Historical Mystery Novels Anyone?

I was looking throughthis thread on Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael stories, and I found several favorites mentioned, so I thought I’d start a new thread on the subject rather than hijack the old one.

In addition to the Brother Cadfael series, I’ve also gone through most of Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma books and a few by P. C. Dougherty, including one set in Egypt in the time of the Pharohs. I’ve also read a few by Margaret Frazer featuring Sister Frevisse. A friend also recommended P. F. Chisholm’s books to me, set in Elizabethan England (circa 1590). I’ll also toss in another vote for Steven Saylor’s Gordianus Finder books.

Anyone else out there got old favorites or authors I should look into?


Elizabeth Peters’ series with Amelia Peabody begins in the Victorian Era and tracks the family for a few decades…

I’d just like to put a plug in for Lindsay Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco novels, which are detective stories set in ancient Rome. Start with “Iron Pigs”

Eco’s Name of the Rose, if you haven’t read it already. It’s much better that the film.

Stephanie Barron’s “Jane” mysteries. These are set in the early 1800s, with Jane Austen as the detective. Some of them are pretty good.

**Captain Amazing, ** I hate to nitpick but the title of Lindsey Davis’ first book about Marcus Didius Falco is Silver Pigs. If one likes Roman stories there are also the SPQR novels, authored by John Maddox Roberts. They are set in the Republican period, earlier than the Falco books, and feature Decius Caecilius Metellus.

I just ordered the fourteenth Falco book, The Jupiter Myth, from Amazon.com, which has an arrangement with Waterstone’s, a British bookchain. The books get published in the UK first, I presume because the author is British. So not even the thirteenth is for sale in the US yet, but I couldn’t wait for my next fix, so I even ordered it hardback. Kind of interesting to compare the different cover art from the UK and US editions too.

I thoroughly enjoyed Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats The Devil.
Taking place in the 1920’s, it weaves a fantastic story about magicians, the death of Warren Harding, the Secret Service, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
This is Gold’s first novel. I can’t wait for more!

Another vote for Eco’s Name of the Rose…much much better than the film, even though I dislike the ending…

Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles (6 novels) and House of Niccolo (8 novels). Set in the 15th-16th centuries. Not mysteries as such, but very complex plots with all sorts of clever twists and secrets to get your teeth stuck into. Also amazingly well-researched.

Just as a side note – you can also order Lindsey Davis & other
Brit authors directly from Amazon.co.uk. They accept Visa and
ship directly to the US. Amazingly fast service, too. I ordered
The Jupiter Myth on 06/06/02 and had it by 06/10/02. Shipping
was only about 5 pounds.

Now then, historical mysteries. Lynda S. Robinson does a series
set in New Kingdom Egypt, Tut’s reign; Lord Meren is the protagonist. Agatha Christie herself did an historical novel set in Ancient Egypt; it was called Death Comes as the End, if memory serves. Lauren Haney also does an Ancient Egyptian series with Lieutenant Bak as the protagonist.

Other Roman series are by Rosemary Rowe (Germanicus Mosaic etc.), Steven Saylor, and Marilyn Todd.

There are so many medieval mystery series it’s almost impossible to list them all. Candace Robb does a wonderful one; Owen Archer (think that’s his name) is the protagonist. Kate Sedley does a Roger-the-Chapman series that’s pretty good, too.
I like Edward Marston’s Domesday Book series. Other authors
include Ian Morson, Sharan Newman, Sharon Kay Penman, Paul
Harding, and Susanna Gregory, among others.

And if you’re into Japanese samurai stuff, try Laura Joh Rowland.

For historical Chinese: Robert Hans Van Gulik.

Robin Paige…pseudonym for husband and wife team of Bill and Susan Wittig Albert (Susan writes an excellent contemporary series featuring China Bayles)…featuring Lord and Lady Sheridan in Victorian England.

Kathy Lynn Emerson’s Lady Appleton series, set in Elizabeathen England.

And Elizabeth Peters is one of my favorite authors.

Barbara Hambly’s series set in 1830s New Orleans–the first is A Free Man of Color.

Barry Hughart’s Master Li and Number Ten Ox series is afntastic. More humerous than a “true” historical portrayal, but full of mythology and magic.

