Try heading for the warmer climes of Cadiz, in 1811, where a serial killer is at large, flaying his victims while the French besiege the city.
Arturo Perez-Reverte was once a war correspondent, so has seen the effects of violence at first hand, and is also a history and literature buff. Consequently, The Siege is a bit of a hybrid. On one hand, the opening sentence - "At the sixteenth lash, the man strapped to the table loses consciousness" - promises a brutal thriller. On the other, the setting and the context are as exhaustively detailed as any historical novel. The author seems like a man so well informed that he'd know what each of his characters was wearing, down to the buttons.
In this context, Perez-Reverte's murderer, Gregorio Fumagal, comes across as quite a modern figure. Like Norman Bates, he has more than a passing interest in taxidermy. Like practically every fictional serial killer of the last two decades, his life is dominated by ritual, meticulous preparation and an apocalyptic worldview. For much of the time, Fumagal skulks his way through the narrative, a rarely glimpsed figure. Far more attention, at least at first, is given to businesswoman Lolita Palma engaging a privateer to attack French ships, while, on the French side, Captain Simon Desfosseux frets over trajectories and velocities so that his artillery can pound Cadiz rather than fall short of it.
It's up to the hard-bitten Rogelio Tizon, Commissioner for Districts, Vagrants and Transients, to keep hauling the narrative back to the murders. Three bodies have been found so far, each whipped and flayed, each at a site where French shells have landed.
Thriller fans looking for a quick procedural fix might find Perez-Reverte's lushly descriptive evocation of 19th-century Cadiz a little heavy going (it weighs in at 560 pages), but the superbly researched background gives the setting weight and believability. A city, and a story, you can really get lost in.