Step Back in Crime – an ode to historical crime fiction


I was recently asked by a colleague for historical crime fiction recommendations for her book club. Of course, as is usually the case when anyone asks me for recommendations, the name of any book I have ever read vanished from my memory. So I did the only sensible thing, I asked Twitter. Turns out there are many historical crime fiction fans, of which I am one. And I was innunadated with replies, including a few people saying they were making notes on the recommended titles. So I thought the only sensible thing to do was dedicate a few posts to the sub-genre.

Here’s what was suggested. Thanks to everyone who suggested a title or two.

Many of us love the enduring appeal of a series, and quite a few were suggested. So if you fancy settling down for the long haul with welcome repeated visits to the same characters you could try one of these.

Andrew Taylor proved to be popular, with many people saying they would recommend anything by him. His books include The Ashes of London, The Fire Court and The King’s Evil.

Anne Perry has a few series, the Thomas Pitt series, the Daniel Pitt series, the William Monk series and the Elena Standish series, so plenty to be getting on with!

The Alexei Korolev series by William Ryan, starting with The Holy Thief.

Philip Kerr and the Bernie Gunther books

The Giordano Bruno series by SJ Parris.

John Lawton’s Troy novels.

Gregor Reinhardt series by Luke McCallin starting with The Man From Berlin.

The Falco series from Lindsey Davis. Titles include The Silver Pigs and Shadows in Bronze. Her Flavia Albia series was also highly recommended, the first of which is The Ides of April.

Abir Mukherjee’s Captain Sam Wyndham’s series, set in early 20th Century India. You can read my review of the first in the series, A Rising Man, by clicking on the link.

Antonia Hodgson’s Thomas Hawkins novels. The first in the series is The Devil and the Marshalsea. Click on the title to read my review.

The Jem Flockart novels by E.S. Thomson were mentioned a number of times.

The Shardlake series by C. J. Sansom was one of the most suggested series, the first in the series is entitled Dissolution. I’ve read most of this series and loved each book. The thread reminded me I need to catch up!

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeves. The next book in the series, The Anarchists Club, has just been published.

The Alexander Seaton series starting with The Redemption of Alexander Seaton and  the Seeker series, starting with The Seeker by SG Maclean.

Robin Blake’s 18th century mysteries featuring Cragg and Fedelis were recommended. The first book in the series including A Dark Anatomy and Dark Waters.

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.  Book 15, The American Agent has just been published but if you like to start at the beginning the first in the series is Maise Dobbs. You can read a Q&A with Jacqueline Winspear here.

M J Lee’s Inspector Danilov Series, starting with Death in Shanghai.

The Kitty Peck series by Kate Griffin.

The Mrs Hudson books by Michelle Birkby.

S.D. Syke’s Oswald de Lacy series. The first is Plague Land. You can also read my reviews for City of Masks and The Butcher Bird.

E. M. Powell’s Stanton and Barling mysteries, including The Kings Justice and The Monastery Murders.

Stephen Saylor Roma sub Rosa series.

Oscar de Muriel’s Frey and McGray novels starting with The String of Murders.

Elly Griffiths Stephens and Mephisto series. The first book in the series is The Zig Zag Girl, set in 1950s Brighton.

The Cornish Mysteries series by Katherine Stansfield. The first in the series is Falling Creatures.

The Crowther and Westerman series by Imogen Robertson, starting with Instruments of Darkness.

Edward Marston and his railway series.

Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, starting with Mistress of the Art of Death. (This series is one of my favourites in the genre).

Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series.

The Hudson and Lawes trilogy by Helen Maskew.

Fans of Roman crime may love David Wishart and his protagonist Marcus Corvinus.

Rosemary Rowe’s Libertus mystery series covers Roman Britain. The first one is The Germanicus Mosaic.

Rory Clements Tom Wilde books set in Cambridge pre WW2 – Corpus, Nucleus and Nemesis and his John Shakespeare series.

PB Ryan – The Nell Sweeney Mysteries.

Paul Dohery’s books including the Brother Athelstan series.

There were of course suggestions for individual books or authors rather than series.

David Liss’s historical crime novels, whose books include The Day of Atonement and The Devil’s Company.

