Historical Fiction Mysteries
I adore historical fiction and mystery books, and I love the intersection of the two genres. Something about detailed settings from the past just sets off a mystery beautifully for me.
Some of the books listed here also have supernatural elements, as in a recent favorite read I reviewed, A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske.
Here's a greedy reading question: What other historical fiction mysteries should I read? I recently added Mrs. England by Stacey Halls, A Peculiar Combination (Electra McDonnell #1) by Ashley Weaver, and And By Fire by Evie Hawtrey to my to-read list.
01 The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is not to be confused with another "seven/Evelyn" book, Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
The premise and structure of Stuart Turton's The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle are fascinating: Evelyn Hardcastle will die every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and thereby break the cycle. But every day Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest at Blackheath Manor. Let the playing with points of view and the time-turning begin!
This book had many moving parts, evolving points of view and senses of self, shifts between days and times within a day, major but mysterious supernatural undercurrents, important characteristic revelations, and complicated past entanglements between parties. I was just glad to roll with it. (Although I really would have enjoyed having a futuristic ability to create fact webs, detailed maps indicating various characters’ hourly movements, and interrupted timelines in the air as I read. Ahem!)
But being able to track every detail and how it fit wasn't required (I kept reminding myself that I was not in fact the editor here); the book held my curiosity, and I gladly gave up trying to unpack the characters’ complicated interconnectedness or potential individual motivations past Turton's assertions. I was happy to go along with the denouement to this intriguing book and trust that all the moving pieces fit beautifully.
02 Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
In Things in Jars, Jess Kidd offers a creepy, dark mystery tale gloriously steeped in details of Victorian London. The story swirls with seedy, sordid characters, and it's all built on a framework of heroes with heart.
Along with the kickass, whip smart, savvy, kind, and irresistible main protagonist Bridie are her striking and unfailingly loyal sidekick Sadie as well as the character of Ruby, who is both a tender tie to her hardscrabble past and a devoted and helpful apparition.
Various depraved and frighteningly cruel characters help drive the story of Things in Jars and add to the mystery.
Bridie is a strong female protagonist, and Things In Jars offers solid historical fiction details of Victorian London within a creepy mystery with dark twists and turns. Yes on all counts!
For my full review, please see Things in Jars.
03 A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn
This fantastic book is the first in Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series.
Frankly, now that I'm revisiting this title and remembering how much I loved it, I can't believe I haven't plowed through the entire series, which continues with A Perilous Undertaking, A Treacherous Curse, A Dangerous Collaboration, A Murderous Relation, An Unexpected Peril, An Impossible Impostor, and the upcoming eighth title (to be published in early 2023), A Sinister Revenge.
Veronica is a curious young Victorian-era lady with progressive ideas, and I adore how matter-of-factly and innocently she presents her wild-for-the-times views and the way she questions power structures and injustices. Raybourn may allow Veronica to benefit from the author's own modern sensibilities in A Curious Beginning, but Veronica is a strong and unorthodox main protagonist, and for me this aspect of her character works wonderfully.
Veronica finds herself entangled in a dangerous set of circumstances, complete with intrigue, a traveling show (why is this always such a favorite element for me?), extensive butterfly knowledge, and fascinating references to Veronica's past worldwide adventures—all alongside a dark and brooding and heavily tattooed adventurer and naturalist who becomes a loyal friend. I loved it!
04 The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
“There are very few certainties in this world, Mr. Gilbert, but I will tell you something I know: the truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story.”
In 1862, a group of artists arrive at Birchwood Manor to relax and allow inspiration to strike, but odd tragedy and destruction unfold instead.
A hundred and fifty years later, a young archivist, Elodie Winslow, is drawn to the long-ago mystery. She's determined not to stop searching until she finds out what really happened that summer.
The Clockmaker's Daughter took a little page time to start moving along for me, but I loved Kate Morton’s writing and her rich detail. I’m glad the circumstances of what led to the mystery—yikes!—didn’t become plain until toward the end.
Kate Morton's book offers dual story lines; the tales of multiple generations; interesting, assumed identities; otherworldly beings; wonderful chance (and life-changing) encounters; and a rich English countryside setting.
I thought this was lovely.
05 Jackaby (Jackaby #1) by WIlliam Ritter
“I prefer to look after myself, ma’am, but thank you. I appreciate your concern for my well-being, but some of us have more pressing matters to attend to than practicing our curtsies and turning foolishly sized bonnets into topiaries.”
Jackaby is the first in the young adult supernatural mystery series of the same name, and in it, author William Ritter provides memorable main characters as well as great pacing and banter--and just look at this gorgeous cover.
It's 1892 in New Fiddleham, New England. R.F. Jackaby investigates the mysteries of the unexplained, and Abigail Rook has just arrived in town and needs a job. Her keen eye for details leads her to become his trusty assistant.
Abigail is clever, and her strong role in her partnership with the wonderfully odd Jackaby is satisfying. The Jackaby story is dark, mysterious, and feels Gothic, yet there's humor too.
This book had me so hooked that realizing that I'd figured out the basic facts behind the mystery (although I hadn't figured out the many great details surrounding the events) didn't diminish my reading enjoyment in the least.
The next titles in the Jackaby series are Beastly Bones, Ghostly Echoes, and The Dire King.
06 The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
The Night Tiger is a wonderful historical fiction mystery and love story shaped by superstition, fables, and tales.
Ji Lin is a young girl who would have dreamed of becoming a doctor if society would have allowed it, but as it is, she's stuck working off her mother's Mahjong debts by being a dance hall girl. She encounters a Chinese houseboy Ren on a bizarre mission, and their paths become intertwined around a superstition that men can turn into tigers.
Ji Lin speaks her mind and ruffles feathers even as she exploits assumptions about women, sexual attraction, and power.
She doesn’t fit the mold of a typical woman from 1930s Malaysia nor that of the British colonists living there—in all wonderful ways. She’s itching for (and finds) adventure, knowledge, and more than a loveless, practical marriage match.
There's magical realism at the heart of this book, and Choo also examines colonialism, superstition, and young love. I thought it was fascinating.