History has never been my strong point; regardless, I have always enjoyed reading about the past, especially in fiction, where the narrative is able to place a strong perspective on the way that characters react to their surroundings, rather than those surroundings themselves. As such, I have decided to choose my top five favourite Crime Fiction novels set in the past.
In this list ‘Historical Crime Fiction’ is defined as a novel written recently but set in the past. I love a bit of Golden Age Crime Fiction, but I’m not filling this list with Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. The beauty of historical novels is the research that and skill that the writer employs to ensure that their book is accurate and engaging. There are some old favourites of this blog here, as well as some novels that I haven’t had time to mention yet, but that definitely deserve a place on any reading list.
5. The Yard: Alex Grecian’s historical thriller is set in Victorian London, charting the murder of a police detective not long after Scotland Yard’s failure to apprehend the infamous Jack the Ripper. Introducing the yard’s first forensic pathologist, the team, known as ‘The Murder Squad’ sets out to unravel this fiendish crime and, in the process, exposes the seedier side of their city.
4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House: Based on a real life case, Kate Summerscale’s book is a combination of fact and fiction, seamlessly blending the real life facts of the case with a fictionalised narrative of how Whicher may have felt and behaved. The murder of a three year old boy at his father’s country estate was a scandal at the time, and the eventual culprit proves to be embroiled in a web of malice and angst, all of which is depicted beautifully by Summerscale in her enlightening, empathetic book.
3. The Silent Death: As my previous review testifies, I am a recent convert to Volker Kutscher and his tough, rebellious detective Gereon Rath, whose dubious connections and even worse love life lead him into conflict with his superiors as he battles against a fiendish killer. The beautifully depicted setting of 1930s Berlin provides the ideal landscape for a furious race against time as Rath and he teamwork to catch a murderer with a fixation for actresses. As he begins the grizzly task of removing the vocal cords of screen icons in order to keep the industry away from the advent of talkies, the reader is led on a fascinating journey through this atmospheric, historical city to a dramatic conclusion.
2. Dead Man’s Chest: I am, as my previous post attests, an ardent fan of Kerry Greenwood’s mesmerising and unconventional female detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher. Set in the 1920s, Greenwood’s novels highlight the less published, seedier side of life, and whilst all of her books are excellent, Dead Man’s Chest offers a truly fascinating insight into the society of the time. The novel contains a number of subplots which provide a glimpse of various facets of life in the 20s, including parenting, servitude, and the upper classes.
1. Merlin at War: As part of author Mark Ellis’s book tour, I recently reviewed this exceptional novel, and promptly went out and ordered the first two novels in the Frank Merlin series, Princes Gate and Stalin’s Gold. All three are equally well plotted, fast paced and exhilarating, however it is Merlin at War that is a true masterpiece. Skilfully executed, the novel is evocative and, whilst I am no historian, it is my understanding that it is accurate to its Second World War setting. Whether this is correct or not, Merlin at War remains an exceptional piece of fiction with strong characters, an intriguing plot and an finale that will blow your socks off.