John Maddox Roberts an American author who writes historical crime novels. Sadly not published in the UK.

Gillespie & I, Sugar Money and  The Observations by Jane Harris.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina.

Circe by Madeline Miller

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The Girl in the Pink Raincoat by Alrene Hughes

The Burning Chamber by Kate Mosse

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola (click on the link to see my review). I would also recommend The Story Keeper by the same author.

Mister Timothy – Louis Bayard (Dickensian London).

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – Iceland , 1820s.

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney.

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz.

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Jane Steen’s Lady Helena Investigates.

Wayland’s Revenge by Lesley Lodge.

The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson.

Katherine Clements, The Coffin Path

The Conjurer’s Bird by Martin Davies

Natasha Pulley’s  The Bedlam Stacks or Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

Soot by Andrew Martin

One Enchanted Evening by Anton Du Beke.

Walls of Silence by Ruth Wade

Foul Trade by B.K. Duncan

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

Wolf Winter by Cecila Ekback

Stone and Water by David James Buckley

True Crime Japan by Paul Murphy (true crime).

Painted Ladies by Lynn Bushell.

The Shining girls Lauren Beukes.

Clare Flynn.

Peter Lovesy’s Wobble To Death.

Bring up the Bodies and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (true crime)

Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (1830s Istanbul).

Money in the Morgue by Stella Duffy.

The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza

The Missing by Tim Gautreaux (’20s Louisiana).

Robert Lautner’s  ‘The Road to Reckoning’ (1830s PA).

Liam McIlvanney’s The Quaker (’60s Glasgow).

Dan Leno and the Limeshouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd.

Fingersmith and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. (I read this many years ago and can remember thoroughly enjoying this so I would second this recommendation).

The Music of the Spheres by Elizabeth Redfern

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

Death and the Harlot by Georgina Clarke

The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch.

An Appetite For Violets or The Penny Heart by Martine Bailey.

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl translated Don Bartlett. You can read an extract here.

The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag

Last English King by Julian Rathbone

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

Arrowood and The Murder Pit by Mick Finlay.

Joseph Knight by James Robertson

Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale (true crime).

Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was also suggested a couple of times as was The Murder of Harriett Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes. Morality Play by Barry Unsworth cropped up more than once as did The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet was mentioned a few times, with much enthusiasim. Elizabeth Fremantle  was described as an amazing writer. Her novel, The Poison Bed was mentioned more than a few times. The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby was suggested to me twice, as was Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and None So Blind by Alis Hawkins.

Here are a few that I’ve read and reviewed too. Click on the title to read the reviews.

The Confesstions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead by Andew Tierney (true crime)

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

The Secrets of Wishtides by Kate Saunders

The Dark Inside by Rod Reynolds

The Blood Dimmed Tide by Anthony Quinn

The Reckoning by Rennie Airth

Winter Seige by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

Death of an Avid Reader and Death in the Dales by Frances Brody

The Devil and the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

The Mangle Street Murders and The Curse of the House of Foskett by M.R.C. Kasasian

The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin

The Investigation by Jung-Myung Lee

Although they were contemporary when written Agatha Christie novels decidedly fall into the genre.

The Double Clue and other short stories.

Murder on the Orient Express

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Sparkling Cyanide

There are a whole series of once contemporary crime classics from the British Library. Here are a few I’ve reviewed.

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon

Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Others that I came across on my shelves that I’ve not read or managed to review yet included Things In Jars by Jess Kidd (review is imminent), The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson, The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester, The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown, The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea, Death Descends on Saturn Villa by M.R.C. Kasasian, An Appetite for Murder by Linda Stratmann, The Devil’s Feast by M.J. Carter, Black Night Falling by Rod Reynolds, An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson, A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson, Mad Blood Stiring by Simon Mayo, Gallows Court by Martin Edwards and The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson.

Of course this list is not exhaustive. There are countless options should one of these fail to appeal. I hope you discover something to love amongst the list. And do let me know if you have any recommendations. As for the title that was picked. Well it was one of my suggestions, The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Wow! Thanks for this Janet. So many books, so little time… 🙂


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