Random (but not really)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Categorical Books: Historical Mysteries

I first discovered historical mysteries through books that were written as contemporaries: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple mysteries.

Around this time I also found (literally found, in the house we moved into) Ian Flemings James Bond series (1950s and 60s). (Would I enjoy them today? I’m terrified to find out so I haven’t re-read them.)

The Complete Sherlock HolmesI just checked, and I received The Complete Sherlock Holmes when I was 12, and I regularly re-read the series. (I haven’t reviewed it because writing a review for each story seems daunting, and a review for the entire series would just be I LOVE THIS.)

Another “contemporary” series I loved is Georgette Heyer Inspector Hannasyde series. There’s something I love about seeing a time through the eyes of those who were living in it.

But most of the historical mysteries have been written in the modern day looking back into the past. And most of what I adore tends to have been thoroughly researched. (You want me to love your book? Give me a bibliography at the end.) So here are some of my favorite historical mystery series. If you click on an author you can see my reviews for all the books in the series–you’ll notice that for some of these books my ratings go up and down across the series, and that for some books my ratings change over time and after re-reads.


Peter Tremayne: Sister Fidelma is a religieuse and legal advocat in 7th century Ireland. Grandmom and I both loved this series, and I’ve been slowly finding electronic copies of the books to re-read (and finish the series).


Ellis Peters‘s Brother Cadfael series, set in England & Wales in the 1130s and 1140s. Brother Cadfael is Welsh Benedictine monk and herbalist who spent his young crusading. He is a fascinating character and every single book has something I love. I still haven’t read the last two book, because then the series will be truly over for me.

(L)eave agonising too much over your sins, black as they are, there isn’t a confessor in the land who hasn’t heard worse and never turned a hair. It’s a kind of arrogance to be so certain you’re past redemption.”


Candace Robb‘s Owen Archer series, set in England (mostly) in the mid 1300s. I am currently re-reading this series and enjoying it. Owen has been Captain of Archers and the Duke of Lancaster’s man until he lost an eye, at which point he becomes a spy for the Duke. After the Duke’s death, Owen takes on a position with John Thoresby, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York. The other main character in this series is Lucie Wilton, master Apothecary. I love the characters and all the historical bits in this series.

In his mind he felt as if he’d been looking at her upside down all his life, and suddenly he’d been righted and saw that she was the very opposite of all he’d believed her to be. He tried to retrieve his old love, but her smell, her cruelty, her lies kept crowding his head.


I picked up the first book in C.S. Harris‘s Sebastian St Cyr series when I fell in love with the cover. Set in Great Britain in the Napoleonic era, Sebastian was a third son who joined the army but had to return when he unexpectedly became the heir. The first book sees Sebastian accused of murder, but with the second book, there are multiple long-running story arcs that develop all the characters in the series. Grandmom also loved this series.

“Tell me what you need me to do,” he said, “and I’ll do it.”

He felt her hands tremble in his. “Sit and talk to me, will you? Most of my acquaintances seem to assume that I’ve either dosed myself senseless with laudanum, or that since this is third experience with widowhood then I must be taking it comfortably in stride. I can’t decide which is more insulting.”


Bruce Alexander‘s Sir John Fielding series is set in England set in the mid 1700s. The main character is Jeremy Proctor, an orphan taken in my Sir John Fielding, and gets involved in the cases of the Bow Street Magistrate. Grandmom really loved this series, and I really want to re-read this series, but it’s not all available in electronic format AND I loaned the first book of the series to someone and have no idea who.


In-a-Treacherous-CourtMichelle Diener‘s Susanna Horenbout and John Parker series set in England in 1525, which is about two actual historical figures one of whom is the king’s illuminator. Also her Regency London series set in 1811 and 1812 which are historical mystery / romances. Both series have boinking.

“If I hadn’t seen yer there with me own eyes, painting it, I’d never believe ’twas a woman done it.”

The landlord meant it as praise, but suddenly exhausted, drained of all energy, Susanna was not able to summon even a weak smile at the insult.


I stumbled across Diana Gabaldon‘s Lord John in a collection of fantasy novellas and almost immediately fell in love. Set in the 1750s, Lord John is major in the British Army, in the unit commanded by his brother. Lord John is a gay man at a time when sodomy could be punished with the death penalty, and one of the things I adore about this series is the amount of research she did into the molly houses and the language used by gay men at that time. But first and foremost they are good stories. (NOTE: I have not read and will not read the Outlander series because I DESPISE time travel stories.) There is some boinking here.

(L)ove that sacrificed honor was less honest than simple lust, and degraded those who professed to glory in it.


