Historical – Genre Study

Historical Mysteries Genre Study

June 5, 2012

The Silver Pigs by Lindsay Davis is the first in a 20 book series.

One thought it was obvious and unlikable main character. Another thought it was slow at the beginning and had mixed feelings about the main character. Another problem was one reader’s lack of familiarity of Ancient Rome that made the book harder to get into and enjoy. The history seemed right. One reader really enjoyed the witty humor. Later books reveal more about the family and this develops in the series. Would appeal to those from big families, great cast of supporting characters. The romance appealed to several readers. Noir voice in historical setting was appealing to some. Integrated historical details ran smoothly into the storyline.

Appeal: noir, cozy, historic setting, satisfactory pacing, sense of time and place, witty/ snarky dialog and banter, good descriptions, likable characters, humor

Which readers? Cozy readers, men, readers of Terry Pratchett, Dashiel Hammett, Phillip Marlowe

Summaries of second books:

Janet – Maisie Dobbs, post WWI, many damaged veterans, dark setting and tone, no romance, no humor, main character psychologist, unbelievable psychic abilities. Satisfying sense of place and time.
Appeals: dark, historical, psychological

Ben – Dragon School prequel in series, takes place in medieval Japan, several murders, hard to get into, uses modern feeling language and not a strong sense of place not because it was inaccurate but storyline did not depend on any cultural aspects of time period. Mysogeny/ unfair treatment of women that may have been historically accurate.  Strong anti-Buddhist/anti-religious tone. Fairly simple language
Appeals: violent, simple and direct

Steven – Nevermore, Edgar Allen Poe is the protagonist and side-kick is Davy Crockett, Based on criticism of Poe on Crockett’s memoir. Brash characterization is hilarious, great Tim Burton movie, Poe is trembling throughout and Crockett is portrayed as simple. Gratuitous violence, tougue and cheek, Poe thought murderer was a spirit personification of himself
Appeals: Funny, violent, tongue and cheek

Faith – World’s Greatest Sleuth, 5th in series, Holmes on the range, Parody of several things, brothers who want to be cowboys, great use of language, World’s Fair? in Chicago, murder victim found in a huge vat of cheese
Appeals: Parody, ridiculous, Americana

Julie – Spice Box, some criticism is too cozy, end of civil war New York, 20 year old Irish orphan, good setting description and take on class dynamics, description of imperfect family, quick read, good historical details, includes recipes
Appeals: Historical, fast paced cozy, culinary

Frank – Dorothy Gilman, Polifax book – boring. Ellis Peters Cadfael interesting, monk who solves crimes in medieval England, Sherlockholmsian – solved by reason. Clever, clean, religious tension, herbalist, fun to try to solve mystery before Cadfael, gives reader a chance of finding out, great main character

Paula – Janicary Tree, end of Ottoman empire, murder takes place early in story and then several more, thin on the back story, takes place 10 years during the execution of Janicaries. Interesting to learn more about the time period and history, good main and secondary characterizations
Appeals: Historical, dark

Jason – Artic Marauder, graphic novel, 1889 in France and out to sea, setting is not important, steampunk elements, weak and improbable storyline
Appeals (or not): Well illustrated, unbelievable, mediocre

Molly – Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry, first of large series, author convicted of murder in the 1950s (Heavenly Hijinks movies based on this case), popular author, London 1881, told from the perspective of a middle sister, strong and start female character, social and class issues, family intrigue, period details, Dickens side of London, strong main and secondary characters, bleak, atmospheric, rich period details
Appeals: Victorian, well-done characters, social conditions

Historical Mysteries

Greatly depends on reader’s interest and author’s done a satisfactory/ accurate job of period detail, sub-genre with series based on historical figure as the main character  (Jane Austen, Einstein, Roosevelt…) , another takes a fictional character (Holmes) and puts them in a different setting. Many in series. Not many police procedurals, many private or amateur detectives. Might be for readers who want to explore a time period without taking on a non-fiction. Can also cross over into biographies and histories.

Reader’s Profile

Molly will hand out an anonymous reading profile from another member of the genre study. She handed out a sample profile for us to ponder and a Sarick’s article about the art of writing annotations (should make the book sound interesting and not give too much plot detail or the ending.) Molly recommended we use Novelist Plus as a starting place in writing the reader response.


Next time is private detectives and you have a choice of two titles from Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole’s series. The first being Monkey’s Raincoat or Sunset Express. Then choose a second private investigator (actually get paid to do this work.)


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