother William of Baskerville is called to investigate a wealthy Italian abbey suspected of heresy, but finds himself in a far greater mystery when seven inexplicable deaths occur. Using what he learned from the great philosophers, along with his own sharp humor and endless curiosity, he plays detective in hopes of solving the murders. Between deciphering secret symbols and traveling into the abbey’s labyrinth, readers will be ceaselessly drawn into a novel both thrilling and enchanting.  

historical thrillers like the alienist dissolution


By C.J. Sansom

Set in 1537, King Henry VIII has broken up the Catholic Church in favor of the Church of England, of which he names himself overseer. Over the course of the following two weeks, the disfigurement of power forces the monastery of Scarnsea to spiral out of control, leading to the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton. Lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant are sent to investigate, but they quickly learn there’s more to this story than what they were originally told. Like The Alienist, Dissolution is a perfect blend of history and mystery.

historical thrillers like the alienist a conspiracy of papers

A Conspiracy of Paper

By David Liss

As a Jew and ex-boxer, Benjamin Weaver is an outcast in 18th-century London. His job is to track down debtors and felons for his wealthy clients, and the work has left him distant from his family. Suddenly, Benjamin is informed that is father is dead. It’s clear his death was no accident, and Benjamin is asked to investigate. 

The more he uncovers, the more he realizes how little he knew about his father and the world he belonged to. Benjamin finds himself following startlingly close to his father’s footsteps - a path that may lead to his own death. This enthralling historical thriller will leave readers asking important questions about their own world, and questioning everything they thought to be true.  

historical thrillers like the alienist mistress of the art of death

Mistress of the Art of Death

By Ariana Franklin

In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been found dead. Their murders are almost instantly blamed on the Jewish community, stemming from stories of sacrificing Christian children during religious ceremonies. In order to quickly dissolve the civil unrest, King Henry II calls on his cousin, the King of Sicily, who holds some of the best medical experts in his kingdom, to solve these crimes. 

Adelia, a young Italian forensics expert, is sent in to uncover what turns out to be the work of a serial killer. While in England, Adelia is met with another challenge—concealing her identity as a doctor to avoid being accused of witchcraft. She’s in a race against time to solve the crime before the killer strikes again, and to conceal her own identity before the truth is found out.

historical thrillers like the alienist the devil in the white city

The Devil in the White City

By Erik Larson

Larson’s nonfiction novel follows the real stories of Daniel Hudson Burnham, the brilliant architect behind the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who constructed the “World’s Fair Hotel” where he lured unsuspecting guests to torture and kill them. The Devil in the White City intertwines their two tales to give us a chilling true story that reads like fiction.  

Related: The Best True Crime Books You've Ever Read 

historical thrillers like the alienist the dante club

The Dante Club

By Matthew Pearl

Similar to The Alienist and The Devil in the White City, The Dante Club is a phenomenal blend of fact and fiction. In 1865 Boston, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell are putting the final touches on America’s first translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. They’re preparing to reveal Dante’s incredible visions of the New World, despite the protests from the powerful Boston Brahmins who are fighting to keep Dante in obscurity, believing he will corrupt the minds of Americans. 

However, a series of murders throughout Boston and Cambridge foul their plans to keep their sacred literary cause alive. To make matters worse, the murders resemble Hell’s punishments described in Dante’s Inferno. The group then takes it upon themselves to solve these murders and keep the literary tradition they have committed their entire lives to alive.  

Featured still of "The Alienist": TNT