I love history and often feel guilty that I spend so much of my time reading mysteries instead of history. It is great when I can combine the two via historical fiction. As previous articles may reveal, I also enjoy a good mystery series, where I can delve into the characters as they change and grow. Luckily there are some excellent choices for those who want to know more about various time periods.
One of my all time favorite historical mysteries is a series of four books by Margaret Lawrence that came out between 1996 and 2000. Beginning with Hearts and Bones, the books depict a widowed mid-wife, who takes on hard times in the Northeast right after the War of Independence. More likely to be enjoyed by women, because of its strong female lead, it also describes the horrors and scars of war imposed upon men. To me the writing is lyrical and for that reason, especially enjoyable.
Another author that puts me in a particular place in history is Rhys Bowen with her cozy-like series involving a female Irish immigrant Molly Murphy, who steals her way to the United States by posing as another woman. Her involvement with a policeman and desire to remain independent provide a constant conflict and insight into turn of the century New York. Colorful characters include a lesbian couple and cameo appearances by such notable figures as Teddy Roosevelt and President McKinley.
Laurie King paints a completely different picture of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, when he falls in love with the superior mind of an independent, young female circa 1915 London. The Beekeeper's Apprentice is a classic, and although the ensuing plot lines are not always as riveting, King's writing style is. For that reason alone I can't wait to pick up her books and transport myself to another time and place. If you prefer stand alones, start with her 2007 Touchstone, which takes place during the same period.
Whether or not you are hooked on James Lee Burke's series with Dave Robicheaux, I recommend reading In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. The main character tries to find the link between a company filming a Civil War story, a psychic, who finds the remains of a lynching from 1957, a mobster and a series of dead young women. Burke's characters are violent, but his writing is descriptive, and you can't help but sweat through the humidity of this wonderfully drawn picture of Louisiana.
To get an idea of what Watts was like to an African-American man in 1948, open the pages of Walter Mosley's series about Easy Rawlins. Here lie the seeds of the civil rights movement, through the eyes of an enterprising, albeit not always sympathetic, character. Like him or not Easy opens the door to another perspective of the American Dream and at the same time pays homage to the early writers of the hard-boiled detective novels.
If you are interested in the history of Florida, dive into Jonathon King's third book in his Max Freeman series called Shadow Men. A father and his two sons disappear circa 1920, while building the first road through the Everglades. Present-day Freeman is hired to find out what happened to them. King won an Edgar for the first book in this series and I recommend starting with it.
If you are an avid reader, then enjoy the pure entertainment these series will provide for weeks to come. If you are a would be writer, then read these authors as if they are mentors who can teach you how to write by example. But if you love history mixed in with your mysteries, let the imaginative words in these books act as a lyrical compass in your journey through time.
Copyright 2011 by Linda K. Murdock.
Linda K. Murdock is the author of Mystery Lover's Puzzle Book, Crosswords with Clues from Your Favorite Mystery Series. She reads over 50 mystery books a year. Her puzzle book is a mini-anthology that includes reviews of 29 award-winning writers, who do mystery series. A check-off list of all the titles in each of the series, along with a crossword puzzle for each series, are included. See a sample crossword and learn more at http://bellwetherbooks.com
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