STARRED REVIEW
June 17, 2020

17 historical mystery series to fill your summer TBR list

STARRED REVIEW

17 historical mystery series to fill your summer TBR list

June 17, 2020
STARRED REVIEW
June 17, 2020

17 historical mystery series to fill your summer TBR list

June 17, 2020
STARRED REVIEW
June 17, 2020

17 historical mystery series to fill your summer TBR list

STARRED REVIEW
June 17, 2020

17 historical mystery series to fill your summer TBR list

June 17, 2020

17 historical mystery series to fill your summer TBR list

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I don’t know about you, but at the moment my reading has trended decidedly toward the escapist end of the scale. For me, that means fluffy romances, absorbing fantasies that aren’t too dark and any mystery solved by a lady in a ballgown or a nice man in a good suit (preferably both at the same time, while they flirt with each other). To that end, here are some of my favorite long-running series of historical mysteries that would make excellent escapes any time, but especially this summer.


Marcus Didius Falco and Flavia Albia series by Lindsey Davis
Setting: 1st century Rome, under the reign of Vespasian (in the Falco books) and Domitian (in the books about Falco’s daughter, Flavia)

Davis’ sly, immersive mysteries are a delightful look at urban Roman life—and there are a lot of them. The 20 Falco books begin with The Silver Pigs and Flavia takes over in The Ides of April, starting a series that’s still going strong with the eighth book releasing on July 28.


Chronicles of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters
Setting: 1135-1145 in England, a period known as The Anarchy because of its political unrest

One of the very first modern historical mystery series as we have come to know them, Peters’ thoughtful series follows a monk named Cadfael who is a talented herbalist and a shrewd observer of human character. His first case: A Morbid Taste for Bones. (British TV channel ITV produced a fabulous adaptation of the series, which aired stateside on PBS, just FYI.)


The Rosalind Thorne mysteries by Darcie Wilde
Setting: Regency England

Wilde’s aristocratic sleuth survives the cutthroat world of high society by managing the affairs and secrets of her fellow nobility, starting with solving a murder in an exclusive ballroom in A Useful Woman.


The Atlas Catesby series by D.M. Quincy
Setting: Regency England

An aristocratic adventurer freed from the constraints of duty by virtue of being his noble father’s youngest son, Atlas Catesby teams up with the beautiful Lady Lilliana to uncover who killed her husband in Murder in Mayfair. Their relationship evolves over the course of the series, which contains three books so far.


The Lady Darby mysteries by Anna Lee Huber
Setting: 1830s Scotland and England

If you like your series a tinge darker, but still with plenty of romance, the Lady Darby mysteries are for you. Kiera Darby’s cruel, controlling anatomist husband has finally died, but his scandalous interest in the macabre has tainted her reputation. She flees the gossip of London for her sister’s estate in Scotland, but when another guest is murdered at the beginning of The Anatomist’s Wife, Keira is asked to use her anatomical knowledge to help inquiry agent Sebastian Gage—who is, of course, totally insufferable but extremely handsome.


The Countess of Harleigh mysteries by Dianne Freeman
Setting: Victorian England

Frances Wyn is ready to throw out her mourning gowns and enjoy her late and not-at-all lamented husband Reggie’s money in A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. But as these things so often go, the American-born Frances must first clear her name in the matter of her husband’s death by finding the real culprit. Freeman’s mysteries are funny and sparkling, but also fully cognizant of the class disparity and snobbery that marked Frances’ world.


The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas
Setting: Victorian England

Thomas’ series puts a gender-bending spin on Conan Doyle’s iconic Sherlock Holmes. In this version of the story, Sherlock is an invention of Charlotte Holmes, a brilliant woman who uses her fictitious, conveniently ill brother Sherlock to investigate crimes in foggy Victorian London. Her adventures begin in the cleverly titled A Study in Scarlet Women.


The Veronica Speedwell mysteries by Deanna Raybourn
Setting: Victorian England

Two natural historians go on adventures and solve mysteries in Raybourn’s wildly popular series. Veronica Speedwell is a butterfly-hunting, marriage-avoiding rebel who teams up with the mysterious Stoker to solve a baron’s murder in A Curious Beginning.


The Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch
Setting: Victorian England

Charming, rigorously researched and with a refreshing lack of brooding, the 13 Charles Lenox mysteries are perfect armchair companions, preferably with a nice cup of tea. The series starts with A Beautiful Blue Death, and Finch’s three latest mysteries have comprised a prequel trilogy of sorts, taking fans back to Lenox’s very first cases.


The Mrs. Jeffries series by Emily Brightwell
Setting: Victorian England

Every time I tell someone the premise of this long-running series, I can’t stop grinning. Mrs. Jeffries is the stalwart housekeeper of Scotland Yard Inspector Weatherspoon, and unbeknownst to him, the reason for his success. Mrs. Jeffries, you see, is something of a genius detective, and the entire household staff has banded together to report back on the clues and the inspector’s actions to give her the information she needs to solve the case. The cheeky fun begins in The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries.


The Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander
Setting: Victorian Europe

Alexander’s elegant, supremely assured writing is one of the many aesthetic pleasures of this series, which sees its lady sleuth exploring high society scandals amid many stunning locales, from Turkey under Ottoman rule to the south of France, starting with 2005’s And Only to Deceive.


The Barker & Llewelyn series by Will Thomas
Setting: Victorian England

BookPage’s own mystery columnist Bruce Tierney describes this series as Sherlock Holmes but with an “Indiana Jones-esque penchant for derring-do,” which really tells you all you need to know. Intrepid and eccentric detective Cyrus Barker takes his new apprentice Thomas Llewelyn on a wild ride through the underground world of criminal London in their first adventure, Some Danger Involved.


The Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd
Setting: WWI-era Europe

Bess Crawford comes from an upper-class family, but had an unusually independent and empowering upbringing thanks to her soldier father. When WWI breaks out, she immediately volunteers as a nurse and gains a reputation for solving mysteries starting with A Duty to the Dead.


The Inspector Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd
Setting: England, post-WWI

Todd’s other, equally acclaimed series takes place in the immediate aftermath of WWI and follows veteran-turned-Scotland Yard Inspector Rutledge, who is haunted by his actions during the war and suffers from shell shock. In the first book, A Test of Wills, Rutledge is assigned to a case involving the military, bringing up all his old wounds and demons.


The John Madden series by Rennie Airth
Setting: England, post-WWI

This series also stars a shellshocked WWI veteran, but has a decidedly more cozy, Christie-esque tone. There is darkness, to be sure, but always related with a pleasingly wry, crooked sort of detachment. Start with River of Darkness.


The Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody
Setting: 1920s Yorkshire

Smart, funny and deeply lived-in, the Kate Shackleton series will make you wonder why no one has adapted them for TV yet. Brody’s mysteries are refreshingly uninterested in the foibles and frivolities of the upper classes, and are instead fascinated by all the social movements and rapid changes of the 1920s. Kate’s adventures begin in Dying in the Wool.


The Grantchester mysteries by James Runcie
Setting: 1950s-1970s England, just outside of Cambridge

Yes, the TV show is absolutely delightful, but you should really also check out the stories that inspired it. Runcie’s mysteries are unique in that each book is a collection of short stories, each laser-focused on a different case to be solved by the intelligent, slightly haunted, but deeply kind vicar Sidney Chambers. The first collection is Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death.

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