History Mysteries

FD has a friend who enjoys historical mysteries and has especially enjoyed a series by Victoria Thompson, set in New York City during the “Gas light” era (here’s a link to VT’s homepage).  The idea makes sense — it should be doubly pleasurable to have both a mystery and history to read about.  But FD has not found historical mysteries as interesting as reading mysteries written in times that are now historical.  That is, it seems to FD that when one reads a mystery written in the 1920s or 30s, or 40s one can often get a better feel for the period than when one reads a mystery written today but set in the past.  Too often, contemporary writers seem to be too consciously placing the period details into the narrative and the reader notices them in a way that isn’t true in the same way when reading a novel written at the time.  Mystery novels of the 30s and 40s use the slang of the time in a much less self-conscious way, and describe homes, clothes, cars, and food in ways that are much more “natural” than what happens when a contemporary writer chooses to write a historical mystery.

Of course, the mystery novel has a pretty short history, so it’s not always possible to find mysteries written in a particular time period.  If one might enjoy a mystery set in the Roman Empire, or during medieval times, or even in Colonial America one must look to current authors.  There are many historical series being developed today; it seems that no historical personage or time period is safe from mystery writers — everyone from Freud to Abigail Adams is being pressed into sleuth service!  But FD is not sure that any of these novels will have achieve long-term popularity.

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