Saturday, May 15, 2010

History Mysteries: The best of the bunch

There is a huge market out there for historical crime novels and some of them are worth more of your time than others.  They are a great way to pick up bits and pieces of historical knowledge without plunging into potentially dense and dry academic histories.  I'm going to give pride of place to my favourite historical mystery writer Lindsey Davis and her Roman series based around the irrepressible rogue Marcus Didius Falco.

Lindsey Davis' Falco series has all the best qualities an historical mystery sequence should have.
They are incredibly well researched but she wears her learning lightly and never falls into the historical novelist's trap of providing lots of meaningless background details that do little to set the scene or advance the plot but do show just how much the author knows about the subject.   In Falco she has created a well-rounded character full of humour and intelligence with just a touch of cynicism.  His girlfriend/wife Helena Justina is bright, feisty and adept at surviving in a man's world.  Their partnership gives the books an authenticity and domesticity that puts them well above many other mystery series.

The plots can centre around ordinary life such as in The Body in the Bathhouse  where Helena and Falco have the builders in, or well-known historical events and places that add a touch of the exotic e.g See Delphi and Die.  Enjoy your time in ancient Rome.

I must also give praise for C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake mystery series. These books with their claustrophobic portrayal of Tudor society during the paranoid reign of Henry VIII are fascinating as well as disturbing with their modern parallels.