Tour’s Books Blog

March 16, 2016

Who is your favorite……….?

I’m on a number of Good Reads forums where this question invariably comes up? What’s your favorite book? Who is your favorite author? What’s you favorite series?

You know, that hard to say because even in a single genre you have sub-groups and then mashups and …….. well, you get the picture.

But it got me thinking about some of the best reading  – mostly because my doctor needed some ideas for books that she and her sister, someone with very different taste in tropes, would like.  That’s not easy.  I have very strong ideas about what makes a book memorable.

I looked at some lists of the ‘Greatest Historical Fiction of All Time’ and most made me cringe.  I thought Wolf Hall was – meh.  So did my brother.  Now Anya Seaton’s Kathrine – yeah that was brilliant.  George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman was there as well, and though I loved it – and the series in general -not sure it belongs.  Many choices were written long ago, like Tolstoy and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (Oh, just kill me now.  I hate Dickens.)  I, Claudius by Robert Graves, I can kind of get behind that one.  The Name of the Rose by recently deceased Umberto Eco was not that good for me despite it often being named to the top 20 of the mystery genre as well.  Most of the others, not so much.

It seems when I was growing up there were many great choices for historical fiction.  Thomas B. Costain was at the end of his career, but for a man who didn’t start writing till his 50’s, he did some remarkable work.  His 4 book non-ficion history of the Plantagenet kings starting with Henry II to Richard III is just excellent.  Then he wrote The Black Rose, later made into a film starring Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins and Orsen Wells.  Set in the time of  The Three Edwards (the third book of is Plantagenet history) it is just a great historical adventure read.  For my brother, Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo will always be a favorite along with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

But my favorite historical fiction these days tends to run to mysteries and SteamPunk – which is any alternate history paranormal genre often done with a mystery trope.  But in plain old real world history, I was impressed by Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties series, The Impersonator and Silent Murder (the better of the two by far).  A third book is due this year, and another complete for 2017.  A history major, she writes very well and has created a terrific character with Jessie Carr blending in real life people in Vaudeville and silent movies.

Agatha Christie was married to an archeologist and spent a lot of time in the Mideast and other locations.  This led her to write Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia (set at an archeology dig site), and Evil Under the Sun (movie filmed on various island locations off Spain, but the book is set on an island off of the south of England) set in the 20’s and 30’s as part of her Poirot series.  In retrospect, it’s amazing how good she was with plots that involved various ‘isolated’ groups as well as standard locations.  She was light years better than the typical cozy writer of today.  She also wrote one true historical mystery, Death Comes at the End, set in ancient Thebes.

Lindsey Davis sets her Falco series in Vespasian’s Rome and is a favorite for me.  She aged  out Falco (which was overdue) and his daughter, Flavia Alba has taken up her father’s private informer business.  John Maddox Roberts, better known in the fantasy genre, wrote his terrific SPQR mysteries set at the time of the rise of Julius Ceasar.

A big favorite among historical fiction fans is the adventure series Outlaw Chronicles that’s a spin on the legend of Robin Hood by Angus Donald.  They can be hard to find as he no American publisher, but I get them used or new from Book Depository, an Amazon-owned company, in the UK.  Best read in order, Outlaw is book 1 and The King’s Assassin is the most recent publication.  The last book in the series is due out next year.  His following is a mix of male and female readers, so give his stuff a try.

Bernard Cromwell is most famous for his Sharpe’s Rifles series that was made into a BBC series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, but he writes non-fiction including Waterloo: 4 Days 3 battles 3 armies.  Jeri Westerson is another British author who sets her stories around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest.  Described as Medieval Noir mystery, it has the same edgy sardonic humor as Lindsey Davis and John Maddox Roberts.  Book 7, Silence of the Stones, was just released in Feb, but all mysteries, the main story arc wraps up in a single novel, but to follow the origins of the lead character, read the first few in order.  Two other reliable historical mystery fiction authors are Ruth Downie who writes the Gais Ruso series set in Roman Britain, Gaul, and Rome.  The other is Rosemary Rowe who uses Roman Britain for her Libertus series.  Both can be expensive and hard to find, but are available.  Like Angus Donald, most are published by Severn House and no US publisher picks them up, hence buy used, get ebooks, or get it from your library.

Tasha Alexander does the Lady Emily mysteries set in Victorian London and throughout Europe.  (Her husband is English born action thriller author Andrew Grant.)  Deanna Raybourn has two series out – her famous Lady Julia Grey, which I was not crazy about until book 4, Dark Road to Darjeeling.  I really liked that one.  She’s started a new series featuring Veronica Speedwell, a female physician in London.  Like the Julia Grey series, it’s set in the 1880’s.  It is sitting on Mt TBR.  Set in Regency England are the Sebastian St Cyr books by C.S. Harris.  I tried the first few and was bored, but friends like them.  Too angsty for me.  Anna Lee Hubler’s Lady Darby books are a big favorite of my sister-in-law while my brother loved loved Steven Hockensmith’s Amlingmyer Brothers Holmes on the Range books set out west in the late 1800’s.  He ended the series at the famous Chicago Exposition.

Rhys Bowen has three series, her Evan Evans, Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness.  I know the Molly Murphy series and liked quite a few, but prefer Her Royal Spyness, even though her lead character, Lady Georgiana, can get on my nerves, but Ms Bowen does a nice job weaving real people though her stories – from Noel Coward, to Edward VII (her cousin), to Charlie Chaplin.  Her prose really is a pleasure to read.

Historical mystery is a rich and broad genre moving across thousands of years and lots of fine authors.  Pick a period and you’ll likely find something.  Here are some other authors you might enjoy:

Will Thomas – Barker and Llewelyn series set Gaslight London; Collin Cotterill – Dr Siri series set in 1970’s Laos;  Laura Joh Rowland – Sano Ichiro series set in Edo in 1600’s Japan; Ellis Peters – her famous Brother Cadfael series set in 12th century England (also a BBC series); Gary Corby – Nicolaos series set in ancient Athens/Greece in 460BC; C.J. Samson – Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, in mid-1600’s England; Carol Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler, opera star, in mid 19th century Europe; Alex Grecian – Murder Squad set in late 1800’s London (but a bit uneven in quality); Dennis Wheatly – Roger Brook special agent for British PM Pitt late 1700’s to early 1800’s.

There are simply too many to name and more all the time.  Those who like both historical fiction and mystery – like me – are delighted at the growth in this area.  Like all other genres, some are good, some not.  Find one that suits you and enjoy!

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