After we closed the store and my reading was slightly less proscribed by authors visiting or the latest new thing, I realized that one of the genres I truly love is historical mysteries. The range is so wide – in story telling style, in time period, in characters, and the armchair history lessons always, always add to my reading enjoyment. The fact that the books are set in the past makes the detective rely much more on old fashioned, golden age style sleuthing methods, another attraction, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine as well as my own reading, I find I read pretty widely in this subgenre. Here are my 10 favorites this year. One of them I liked so much it’s on my all around top 10 list (stay tuned!)
The fifth novel in Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent series finds Verity surprised by the appearance of her German great aunt, Ilse. She’s surprised for one thing because it’s 1919, and in England, Germans weren’t especially beloved; and for another, she knows her aunt is elderly and fragile and wonders why she’s made the arduous journey to her niece’s side.
The two have always been close, and during the war, when Verity worked for British Intelligence, she even placed a German deserter at her aunt’s home for a time. Verity is still wracked with guilt over this. Her aunt has appeared with a new and beautiful young maid, as her long time maid has died of the Spanish flu.
To my mind, historical mysteries are some of the best mysteries being written at the moment. They combine classic elements of detective fiction, unmarred by cell phones or computers, and combine it with fascinating time periods and characters. These wonderful books are now all available to order on our website, along with many other historical mysteries (have a browse!) Kathleen Marple Kalb’s first novel came out this April, a difficult time for a first novel, with no bookstore events or conferences to attend. I am not a fan of the cover art, but I am a huge fan of this charming debut. My review ran in Mystery Scene, and you can read it here. The main character, Ella Shane, is a “trouser diva”, an opera singer who sings men’s roles in 1899. At the time, opera was a travelling proposition, as the Met was new. If you enjoy books by C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber or Dianne Freeman, check this one out.
The seventh in Huber’s enjoyable Lady Darby series, this novel finds the lovely and talented Kiera happily married to investigator Sebastian Gage and pregnant with her first child. At this point, the talented Huber is a nice cross between the romance of Tasha Alexander and the social commentary that Anne Perry focuses on in her novels. In 1830’s London, there’s plenty of social injustice to go around, though that is far from Huber’s main theme.
I’ve always loved the premise of these novels. Kiera is a painter who was forced, under her first husband’s tutelage, to create precise anatomical drawings from corpses he obtained probably through illegal means. At the time, the idea of an autopsy or of learning from a human body was considered something of a scandal. When Kiera’s first husband dies, she’s forced to retreat to her sister’s home in Scotland because her work for her husband has made her notorious.
It gives Kiera a fabulous backstory – her first husband’s treatment of her is always at the back of her mind, and her lack of acceptance by conventional members of the “ton” make every social occasion a minefield. Luckily, her present husband, Gage, is a model of kindness and they are a wonderful detecting pair.