Monday, 27 January 2014

Historical Mysteries

Back to work tomorrow so I wanted to take this opportunity to write a few thoughts on some of my favourite historical mysteries and also to mention some new ones that I've got sitting on my bookshelves waiting to be cracked open.

Before I get into that, it's been a weird 2014 so far. We haven't had any snow (*touch wood*) to speak of, but the past 3 weeks or so, we've had a steady influx of fog in the area. Many flights from the mainland have had to be scrubbed, or diverted due to the conditions. It's been very strange, I guess a perfect combination of just above freezing temperatures and moisture in the air to make the fog linger. Today, water has been dripping off the trees like a steady drizzle, but it's just the moisture gather on the branches dripping off, I think.

Plotting where to dig their escape hole
I've had an interesting morning with our puppies, a repeat of one the missus had last week while I was at work. Bonnie is some sort of great escape artist; we've been blocking off holes in the fence, but she just loves digging and making new ones. Just as Jo was getting ready to go out for the day, both Bonnie and Clyde disappeared from the backyard. I'm running around the neighbourhood trying to find them and Jo is calling for them to come back. Luckily, this time they only were in the neighbours yard, but last time she found them quite a distance away. Clyde doesn't really enjoy it, I don't think, but he will follow his big sister anywhere. So once again, I was out finding the new hole, this one is called Tom I think (reference to The Great Escape), and this time screwing in a two by four to block it off. We're off to Home Depot this week to get some stones to fill in the troughs, she's dug. What a dog! Of course, she is now looking out the patio window, asking to go out.. "I won't dig any holes, Daddy! You can trust me!" Hah!! ;0)

Anyway, on to the topic of this BLog; historical mysteries.

At the moment, I'm reading and enjoying very much, two historical mysteries. The Hangman's Daughter is written by German author, Oliver Potzsch and was recommended to me by friends in one of my Gooodread's book clubs. I ordered just after Xmas and received it a couple of weeks ago. I'm enjoying very much so far. It's set in Bavaria, in 1654, just after the Thirty Year's War. It deals with the local hangman of Schongau, Jakob Kuisl and his daughter, Magdalena. Orphan children are being killed and the local midwife is being accused of witchcraft in the killings. Jakob and his daughter and the town physician's son, Simon, are working to ascertain if the midwife is involved in the killings and, if not, to try and save her life and prevent other killings. It's an excellent story so far, well-written, describes the setting very well and develops the characters at a nice pace. A key point for me is the translation, this version by Lee Chadeayne, as I've read other author's works in translation and they have put me off totally. But this is excellent. I hope it continues in this vein as I think I may be trying to find the other books in the series.  At the moment, there are three other books in the series; The Dark Monk, The Beggar King and The Poisoned Pilgrim.

The other book I'm reading is The Sultan's Seal by Jenny White. Jenny White is a social anthropologist and The Sultan's Seal is her first novel. From what I've read so far, it's excellent. It is set in Turkey in 1866 and deals with the discovery of the dead body of an English governess and the efforts of the Magistrate, Kamil Pasha, to solve the murder. This murder may be related to a previous one, which occurred a few years before. Kamil must tread a fine line in his investigation as the woman and the murder may trace back to the royal palace. I'm enjoying very much so far, White writes intelligently and provides interesting details of the time period, when Turkey was going through much turmoil. At the moment, there are two others in this series, The Abyssinian Proof and The Winter Thief.

So there you have the two books I'm currently enjoying, but as I look through my various book lists, I see I've enjoyed quite a few other historical mysteries, for the most part they are series. The following are some of them -

1. The Inspector Madden mysteries by Rennie Airth. This is a trilogy of murder mysteries set in England from 1914 - 1944. They feature Inspector John Madden who finds himself solving serial murders, some related to the past war, from which he still suffers stress symptoms. At the moment, there are three books in the series; the first was a very good introduction to the character of Madden, the second even better. There is a new book due out in 2014. I look forward to reading the third; The Dead of Winter.

2. Joe Sandilands Mysteries by Barbara Cleverly - Barbara Cleverly is a British author known for her Joe Sandilands mysteries, of which there are 11. The Last Kashmiri Rose is the introduction to Inspector Sandilands of Scotland Yard. Sandilands is a British war hero and finds himself in India; the site of those mysteries I've read so far. I've read the first two, The Last Kashmiri Rose and Ragtime in Simla. I like the setting of the novels, the period from 1920 to 1930 and the locale, that of Colonial India. It's an interesting time and the stories have so far managed to hold my interest.

