Monday, May 18, 2015

Historical Mysteries Part 2 - Regency to World War II

Readers of historical fiction love to immerse themselves in the details of a bygone age. A well crafted historical mystery will evoke a sense of the time and place, while challenging the reader with a carefully plotted crime to unravel. A fellow reader with a great love for historical mysteries (and too modest to write herself for The Reader) asked for a post with some of her favourite historical mysteries.

Set in Regency London, in the late 1700's, is C.S. Harris's What Angels Fear. "In London, a young woman is brutally raped and murdered, her body left on the altar steps of an ancient church. The prime suspect: Sebastian St. Cyr, a brilliant young nobleman still haunted by his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. Now he is running for his life, desperate to catch the killer and prove his innocence. Moving from Mayfair's glittering ballrooms to St. Giles's fetid back alleys, Sebastian is assisted by a band of unlikely allies and pursued by a Machiavellian powerbroker with ties to the Prince Regent himself. What Angels Fearseamlessly weaves an intimate knowledge of the period with a multi-layered and compelling story, and is the first of a series of novels featuring these characters." ~ publisher

Bruce Alexander's Sir John Fielding series features a real-life person, Sir John Fielding, who was the magistrate of the Bow Street Court, and was also the brother of Henry Fielding. Sir John was blind and was best known as the Blind Beak of Bow Street. The stories are told by Jeremy Proctor, a young man who Fielding took under his wing and who helped solve murders. Alexander died unexpectedly while writing the series. The last book was finished from his Manuscript and notes. In Murder in Grub Street "The crime appeared as easily solved as it was wicked. A Grub Street printer, his family, and two apprentices brutally murdered in their sleep. A locked building. And at the scene, a raving mad poet brandishing a bloody axe. Surely the culprit had been found, and justice would be swift and severe." - pub.

Sometimes historical mysteries take liberties. Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series is set in southeast England in the late 1700's. Jane Austen solves murders among her social set and has her in a relationship with Lord Harold Trowbridge, a man with an unsavory reputation. The stories are supposedly found in manuscript form by Ms. Barron who acts as "editor". Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor - "On a visit to the estate of her friend, the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel's husband—a gentleman of mature years—is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl's death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the beginning of her she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl's nephew of adultery—and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords—a trail that may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy." ~ publisher

On to the 19th century and the Bow Street Runners and Jack the Ripper. T. F. Banks' Henry Morton is a Bow Street Runner and recounts some of his most famous cases in this series. Shows how rough and ready law enforcement was at that time. The Thief Taker - "June 1815. When Henry Morton is called to the scene at Portman House in Claridge Square, the Bow Street constable finds a man dead in a hackney coach--ostensibly of asphyxiation. He was Halbert Glendinning, a gentleman of unsullied character. Then why was he seen frequenting one of London’s most notorious dens of iniquity? And why has the driver of the coach vanished into the night? While Sir Nathaniel Conant, the chief magistrate at Number 4 Bow Street, accepts the official verdict of accidental death, Morton is certain that Glendinning was a victim of foul play. With the help of actress Arabella Malibrant, one of London’s most celebrated beauties, he embarks on his own discreet inquiry. And as the upper circles of London society close ranks against him, Morton races to unmask a killer whose motives are as complex and unfathomable as the passions that rule the human heart." ~ publisher

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs takes us into the 20th century. Set in London and southeast England in the 1920's and 1930's. Maisie became a private investigator after serving as a nurse in WWI. She was trained as a psychologist as well, and uses techniques such as meditation to help her in her work. The series gives an idea of what life was like after the devastation of the war, and how soldiers dealt with a return to normal life. Maisie Dobbs: a novel.- "Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realise the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested. For her first case forces her to uncover secrets long buried, and to confront ghosts from her own past...In Maisie, Jacqueline Winspear has created a character that readers will immediately take to their hearts. Her first case combines a gripping investigation with a moving portrait of love and loss. It marks the beginning of a wonderful new detective series." ~ publisher

Finally it is World War II and meet Sandra Scoppettone's Faye Quick. Set in New York City during WWII. Fay is keeping the detective agency going while her boss is serving overseas and is solving cases for the first time. She's a wise-cracking girl who can take care of herself. This Dame for Hire."Going after the bad guys and fighting a good fight on the home front, Faye is as scrappy and endearing as any character Sandra Scoppettone has ever created, and This Dame for Hire’s period setting is rendered so real you can hear the big band music, see the nylons and fedoras, and feel the rumble of the Third Avenue El. When it comes to an irresistible detective and a riveting new series, you must remember this: Here’s looking at Faye Quick." ~ publisher


  1. I can add a couple more, which I recently reviewed for Irene Fleming's The Edge of Ruin, a well-researched mystery set amid the fledgling movie industry in 1909 New Jersey, which I also found hilariously funny; and A River in the Sky, the latest Amelia Peabody mystery by Elizabeth Peters, in which the dryly witty Amelia accompanies her archaeologist husband to Jerusalem instead of their usual Egyptian haunts.

  2. I highly recommend Anna Dean's "Bellefield Hall,or the Observations of Miss Dido Kent." One of the best historical mysteries I have read.