[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author C.S. Harris guest posting on the site today. She’s sharing five of her favorite historical mysteries with us. Take it away, C.S.!]
I’ve always loved history. As the daughter of a historian, I spent my formative years exploring the castles, crumbling monasteries, and Roman ruins of Spain, where we lived at the time. And I fell in love with mysteries somewhere around the age of seven. So naturally I adore historical mysteries. Below are five of my all-time favorites, in no particular order.
Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Series
I couldn’t tell you the first one I read, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but I do know that this series introduced me to the concept of a detective story written by a contemporary author but set in an earlier age. A former Crusader and soldier, Cadfael now serves as an herbalist and healer at a Benedictine Abbey in Shropshire at the time of the 12th century dynastic dispute between Stephen and Maud. Worldly and wise, keenly observant, tolerant and broad minded, Cadfael is frequently able to rise above both the superstitions of his age and the rigid dogmas of his religion in his devoted pursuit of justice, but Peters is always faithful to her period. Thirty-plus years after I first discovered these books, I still occasionally reread one.
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
In this, the first of the long-running Amelia Peabody series, our independent-minded, no-nonsense Victorian heroine, Amelia, inherits a fortune and takes off to travel the world in pursuit of her love of history and Egyptology. There is romance, a walking “mummy,” and adventures galore, all told with tongue firmly in cheek. Peters herself was a trained Egyptologist, so the history is usually spot-on. As a historian who lived in the Middle East and spent a few years digging my own way around the world as an archaeologist, I find that important, and Peters rarely disappoints.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
A Franciscan friar, William of Baskerville, and a Benedictine novice, Adso, arrive at a monastery in Northern Italy in 1327 for a theological dispute between the office of the Pope and the Franciscans, who are being accused of heresy (a dangerous thing in an age when heretics were burnt). Into this already tense situation comes the mysterious death of one of the monks, a famous illustrator. As William investigates at the request of the abbot, more deaths follow, with one corpse turning up in a vat of pig’s blood and another showing signs of poison. There’s a secret library, much discussion of millenarist heresies and Aristotle’s lost book on Comedy, and so much more. Epic and brilliant.
Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross
I hadn’t heard of Kate Ross’s Regency mysteries when I began writing my own Sebastian St. Cyr series, which is probably a good thing, since otherwise Sebastian might never have come to be. Ross’s Julian Kestrel is a Regency dandy with a twist: on the surface he appears to care about little beyond the set of his coat and his social life, but one underestimates him at their peril. The books are lighter than my St. Cyr series, but fun. Sadly, Ross died far too young, so there are only four of them, but if you haven’t tried them yet, you’re in for a treat.
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
Okay, I’m cheating on this one, because this book was written at the time it is set, in the early 1980s. But it’s been such a joy over the last forty years to follow Smith’s amazing character, Arkady Renko, from the days of the Soviet Militsiya’s brutal corruption through perestroika and glasnost to the collapse of the USSR and the rise of the corrupt, brutal Russia of Putin. The entire series is a treasure that also provides a valuable, insightful modern history lesson. I can’t think of anything comparable.
About the Author:
C. S. Harris, aka Candice Proctor, is the USA TODAY bestselling author of the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series, the C. S. Graham contemporary thriller series, seven historical romances,, and the standalone Civil War historical GOOD TIME COMING. An Air Force brat who grew up exploring castles in Spain and fishing in the mountains of Oregon and Idaho, Candy later worked as an archaeologist and earned a PhD in European history. A former academic who has lived all over the world, she now makes her home in New Orleans with her husband, former intelligence officer Steven Harris. Visit her website at www.csharris.net.
What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris, out now!
It’s October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe’s diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.
In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect–a young seaman named John Williams–was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.
Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym’s colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question–who was and why are they dead set on killing again?