3. Mistress of the Art of Death (Adelia Aquilar) by Ariana Franklin - I've Blogged about this series before. I found the first book while the missus and I were in Victoria and enjoyed so very much. Adelia Aquilar is a woman medical examiner in the 12th Century who finds herself in England trying to solve the murders of a number of children in the first book. She was trained in Sicily and the King of Sicily has loaned her to the current King of England, Henry I, to try and solve the crimes and to prevent the murder of the Jews of Cambridge. It's a fascinating first book and a fascinating series; unfortunately only four books as Ariana Franklin (Diana Norman in real life) passed away in 2011. I've read all but the last one and I hope to do so this year. It will definitely be bittersweet as she was an excellent author.

4. Mary Russell mysteries by Laurie R. King. I've only read the first book in this series and must say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I've been gathering in some of the others in this interesting series and look forward to continuing Mary Russell's adventures with her companion, Sherlock Holmes. It's an interesting concept, Mary Russell becoming the protégé of a retired Sherlock Holmes and the first mystery definitely held my interest and made me want to read more. There are currently 12 books in this excellent series. The second one in line is A Monstrous Regiment of Women and it currently resides on by TBR bookshelf, impatiently calling to me.

5. Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. I won't say much about this excellent series as Ellis Peters was one of my monthly focus authors in 2013 and I wrote this Blog about the Cadfael series at that time. I've read quite a few of the books in this series and all have been excellent and entertaining.

6. Matthew Shardlake mysteries by C.J. Sansom - Another excellent series, this one is set during the time of Henry VIII and Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer who finds himself caught up in the intrigues of the court, no matter how much he might like to avoid them. He is a dedicated man, who works to help those less-fortunate, fight against the shadiness of the court and the church. The first story, Dissolution was very well-written and an excellent introduction to the time and to Matthew. Each story after that has been better then the previous. I've read four of the five books in the series so far and enjoyed each immensely. I'm sure you will as well.

So there you have it, some of my favourite historical mystery series. I could also mention Anne Perry's two excellent series; the William Monk murder mysteries and the Pitt's, as well as those of Maureen Jennings, the Canadian series about Inspector Murdoch, set in 1900's Toronto, which has been made into such an entertaining TV series. I haven't read many of those books, but the couple that I have were all enjoyable. Oh, yes, and don't forget the Phryne Fisher Australian mysteries, set in Melbourne, Australia after WWI.

Before I close this, I just wanted to point some other potentials for you, historical mysteries that are on my shelf, but I haven't tried. So here are a few -

1. Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch - My wife bought me the first book in this series for Xmas and it sounds very interesting. A Beautiful Blue Death is the first in this Victorian mystery series and continues with another five books. *rubbing my hands with glee*

2. The Victorian / Edwardian mysteries by Robin Paige - I have a couple of books in this 12 book series, which features American adventuress, Kathryn Ardleigh and her companion, British amateur sleuth, Sir Charles Sheridan. The mysteries are set in Victorian England.

3. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl - Matthew has written 4 books, and though some characters appear in more than one book, they appear to be more standalone. I'll know better when I read them. The books are The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens and The Technologists. The Dante Club sounds most interesting - It is set during the American Civil War and deals with a number of murders. A group of poets, translating Dante's Inferno, note similarities between the murders and punishments found in Dante's Inferno. And so it begins. :0)

4. Gaslight mysteries by Victoria Thompson - This is a series of 16 mysteries set in turn-of-the-century New York, involving midwife Sarah Brandt. I currently have three on my bookshelf to read.

5. Inspector Rutledge mysteries by Charles Todd -  Charles Todd is a pen-name for American mystery writers Charles and Caroline Todd, a mother - son writing team. The Inspector Rutledge mysteries are set in post-WWI England and deal with the cases of Inspector Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector trying to pick up the pieces of his career after his time spent fighting in the wars. This is an extensive series of 15 books, with number 16 due out in 2014.

So there you have my non-all-inclusive list of historical mysteries that have been entertaining me and will continue to do so for many years to come. I hope you find some of them interesting enough to try out.

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