Beyond Bestsellers: Historical Mysteries

by Michelle C.

If you are just joining us, we are participating in a new reading challenge called Beyond Bestsellers. Each month we will read a different theme and discuss what we liked and what we didn’t like about that theme. We will also be offering reading suggestions from library staff and customers for each theme. You can participate by 1. signing up, 2. creating lists in the new catalog with suggested titles, and 3. engaging in a community discussion about books by commenting on the blog. Please remember to title the list “Beyond Bestsellers: <subtitle>.” For example, my list below is titled Beyond Bestsellers: The Dastardly Past. That way we know who is participating and can easily find each other’s lists.

The theme for July is mysteries and today I will be delving deeper and looking into historical mysteries. Historical mysteries have been around for a relatively short period of time. They were popularized in the late 1970s by Peter Lovesey, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, and Anne Perry. Many of the historical mysteries written during that time took place during the Victorian Era (a time made famous for crime by Jack the Ripper). Now there are historical mysteries that go back to the 15th century B.C.E. Although detectives have not always existed, everyday people interested in solving a crime is a theme that goes through mystery novels.

What makes a mystery historical? The Crime Writer’s Association Historical Dagger Award, a British historical mystery award, says that the book must take place at least 35 years prior to the current date. Which would make it sometime prior to 1982! The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award from Left Coast Crime in Portland, Oregon says that the events must take place prior to 1960. I think by the time 2060 comes around, they might need to re-evaluate that date. Either way, I think most of the fun in reading a historical mystery is discovering a time period and way of life that you are unfamiliar with.

Check out my list of historical mysteries, Beyond Bestsellers: The Dastardly Past, and create some of your own. Remember to check back with us on July 31 when I will showcase some of the lists created by participants!

What are some of your favorite historical mysteries? Do you have a favorite time period or character?


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5 responses to “Beyond Bestsellers: Historical Mysteries”

  1. I enjoy historical mysteries (and love Elizabeth Peters’s quirky books), but also like to read books that take place now but have historical elements. In the Ruth Galloway mysteries (Elly Griffiths), it’s things long past that have an effect on the story. I often use a historical theme in my Potting Shed mysteries. In The Skeleton Garden, the protagonist digs up a WW2 German fighter plane in an English garden!

    • Michelle C. says:

      Marty, Those all sounds like great suggestions! I also love contemporary novels that bring in elements of the past.

  2. Lindsey A. says:

    I’m a relatively new reader to the mystery genre but my love of historical fiction has been easing me into it with historical mysteries. Right now I’m reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr (I had no idea until a few days ago that it’s going to be an upcoming TV series with Luke Evans, Daniel Brühl and Dakota Fanning) and I’m enjoying it (though I’m only about 20% into it). I’m also really excited to try the Gower Street Detective series. I’m all for scandalous heroines!

  3. Serena S says:

    I enjoyed listening to The Professor Bradshaw Mysteries, written by local author Bernadette Pajer. They are narrated by Malcom Hillgartner, who really brings the books to life. The Professor Bradshaw Mysteries are set in Seattle, 1901-1903. Professor Bradshaw is a professor of electrical engineering at the UW. The series has received The Washington Academy of Sciences Seal of Approval. They have been reviewed for scientific accuracy. The cast of characters are very likable and it was very interesting learning some of the history of early Seattle.

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