Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: The Best Evs Historical Mysteries

The assignment from The Broke and the Bookish this week is to list the Top Ten books of all time in X genre.  There are so many things that do my head in with this topic.  First of all, I'm a pretty eclectic reader so what genre to pick?  Second of all "the best of all time"?  No way can I do this.  My anal retentiveness kicks in and freaks out saying that to be able to list the top ten of all time I would have had to read everything ever published in X genre ever.  Third of all how do I make a list that doesn't repeat books and authors from previous TTT posts ad nauseum.  Basically, I've already included a lot of my all time favorites on other lists where they fit, sometimes more than once.

So this is what I decided.  I picked a genre that's a little esoteric and pretty specific; Historical Mysteries. Which narrows the field quite well and should allow me to avoid most of my go to authors. It's also a genre I like a lot; I prefer my mysteries historical.  I also intend to just list my favorites that I can think of now and not get too caught up in the "of all time".  I don't claim that these are the best written books, but I really enjoyed them and I actually remember reading them which means that they made an impression even if for whatever reason I didn't rate them as 5 star books on Goodreads.  

1) The Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron

 I absolutely adore this series even though it hasn't quite been the same since a certain something happened in book 7 Jane and the Ghosts of Netley.  I still think Stephanie Barron is the most fluent and best mimic of Jane Austen's style that I have encountered. Plus reading these books feels like actually getting to hang out with Jane Austen and gives her a more adventurous life than she likely had.

2) The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael Mysteries by Ellis Peters

This series has been known to make me wish to be a monk.  Which you know, would be a challenge given that I am neither Catholic nor a man.  Ellis Peters does such a great job bringing the medieval time period and Brother Cadfael to life, that it is hard not to yearn a little bit to be pottering away with him in the Abbey's herb garden.  There is also a lovely BBC television mystery series based on these books starring Derek Jacobi as Cadfael.

3) The Julian Kestrel Mysteries by Kate Ross

This is a series I have nattered on about before on this blog.  It's a lovely short series set in Regency era England, featuring enigmatic nobleman Julian Kestrel as the detective.  It was also a series that just got better as you went along with the final book in the series The Devil in Music being such a great read.  Unfortunately, if you start this series and get hooked be prepared to be heartbroken because Kate Ross sadly died of cancer at the age of 41.

4) Agatha Christie Mysteries

I'm not really sure it's legit to include Agatha Christie on this list because while her books are historical for me they were contemporary for her when she was writing.  I think for it to count as historical fiction the writer has to be writing about a past time they are not living in.  But whatever.  I'm including her because she's brilliant and I love the 1920s - 1960s settings of her books.  Her books may not be profound or have especially deep characterizations etc... but no one can write a puzzle mystery like her.  Plus she has this awesome quote I just saw on Goodreads from her memoir: “It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them. ” How true.

5) The Matthew Corbett Mysteries by Robert McCammon 

This series takes place in colonial era America and is so incredibly atmospheric and evocative of that time period.  I'm pretty sure that Robert McCammon has written quite a lot of horror fiction and it shows, particularly in the first book that takes place in a small South Carolina village isolated from the rest of the world.  It does NOT make me wish I lived in that time period but is fascinating nonetheless and they are great, slightly creepy stories.

6) Simon Ziele Mysteries by Stephanie Pintoff

I really love this series which takes place in turn of the century New York and was shocked just now to see that the first book in the series, which won a bunch of awards mind you has an average rating of 3.45. Shocking!  I bring that up not just because of  the shock but to illustrate that its a series that may not be for everyone I guess.  There's a lot early forensics and psychology in the series which is a special favorite topic of mine so maybe that blinded me to any faults.  I still recommend it.

7) The Alienist by Caleb Carr

Along the same lines as above, and perhaps a bit more substantive is Caleb Carr's The Alienist which focuses on an early forensic psychologist in late nineteenth century New York.  There is a second book that features the same protagonist but Carr does not seem to be taking this into a big long series. 

8) Flavia DeLuce Mysteries by Alan Bradley

I actually have kind of a complicated relationship with this series.  Flavia alternately charms and bugs the crap out of me and I just wish Bradley would let her grow up a little bit. But there is no denying the uniqueness and enjoyability of this series.  Set in a rackety ole English estate in post World War II England and featuring a precocious 11 year old detective who is obsessed with chemistry, death and poisons.  There is no one else like her and even though I know I'm going to be annoyed I always get excited when picking up the new addition to the series.

9) A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

A Test of Wills is the first in a series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge but I'm only listing the first book because, the rest of the series has not quite measured up to this first one for me.  It is set in post World War I England and Rutledge is suffering from a pretty severe case of PTSD.  In his head, he hears the voice of a soldier he had to order executed during the war and it is never clear whether the Inspector is insane or if he is really being haunted.  A very unique protagonist and great mystery.

10 ) Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander(Sir John Fielding #1)

It has been many years since I read this book and I haven't for some reason read any of the many sequels but I really remember being fascinated by the Bow Street Runners, the first organized police force in Britain.  The book takes place in mid-eighteenth century London. Sir John Fielding was a blind magistrate who helped in the formation of the Bow Street Runners in an attempt at reform.  I definitely need to pick up the other books in this series!

Well, that about does it.  There are a few others that I could mention, The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear and Anne Perry's Victorian Series featuring Thomas Pitt but this'll do.  I certainly haven't read everything out there (hence why this isn't an "of all Time" list) so I'd love any recommendations of series or books that you would have put on this list!


  1. What a fun and unique list! A few of the titles were familiar but most not. I'll have to look some up and add them to my TBR list. Here's my TTT!

    1. I hope you do and I hope you enjoy them!

  2. I love that you did historical mysteries! I've never read Agatha Christie, but I might have to, and I'm definitely intrigued by the Jane Austen mystery series and the Flavia DeLuce mysteries.

    1. All three of these are fantastic curl up with a cup of tea and enjoy reads! There are also some really good audio versions of both some of Agatha Christie's and the Flavia DeLuce series.

  3. Fantastic list, my friend! I've been eyeballing the Flavia DeLuce books for a while, thanks for reminding me!

    1. Flavia will definitely bring a smile to your face when you do get around to her!

  4. This is cool, I feel like I'm being introduced to a new genre because I haven't heard of any of these. I've never read any mystery novels, so that's probably why, but a Jane Austen mysteries series? That is pretty neat!

    1. Wow! You've never read any mysteries? That's amazing! They are my comfort reads as they are by their nature page turners and they never tend to be super long. In addition, most of those listed above, while not technically "cozies" aren't dark or heavy or violent. In other words so lovely to curl up with.