Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Things I Love/Hate About Romance in Books.
I tend to read more British mystery than anything else, so this list is weighted heavily in that direction. I’ve also tried to put them in chronological order by the period in which they take place.
- Brother Cadfael series (Ellis Peters). Brother Cadfael is a monk in the 12th-century Shrewsbury Abbey. A former Crusader, he has a keen understanding of human nature, a deep knowledge of herbs and anatomy, a dedication to justice, and a deep faith in God. Superb writing and meticulously crafted mysteries make this one of the best mystery series I’ve read, historical or otherwise.
- The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) Erudite and brilliantly written, The Name of the Rose is literary and absorbing at the same time. A 14th-century monk visits at a Franciscan monastery to uncover suspected heresy and instead finds himself investigating several strange deaths — and the abbey’s labyrinthine library. The author’s philosophical background is evident, and this is by no means a quick or easy read, but it’s well worth it.
- Charles Lenox series (Charles Finch) Finch’s mystery series, like its hero, is intelligent, observant, and somewhat reserved (though far from unfeeling), as befits a Victorian gentleman-detective. The mysteries themselves are well-crafted and usually quite difficult to solve. This is one of the best new series I’ve come across in the last few years. (Reviews: A Beautiful Blue Death; The September Society; The Fleet Street Murders; An Old Betrayal; The Laws of Murder; Home By Nightfall)
- Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series (Anne Perry) Another good series set in the Victorian era, with a lower-middle-class Scotland Yard detective and his wife, a gentleman’s daughter. (They meet in the first book, during a case.) I loved these in my twenties and early thirties. (It’s worth noting that Anne Perry was convicted of murder at the age of 15 and served 5 years. To be honest, I’ve been reluctant to read her books since I found out. I include them here because they really are entertaining reading despite my discomfort with the author herself.)
- Lady Emily series (Tasha Alexander) The Lady Emily books take place in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. They are as much historical novels (dealing largely with the aristocracy and upper class) as they are mysteries. Lady Emily is a likeable heroine, and her beau and eventual husband Colin Hargreaves is remarkably supportive and forward-thinking for a Victorian gentleman. (Reviews: The Counterfeit Heiress; The Adventuress)
- Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series (Laurie R. King) Mary Russell is 15 when she literally stumbles over the middle-aged Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex downs. Intrigued by her obvious intelligence and keen observation, Holmes takes her on as his apprentice, and eventually, as his partner in every sense of the term. With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, King’s character has become my definitive Holmes, and Mary Russell is his perfect complement. King’s mysteries are marvelous, not only well-plotted but extremely well written. Set between 1915 and the late 1920s (so far), this is one of my favorite mystery series of all time. (Reviews: series review; The Beekeeper’s Apprentice mini-review; Locked Rooms; Dreaming Spies)
- Lord Peter Wimsey series (Dorothy Sayers; continued by Jill Paton Walsh) I always feel a little odd about including the Lord Peter mysteries in a list of historical mysteries, because they weren’t “historical” when Sayers was writing. But since they take place in the period between the two World Wars, I suppose they qualify. And they are wonderful — arguably the best of the Golden Age mysteries. What’s particularly interesting is the evolution of Lord Peter as a character, particularly after Harriet Vane comes onto the scene. Don’t be misled by his silly-ass-about-town mask; his intellect and powers of observation are as keen as those of Sherlock Holmes, but he’s far more human. (Reviews: Whose Body?; Striding Folly; The Late Scholar)
- Maisie Dobbs series (Jacqueline Winspear) Maisie Dobbs is an unusual detective for a British novel. She’s trained in psychology as well as observation; she is a working woman in the interwar period; and while she has a fine education, she was born working-class and worked as a servant in her youth. Full disclosure: I’ve only read the first two books, but both were very good.
- Maggie Hope series (Susan Elia MacNeal) I’ll be honest: the writing in this series isn’t quite as strong as in the others in my top ten, though it’s been getting better with every book. But it’s still a compelling series, in part because of the character of Maggie Hope — a British-born, American-raised and -educated mathematician who becomes a British spy — and in part because of the well-researched World War II setting. The secondary characters, some of them historical, are interesting, and there’s an ongoing mystery having to do with Maggie’s parents as well. These are as much spy novel as mystery. (Reviews: Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope)
- The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey) Tey’s Inspector Grant is flat on his back in hospital, and bored. So when he becomes intrigued by a portrait of Richard III — a face he perceives as a judge, not a murderer — he embarks on a historical investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower, the crime for which Richard III has been reviled for centuries. Tey was a fervent believer in Richard’s innocence and makes a strong case for it, although she was unacquainted with at least one contemporary account which undermines her argument. (See the Wikipedia article for more.)
Honorable Mention (in no apparent order)
- A Curious Beginning (Deanna Raybourn) – first in a new Victorian-era mystery series featuring a most intrepid and independent heroine
- Daisy Dalrymple series (Carola Dunn) – Another cozy-historical series set in Britain during the interwar years. Duke’s daughter Daisy and her beau/husband Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard solve mysteries among the aristocracy and upper middle class.
- Royal Spyness series (Rhys Bowen) – light and often funny series set in the 1930s, starring an impoverished distant member of the royal family.
- Molly Murphy series (Rhys Bowen) — A young Irish woman solves crimes in early 20th century New York.
- Interred with Their Bones (Jennifer Lee Carrell) – A modern-day thriller about Shakespeare’s missing play and a killer who reenacts Shakespearean murders. Reminiscent of The DaVinci Code.
- Thirteenth Night (Fools’ Guild series) (Alan Gordon)