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August 7, 2008 / C.T. Henry

Four Recommended Historical Mysteries

To Americans, great historical mysteries tend to be set in Britain.  There’s something about the landscape that sends chills down your spine.  My favorite historical thrillers usually take place right after WWI or WWII, but I’ve also included an excellent Victorian mysteries in my list.  Since I’ve already mentioned several times how much I love C.J. Sansom’s medieval mysteries set in Tudor England, I’ll leave him out of this list.  Enjoy these haunting trips to the past:

1. River of Darkness – Rennie Airth (1999)
In rural England, in a landscape shadowed by the sorrow of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by a murderous attack, which leaves five butchered bodies and no motive for the killings. Sent by Scotland Yard to investigate is Inspector John Madden, a grave and good man who bears the emotional and physical scars from his own harrowing war experiences and from the tragic loss of his wife and child. The local police dismiss the slaughter as a robbery gone tragically awry, but Madden and his chief inspector detect the work of a madman. With the help of a beautiful doctor who introduces Madden to the latest developments in forensic psychology and who opens his heart again to the possibility of love, Madden sets out to identify and capture the killer–a demented former soldier with a bloody past–even as he sets his sights on his next innocent victims. As darkly stylish as the best of P. D. James, rippled with tension and resonant with historical atmosphere, River of Darkness marks the debut of a powerful new voice in suspense writing and of a compelling character whom readers will long to know better.

2. A Test of Wills – Charles Todd (1996)
The Great War has been won—but victory has its price. The year is 1919, and Ian Rutledge has returned to London to resume his position as Scotland Yard inspector, bringing nightmares and ghosts home with him from the French battlefields. Tormented and suffering from shell shock, he is immediately plunged into the affair of a popular colonel believed murdered by a decorated war hero—a case that is a personal and political minefield that could destroy Rutledge’s career and what remains of his sanity.


3. An Unpardonable Crime – Andrew Taylor (2004) Known as American Boy in the UK
England 1819. Two enigmatic Americans arrive in London and soon after a bank collapses. A man is found dead on a building site; another goes missing in the teeming stews of the city’s notorious Seven Dials district. A deathbed vigil ends in an act of theft, and a beautiful heiress flirts with her inferiors. A strange destiny connects each of these events to an American boy, Edgar Allan Poe, who was brought to England by his foster father and sent to the leafy village of Stoke Newington to be educated. An Unpardonable Crime is a twenty-first-century novel with a nineteenth-century voice. It is both a multilayered literary murder mystery and a love story, its setting ranging from the coal-scented fogs of late-Regency London to the stark winter landscapes of Gloucestershire. And at its center is the boy who does not really belong anywhere, an actor who never learns the significance of his part.

4. In a Dry Season – Peter Robinson (1999)
In the blistering, dry summer, the waters of Thornfield Reservior have been depleted, revealing the ruins of the small Yorkshire village that lay at its bottom, bringing with it the unidentified bones of a brutally murdered young woman. Detective Chief Inspector Banks faces a daunting challenge: he must unmask a killer who has escaped detection for half a century. Because the dark secret of Hobb’s End continue to haunt the dedicated policeman even though the town that bred then has died—and long after its former residents have been scattered to far places . . . or themselves to the grave.



One Comment

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  1. Cathy / Aug 15 2008 8:14 pm

    I recently read River of Darkness and really enjoyed it. I’m about three books in with the Charles Todd series. It’s another favorite. Within the past couple of months I read Gallow’s View, and since I always like to read series in order, I’m looking forward to In a Dry Season. With agreement on three out of four (I’m including Sansom), I’ve just added Andrew Taylor to my NTR (Need to Read) list. Thank you!

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