Good Reads - Fiction
Mysteries Set in the Past
Bayard, Louis - The Black Tower - 2008, 352 p.
A murder brings together an unlikely investigative duo in 1818 Paris: Inspector Vidocq, chief of the Parisian plain clothes police force, well known for his unscrupulous and often cruel tactics, and Hector Carpentier, a young, broke medical student, whose name is the only clue discovered on a recent murder victim. When it becomes clear that the victim is also tied to the young son of Marie Antoinette, who wasted away and died in the Black Tower, the investigation takes the two men on a surprising and dangerous track that reaches from the darkest days of the Revolution to the inner sanctum of the royal court of Louis XVIII. ~ Terri W.
Bebris, Carrie - Pride and Prescience - 2004, 287 p.
Characters step out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and find themselves thrust into the midst of some unsettling business. Miss Elizabeth Bennett has – only just – married the dashing Mr. Darcy, when alas, all is not as it should be! Though the Darcys should be settling into domestic bliss at Pemberley, the cunning Caroline Bingley has upset their plans. First she announces her engagement to a charming, rich, unknown American, then she completely and mysteriously falls apart. It is left to the sensible Darcys to pick up the pieces and put all to rights. With charming sleuths and a delightful mystery, fans of Jane Austen will immediately recognize the sensible manner and voice of the former Miss Bennett, as she investigates the mysterious events that surround her. ~ Terri W.
Chandler, Raymond - The Big Sleep - 1989, 249 p.
With words that snap off the page, Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled mysteries are classics of the genre. The Big Sleep introduces the iconic private eye, the hardened Philip Marlowe, who has been called to the home of the rich, elderly General Sternwood to investigate a case of blackmail. Soon he is drawn into the fiascos of the General’s two spoiled daughters. Marlowe quickly finds out that this case encompasses many more entanglements and surprises that will at times threaten his own life. Humphrey Bogart stars as the popular private eye in the 1939 movie adaptation. ~ Nicole
Day, Dianne - Fire and Fog - 1996, 241 p.
Turn-of-the-century San Francisco is the setting for this engaging mystery featuring spunky heroine Fremont Jones. In the aftermath of the Great Earthquake, Fremont becomes embroiled in a number of cases – a double murder and the theft of two samurai swords and the nasty Ninjas who are trying to recover them. Fremont attempts to juggle all this while trying to keep her typing business afloat, learning how to drive, and volunteering for the Red Cross. Vivid details of the chaos after the earthquake and an interesting collection of colorful characters make this mystery a light and enjoyable read. ~ Sheila Guenzer
Franklin, Ariana - Mistress of the Art of Death - 2007, 384 p.
Rich in historical detail, this medieval mystery (1171 A.D.) is the first in a new series featuring Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a young woman trained in medicine as well as the forbidden art of “reading the dead” (forensic anatomy). When all of the Jews of Cambridge are taken into custody, accused by villagers of murdering local children, Henry II finds his treasury suffering. To clear the Jews, and restore his coffers, Henry summons help from his cousin, the King of Sicily, who promptly sends three investigators to England: Simon, a Jewish fixer (spy), Mansur, a Saracen eunuch, and Adelia, Mistress of the Art of Death. Given the circumstances, the trio struggles to maintain a fictitious cover as they settle into the backwater village while investigating the atrocious murders. ~ Terri W.
Gleeson, Janet - The Grenadillo Box - 2002, 338 p.
In this clever locked-room mystery, Nathaniel Hopson, apprentice to master craftsman Thomas Chippendale, has been dispatched to a Cambridge country estate to supervise the installation of library cabinets, due to the sudden disappearance of their original designer. Nathaniel arrives just days prior to a planned New Year’s Eve dinner party, during which shots are heard, and the host is found dead in the library. All in attendance are suspect, and evidence is plentiful. Yet it’s the body of the missing cabinet maker (Nathaniel’s best friend), discovered frozen and mutilated nearby, that provides the personal incentive and additional clues that ultimately solve this engaging eighteenth-century puzzle. ~ Debbie Deady
Hockensmith, Steve - Holmes on the Range - 2006, 294 p.
Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer earn their living as freelance ranch hands in 1893 Montana. When they’re not working cattle, younger brother Otto reads detective stories aloud in the bunkhouse. Soon Gustav is enamored with Sherlock Holmes, daring to imagine a life punctuated with detecting as well as ranching for himself and his brother. Though teased for his preoccupation with Holmes’ daring exploits, Gustav is keen to puzzle out suspicious events at the Bar VR Ranch. When an albino cowpuncher is found dead of an apparent suicide, Gustav is asked to hone his deducifyin’ skill by providing a satisfactory explanation of what happened. Details about the hardships of cowboy life and the tender, ribald banter between the two brothers make this a promising first novel in the series. ~ Suzy Miller
King, Laurie R. - The Beekeeper’s Apprentice - 1994, 347 p.
In 1914, while walking along with her nose in a book, the teenage Mary Russell practically stumbles into a crouching man studying honey bees. He is none other than the famous Sherlock Holmes, now semiretired and living in Sussex Downs. A conversation quickly reveals Mary’s impressive intelligence and deductive reasoning. Thus begins a friendship and apprenticeship in the art of detection that turn into successful collaborations in solving crimes and mysteries ranging from stolen hams to a kidnapping to a criminal mastermind out to kill Sherlock Holmes and everyone he cares for. ~ Nicole
Lawrence, Margaret - Hearts and Bones - 1996, 307 p.