Bridge of Birds
Story of the Stone
Eight Skilled Gentlemen
Barbara Hambly has a really good mystery set in the early 1800’s in New Orleans, just afeter the US bought it from France:
Free Man of Color

Thanks, everyone. I have an Elizabeth Peters novel out from the library right now. I’ve also read all of Edward Marston’s books in both series, although I prefer his Nicholas Bracewell books. I’ll also throw out Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes novels, starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I suspect this is a love-it-or-hate-it series, but I’m definitely on the love it list.

Please keep them coming – I can see a visit to The Mystery Lover’s Bookstore in my near future.


I’m following this thread in anticipation of a visit to my favorite used book store next weekend. :slight_smile: I’ve just started an Elizabeth Peters book, it’s my first foray into her writing; it must be a book from somewhere in the middle of a series, because it’s set during World War I–I’ll definitely have to look and see if I can find earlier books.

I love historically-based fiction! One book I’d like to add to the suggestions for CJ is Faye Kellerman’s, “The Quality of Mercy,” set during Elizabethan England. I also found the early Caleb Carr novels very interesting, although I haven’t read any of his work in a while, and the author himself seems to be going through an … odd period. LOL An understatement to be sure.


:smack: Damn! I can’t believe I forgot Caleb Carr! **Angel of Darkness ** had me GLUED to it from start to finish. I hope he unwedges his head from whatever it is stuck in and goes on writing about these characters.

I also have a BIG book called Historical Whodunits edited by Mike Ashley. I picked it up a couple years ago, you might be able to find it in a used copy. It hashistorical mysteries that were written from the 1950s to the 1990s and covering time from Ancient Egypt to the 1900s Yukon.

Also keep your eyes peeled Ed Hoch is putting out a new anthology soon of his Ben Snow stories. For those of you who may not know Ben Snow is a cowboy in the 1900 turn of the century Old West. He is often accused of being Billy the Kid. Ed Hoch also has Diagnosis Impossible a collection of his Sam Hawthorne stories. This collection has stories that take place in New England in the 1920s.

more applause for the late Ellis Peters (aka Edith Pargeter) - Cadfael

most applause for Lindsey Davis - Falco

little applause for P.C.Doherty (aka Paul Harding, Michael Clynes) - who forgets that in historical novels attention to detail is critical and gives his 14th century cleric (Brother Athelstan) a 17th. century telescope to study the heavens

[hijack] when does a mystery become a historical mystery?

is the main criterion that the author is writing of past times, or is it just that the setting is in the past?

a number of posts have mentioned the Victorian era, even the 1920s

so are we close to viewing the Wimsey novels of Dorothy Leigh Sayers as historical mysteries?

The novels are set in the 1920s and 1930s, and were written in the 1920s and 1930s. 70 years - three generations ago - is history to most of us, and the structure of that distant society is almost as strange as Rome. So familiar and yet so different.

Another major plus for DLS is that, unlike Conan Doyle and Christie, she produces no rabbits from hats. No esoteric knowledge is revealed only when the hero solves the crime. The carefull reader has all the information needed to beat Wimsey to the tape. This was quite deliberate on her part, in one book (Five Red Herrings?) a critical clue is omitted, but she explains in an aside that the alert reader can deduce the missing element.[/hijack]

[second hijack]am I deluding myself, or is it true that most of the really good mystery writers are women?[/second hijack]

[third hijack]is there a record for the highest number of hijacks in a single post?[/third hijack]

The preceding novel, The Alienist, is also really, really good. The one after it, though, sucked in entirely new ways. It’s a sci-fi book the dredged the bottom of unreadability. My mind has been purged of the title.


Anne Perry! She has two different series, one set in early Victorian England (the Monk mysteries) and another set in late Victorian England (Thomas & Charlotte Pitt). They’re absolutely wonderful.

While I applaud tritone for such wonderful taste in literature – I just finished Dorothy Dunnett’s Gemini myself – I’d have to say that these fall firmly into the realm of historical fiction. As you point out, these aren’t mysteries, strictly speaking, and I don’t think these would have the same appeal to a fan of detective fiction as, say, the Brother Cadfael novels do.

johncole: I think that we should differentiate between detective novels which are written to bring a long-ago era to life, and novels from long ago which had a more or less contemporary setting at the time of writing (e.g. most of Agatha Christie’s and Dorothy L. Sayers’s work).

My suggestions:

Sharon Kay Penman, The Queen’s Man (a lot of her other work is historical fiction but not detective fiction)
Agatha Christie, Death Comes As The End (to confirm furthur’s memory)
Elizabeth Eyre (pseudonym used by two co-authors), Curtains for the Cardinal, Death of the Duchess, and others; set in Renaissance Italy