As I wrote in my Bibliophile for All Budgets post, there is something about fall that makes me want to get cozy, sip a warm drink, and read about dastardly doings in merry ol’ England. I suppose this is because the first mysteries I remember reading were Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries I ordered from the Scholastic book orders in the fall.
However, in the years since I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes, the mystery genre, itself a sub-genre of fiction, has gotten large and unwieldy. There are probably at least a couple desperate mystery writers exploiting every murder mystery niche you can imagine and several you haven’t imagined yet. I wouldn’t have thought hairdressing, or needlework, or catering, or bookbinding were dangerous, murder-prone professions, but, I kid you not, there are writers very successfully basing their series on exactly those premises.
Finding a place to start and a writer who can actually write a mystery that makes sense rather than simply offer market-driven cutsie premises can be difficult. So, in honor of fall and Sherlock Holmes, I offer up a few of my favorite of the new Victorian writers. I read a lot of mysteries in a variety of sub-genres, but here are a few favorite authors who reinvent the classic Victorian mystery recommended by me, my friends, and my family. Links are included to pages about the authors so you can look at full lists of their books.
• Boris Akunin. While Boris Akunin’s Russian detective Erast Fandorin is not even remotely British, he is Victorian and a student of deductive reasoning. In the first Fandorin mystery, The Winter Queen, Akunin gives Fandorin a tragic past that keeps him a loner and also helps fuel his desire for truth and justice. Taking advantage of the European treaty network and the Pax Britannia, Fandorin travels the Victorian world solving mysteries. http://www.boris-akunin.com/
• Tasha Alexander. What do most wealthy, young, beautiful, Victorian widows do when they are in deep mourning? Sewing? Reading? Planning their next advantageous marriage? Well, that is not what Lady Emily Ashton does. She learns Greek and becomes an amateur sleuth, solving the mystery of her husband’s death. The historical research in this series is lavish and leaves me feeling educated, but beware, these are definitely chick books. http://www.tashaalexander.com/
• Caleb Carr. I debated whether or not to include Mr. Carr because, while I enjoy his stories, his protagonists have the irritating habit of over-explaining what is going on and what the under-lying motivation is for the villains. To quote Elvis, I want “A little less conversation and a little more action.” But, even with the over-explaining, I still enjoyed his Sherlockian mystery The Italian Secretary. http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=4337
• Anne Perry. While I have yet to take the plunge into Anne Perry’s vast library of work, I have it on good authority from a loved one, that if you want to read Victorian mysteries, Anne Perry should be your home-girl. I’m pretty sure I will get around to reading these at some time, but right now, I have an embarrassing number of books to read and can’t justify starting a new series today. Not that I’m not considering it even as I type. http://www.anneperry.net/
• Elizabeth Peters. I am hording the first book in Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and I can’t wait to crack it open. A woman of learning and tenacity in the great Victorian age of excavation, Miss Peabody has a passion for Egyptology and knack for solving mysteries.While I haven’t started the series yet, I have read several other books by Peters and have yet to hit a dud. A friend who has read the Amelia Peabody series says it is fantastic. If she’s wrong I may have to give her the fish-eye. http://www.mpmbooks.com/
• Will Thomas. While I can’t vouch for how men are likely to enjoy Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters, I can say that Will Thomas’s mystery series chronicling the cases of Cyrus Barker (a private enquiry agent) and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn definitely has more testosterone and action. Like the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, these adventures are told not by the detective himself, but by his assistant. Part of what I like about these books is that they reflect the variety of influences and ethnicities mashing up against one another because of the British Empire in general and London in particular. I have the unreasonable hope that if this series is ever made into films that Russel Crowe will play Cyrus Barker. http://www.willthomasauthor.com/books.php
There they are, my Victorian mystery recommendations. Here’s to hoping that a good book and a warm drink are in your future this chilly fall afternoon. Cheers!
P.S. If you have any good recommendations for new mysteries, do tell. The only thing better than a good mystery is another good mystery.