Hannah Trevor, a well-respected midwife in rural Maine in 1786, notices that the fire has gone out in Althea Emory’s cottage. She goes in and discovers that Althea has been murdered. Hannah finds a letter, presumably written by Althea, naming one of three men as her killer. Due to other evidence, the most likely of the three suspects is Daniel Josselyn, a former lover of Hannah’s and the father of her illegitimate seven-year-old daughter. With the town’s lynch mob on his trail, Daniel flees in search of Althea’s husband, whom he hopes can shed some light on the tragic death. While searching for clues to clear Daniel, Hannah discovers the story of a brutal war crime that occurred over a decade ago. ~ Marianne Trautvetter
Liesche, Margit - Hollywood Buzz - 2009, 285 p.
Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Pucci Lewis travels to Fort Roach in Hollywood to make sure the World War II short documentary about the WASPs being filmed there accurately reflects their service. Pucci is also asked to investigate the plane crash where a fellow WASP was badly injured. Was it sabotage? Then the director of the short, Colonel Brody, is murdered. Pucci, also a secret agent, investigates and unravels the mystery with the help of another agent on the scene. Details of the WASP program and Hollywood’s contribution to the war effort are woven throughout the story. ~ Sue O’Brien
Meade, Amy Patricia - Million Dollar Baby - 2006, 379 p.
This cozy whodunit is set in the 1930s and uses the charming small town of Ridgebury, Connecticut, for the scene of the crime. English aristocrat Creighton Ashcroft has just pur-chased the Kensington mansion and while touring the grounds with mystery writer Marjorie McClelland, they accidentally discover an old murder victim. Detective Jameson is brought in to investigate the murder, and all three make a pact to solve the mystery together, while at the same time Jameson and Ashcroft are vying for McClelland’s affections. ~ Marianne Trautvetter
Sayers, Dorothy L. - The Nine Tailors - 1934, 397 p.
This ninth novel to feature the crafty gentleman detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, is set in the watery and bleak English Fenlands. Following a car accident on New Year’s Eve, Wimsey seeks shelter in the home of a nearby Norfolk pastor. As repayment for this kindness, he volunteers to ring one of the large church bells during an all-night vigil. Months later, these same bells are rung on two consecutive nights – nine times to signify the death of a male member of the parish and six times to signify the death of a female member. When Wimsey returns to investigate these strange deaths, he finds himself embroiled in a 20-year-old mystery involving the theft of a priceless antique emerald necklace. This densely-written novel is saturated with sparsely beautiful descriptions of the Fens. ~ Lynette Pitrak
Stamos, Ann - Bitter Tide - 2009, 411 p.
Upon landing on Ellis Island in 1901, Irish immigrant Maggie Flynn inexplicitly shoots her companion Cormac Doyle. Ellis Island Superintendent Joseph Hannegan, who is intent on weeding out corruption in the immigration service, must now deal with attempted murder. When Joseph realizes the shooting is connected with Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organization that his father supports, he, along with co-worker Ellis Island Matron Rachel Bonner, works to sort out the reasons behind the crime to protect Maggie, his job, and his family. Fascinating historical details of the immigrant experience, the Tammany political machine, and the Clan na Gael are woven throughout this first in a projected series. ~ Sue O’Brien
Tallis, Frank - A Death in Vienna - 2005, 458 p.
At the turn of the twentieth century in Vienna, a beautiful medium is found shot to death. Eerily, there is no evidence of a bullet, and her body has been enclosed in a room that locks from the inside. Detective Rheinhardt enlists psychoanalyst Dr. Max Liebermann to interview the members of the medium’s séance circle. As they investigate more deeply, the pair is forced to wonder whether the killing was the action of a mortal or if supernatural forces were involved. This intelligent and intriguing mystery is as multi-layered as the city itself, where opulent architecture, lavish cafés, and proper decorum barely mask the growing class divisions, anti-Semitism, and fanatic Germanic egalitarianism. ~ Lynette Pitrak
Thompson, Victoria - Murder on Astor Place - 1999, 278 p.
While attending to a patient, feisty midwife and boardinghouse proprietress Sarah Brandt encounters NYC Police Sergeant Frank O’Malloy who has arrived to investigate the murder of a young female boarder. Believing she may know pertinent information relating to the case, Sarah reaches out to communicate these details with a stoic O’Malloy, challenging the class boundaries and social proprieties of her time. O’Malloy, a bereft widower striving to provide for a young son by seeking advancement within the police department, endures Sarah’s assistance, discovering her good intentions despite his own misgivings and the ribbing of his fellow officers. Well-drawn characters combine with period details of daily life in early twentieth century New York City to create a lively and believable story. ~ Suzy Miller
Winspear, Jacqueline - Maisie Dobbs - 2003, 294 p.
Maisie Dobbs is just 13 years old when she begins working for a wealthy London family, soon after the death of her mother in 1910. She eventually gains admission to a prestigious women’s college, but her education is interrupted by the outbreak of WWI and her decision to volunteer for overseas service as a nurse. Ten years later Maisie has opened a private investi-gation firm, and she is hired by a man who believes his wife to be unfaithful. What follows is an unsettling journey into her own past, where she is forced to confront the ghosts of war while solving a mystery that proves to be as dangerous as it is confounding. ~ Debbie Deady
Prepared by November 2009