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!)
I love this series set in 1660’s London, featuring former maid turned bookseller Lucy Campion. London has weathered both the plague and the great fire, and the upheaval finds some women able to take work usually reserved for men. While Lucy is not technically a bookseller’s apprentice, she does everything an apprentice would do. In the 1660’s, bookselling also meant publishing, so Lucy works as a typesetter, a sometime writer of murder broadsheets, which were often sold at public executions, as well as working as a seller. Her intelligence and connections to the wealthy Hargreaves family, her former employer, get her into some places the police cannot go. She’s also torn between two suitors – Constable Duncan and Adam Hargreaves.
Susanna Calkins had a wonderful series set in 17th century England, featuring maid turned bookseller Lucy Campion. Those were slightly more serious in tone than this delightful new series launch from this talented writer. Murder Knocks Twice is set in prohibition era Chicago, with all the attendant issues of the mob, the past war, and the depression coming into play. Series heroine Gina Ricci is out of work and finds a job at a speakeasy through a friend.
She’s a little unsure about working there – she’s worried about what her father will think, for one thing – and for another, she’s replacing a girl who was killed and that makes her slightly wary. Calkins has a brisk story telling style, and she quickly establishes her setting and a wide array of characters. She’s very good at delineating characters and making them memorable; I was never unsure or trying to remember who she was talking about, and to me, that’s the mark of a very good writer.