~by Jen B.
If you love a good historical murder mystery, you’ll be ready for sleuths to do their own leg work and be adept at deciphering psychological clues. Although they lack modern technology and forensics, these stories, set over 50 years ago, showcase the bygone talents of great minds. A few time periods provide more fodder for heinous crimes than others. For instance, the Victorian age, during which Jack the Ripper roamed East London and Sherlock Holmes gained prominence as a consulting detective of keen intellect and masterful puzzle-solving skills. The Middle Ages and early Renaissance (5th to the 15th centuries) are also periods of intrigue tapped by many authors and loved by readers – times of religious strife, plagues, brutal living conditions and truly horrible weather. Puzzlers set just after World War I and during the Roaring Twenties are also popular with readers.
Victorian London’s grisly criminal underbelly is exposed in the mysteries of Alex Grecian, Anne Perry and Will Thomas. Anne Perry’s William Monk and Hester Latterly series, beginning with The Face of a Stranger, plumbs the depths of depravity, skipping the social niceties of Perry’s other Victorian series featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. The Pitts begin their sleuthing in The Cater Street Hangman. Alex Grecian’s atmospheric series begins with the devilishly twisted death of a police detective who is found pretzeled into a steamer trunk at the train station in The Yard, first of the Walter Day series. And don’t miss Will Thomas’s Sherlockian pugilist-detective, Cyrus Barker and his sidekick, Thomas Llewelyn, in the series beginning with Some Danger Involved. It’s darker than Doyle’s Holmes series and every bit as baffling!
In the Middle Ages, educated people were usually attached to the Church or the Crown, hence the proliferation of clerics, nuns and knights as sleuths, like the Brother Cadfael series created by Ellis Peters, beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones. Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne, first of the Sister Fidelma series, features a 7th century Irish nun whose job as a dlaigh, or legal cleric, takes her into the thick of medieval intrigue. Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal strives to keep the peace in 13th century East Anglia in Priscilla Royal’s series, starting with Wine of Violence. The medieval noir series by Jeri Westerson, beginning with Veil of Lies, features a disgraced knight named Crispin Guest whose talent at solving mysteries helps him eke out a living in 14th century London.
One of the most popular World War I-era private detectives is Maisie Dobbs, featured in ten atmospheric novels by Jacqueline Winspear, beginning with Maisie Dobbs. This former wartime nurse boasts an uncomfortable talent for psychology that serves her well in her hard-won cases, most of which deal with the effects of war on individuals. Also set during the early 1920s, Barbara Cleverly’s Detective Joe Sandilands series takes place in India at the end of British rule. In the series first book, The Last Kashmiri Rose, the Scotland Yard detective investigates the unexplained deaths of five officers’ wives. Phyrne Fisher is a Roaring Twenties poster child: she’s rich, drinks and dresses to a T. Despite all that, however, the Honorable Miss Fisher can out-maneuver crooks and one-up the best minds in Sydney, Australia. Start with Cocaine Blues and enjoy these hilarious, smart little gems.