8 Thrilling Books Set on the Sea

By Strong Sense of Place

By Strong Sense of Place

The ocean — vast, brutal, beautiful, and so very deep — is a thrilling setting for stories. Seafaring heroes and heroines are challenged by external forces like the wind and waves, as well as internal demons that become unwelcome companions in the close quarters of a ship. On our podcast episode The Sea: Tales of Poets and Pirates (click here to listen), we recommend books we love that took us out on the ocean blue.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder

Eli Brown

$18.00 $16.56

It’s 1819 and the captain of the Flying Rose — Mad Hannah Mabbot, lady pirate extraordinaire — busts into a luxurious dinner party and absconds with the chef. Via an elegant note sealed with wax, Mad Hannah informs the ‘Caesar of Sauces’ that she will spare his life, so long as he prepares a gourmet meal for her aboard ship every Sunday.

Dark Voyage

Alan Furst

$17.00 $15.64

The New York Times calls Alan Furst ‘America’s preeminent spy novelist.’ His stylish spycraft is often compared to standard-bearers of the genre like Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. But we love Furst’s novels for their heroes and heroines: regular people thrust into extraordinary circumstances that test their resolve.

Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle for Survival

Tristram Korten

$18.00 $16.56

In the fall of 2015, Hurrican Joaquin crashed into the Bahamas and devoured two cargo vessels: the American El Faro with a crew of 33 souls aboard and the Haitian Minouche, a smaller, older freighter served by a dozen sailors. Both ships and the entire crew of the El Faro were lost to the sea.

Death by Water: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

Kerry Greenwood

$14.99 $13.79

Phryne Fisher is a heroine we can believe in. An independent lady-detective in 1928 Melbourne, she’s an equal-opportunity lover and prone to wearing pants (all the easier to shimmy up a drainpipe). She keeps a pearl-handled pistol in her evening bag, and she is not here for any of your nonsense.

The Last Cruise

Kate Christensen

$16.95 $15.59

The glamorous 1950s ocean liner Queen Isabella is making her final voyage — a retro cruise from Long Beach to Hawaii and back — before heading to the scrapyard. It should be a dream getaway for the guests onboard. Gourmet food, string quartets, no cell phones, no children. What could possibly go wrong?

Moby-Dick: Or, the Whale

Herman Melville

$16.00 $14.72

You probably think you know the story: This 700-page novel from 1851 is about Ahab’s obsession with the whale. The first line is ‘Call me Ishmael,’ and it’s a book you were supposed to read in high school. That is all technically true, but Moby Dick is so much more.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Erik Larson

$18.00 $16.56

You probably remember the name of the ship Lusitania from history class, but in Dead Wake, Eric Larson works his exceptional brand of storytelling magic to illuminate new facts — and suddenly, you are right on that ship.

Journey Into Fear

Eric Ambler

$15.95

Eric Ambler was a popular British spy novelist in the early years of WWII, and his thrillers made heroes of the everyman. In most of his books, a regular joe accidentally lands himself in hot water, surrounded by spies, revolutionaries, and criminals who just might kill him.