Dark-AngelTracy Grant‘s Malcom & Suzanne Rannoch series jumps about in time during the Napoleonic era with the different books, which works fine, and lets you read the series in any order you can find them. Suzanne is / was a French spy and Malcolm a spy for England. They are a married couple, and in the earlier books, Malcolm has no idea she spies for Napolean. Many later books in the series deal with their struggle after he discovers she was an agent (not to mention all the other disconcerting surprises). The Lescaut Quartet, also set in Europe during the Napoleonic era are romances before mysteries, but the mysteries are very good, and I’ve re-read them several times. (There is boinking here.)

“If I imply you’re nursing her that will be sure to deflect questions. Amazing how squeamish that can make some people—including many of the gentlemen who don’t think twice about looking down one’s bodice when one isn’t feeding a baby.”


Madeleine E. Robins‘s Sarah Tolerance series set in England in the 1810s. Sarah is a fallen woman, but instead of becoming a prostitute, or a mistress (or a madame like her aunt) she becomes an inquiry agent.


Anna Lee Huber Lady Darby series (Scotland and England in the 1830s) is about a window who has been shunned by society because it was discovered she drew the pictures for her late husband’s anatomy books, and so everyone assumes she was a willing participant (she was not). The Verity Kent series (set in England post The Great War) is about a widow struggling after her husband was lost in the war, and the mystery of what happened to him. I like this one a little less well, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed everything she’s written.

She thrived on conflict. The bigger the reaction she got out of you, the more it pleased her. And the more likely she was to continue goading you. The swiftest way to beat her at her own game was to refuse to engage, be it with anger or discomfiture.


Alissa Johnson‘s Thief-Takers series is another historical mystery / romance and this one is full of boinking, despite all the boinking I adore the characters and the stories. Plus, the third book has a heroine with disability that causes much of the misunderstanding between the two. Set in England in the 1870s.


T.F. Banks Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner set in Victorian England is a two book series written by Sean Russell and Ian Dennis.


Jane Steen‘s Lady Helena Investigates set in England in 1881 is about a woman trying to learn about her husband’s death while also trying to assert some independence from her family.

(D)eepest mourning should be carried out with the mirrors covered, you know. You’re not supposed to be looking at yourself and considering who you are.


Charles Todd (a mother and son writing pair) have two series set around The Great War. The Bess Crawford is a nursing sister who is often on the front hospitals, and comes across deaths that don’t seem due to battle. It amazes me how frequently soldiers and nursing sisters return to England for leave and then head right back to battle. The Inspector Ian Rutledge series is set after the war is about a police inspector who is trying to hide the fact he is shell shocked while trying to be a police inspector.

“Tell me something. Why is everyone so determined to believe Wilton is innocent?”

Surprised, Davies said, “He’s a war hero isn’t he? Admired by the King and a friend of the Prince of Wales. He’s visited Sandringham, been received by Queen Mary herself! A man like that doesn’t go around killing people!”

With a wry downturn of his lips, Rutledge silently asked, How did he win his medals, you fool, if not by being so very damned good at killing?


Will Thomas‘s Barker & Llewelyn series set in the 1880s in London, about a private inquiry agent and the young man he takes on as his assistance. I really enjoy learning about Barker’s past, and how he developed the various skills that led him to his profession as an inquiry agent.

A wooden chair on casters was pulled up to the desk, a chair which had been worn down by the seat of (character)’s trousers for years but would be worn down no farther.


Alan Bradley‘s Flavia de Luce series set in England in the 1950s is about a precocious girl whose family lives in genteel poverty and who regularly gets into trouble because she sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong. She also loves chemistry. I haven’t read the last several books in this series.


I.J. Parker‘s Akitada series, set in 11th century Japan. For many of the books I like the setting more than the mysteries.

Caleb Carr‘s The Alienist is probably one everyone is familiar with, and one of the few historicals I’ve enjoyed set in the US.

Series that I have abandoned but mean to get back to:
Laura Joh Rowland‘s Sano Ichiro series.
Stefanie Pintoff‘s Simon Ziele series.
David Liss Benjamin Weaver series.

Series I have read but did NOT love and/or abandoned and won’t go back to:
Victoria Thompson‘s Gaslight mysteries (I actually might retry this series).
Sherry Thomas‘s Lady Sherlock series (it’s complicated and I am more that willing to discuss it).
Sheri Cobb South‘s John Pickett series.
Deanna Raybourn‘s Lady Julia Gray series, although I am still borrowing this Veronica Speedwell series from the library as it comes out.
Elizabeth Peters‘s Vicki Bliss series.
Andrea Penrose‘s Lady Arianna Hadley series.
Michael Jecks Knights Templar series.
Ashley Gardner‘s Captain Lacey series.
Charles Finch‘s Charles Lennox series.

OK, so what have y’all got for me?

Categorical Books

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