History and Fiction

I’ve always loved historical fiction. I think what started me on the kick was Edward Eager’s Half-Magic, one of the first “real” books I read as a kid. In it, the characters referred frequently to Ivanhoe. A few years later, I stumbled on Sir Walter Scott’s classic in our junior high school library and couldn’t wait to read it for myself. I followed this up with some of Scott’s other novels, then The Three Musketeers and its sequels, and later on, stories about Tudor queens: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, and the hapless wives of King Henry VIII.

More recently, I’ve become enamored of historical mysteries. Colleagues at work introduced me to Sharan Newman‘s wonderful medieval series set in twelfth-century France, featuring Catherine LeVendeur, bookish daughter of a Parisian merchant. I discovered Barbara Hambly‘s A Free Man of Color and learned about the free black men and women who lived in New Orleans in the early nineteenth century, a fascinating culture I’d not known even existed. A new fave is Jeri Westerson‘s Crispin Guest series that takes place in Chaucer’s England, its hero a delightful mix of Philip Marlowe and Errol Flynn.

There’s room for all kinds here, all sorts of tones and moods, from romps through the desert with Elizabeth Peters‘ indomitable Amelia Peabody to the more somber hues of a trip through ancient Rome escorted by Steven Saylor‘s Gordianus the Finder.

I love these books because I love fiction that takes me to new places, to times that are so unlike our own. Yet the human element remains the same from age to age, and it’s endlessly intriguing to see how those who lived in other centuries had to deal with the universals that we all face: finding love, making a living, dealing with times of crisis.

What are your favorite historical novels? I’d love to add them to my list.


  1. May 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Nancy, two of my favorite historical fiction authors write for young adults: Ann Rinaldi and Kimberley Burton Heuston. They’re not traditional mysteries but their stories are certainly full of intrigue and intriguing people.

  2. May 4, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Hi Nancy,
    They don’t go back in time quite as far as some of the others mentioned but Stefanie Pintoff (In the Shadow of Gotham) and Lyndsay Faye(Gods of Gotham) write terrific books set in early New York City, and Cordelia Frances Biddle writes a series set in 19th century Philadelphia.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 4, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Thanks, Rosemary. I did read Stefanie Pintoff’s book, and really enjoyed it. The others are on the list. Fascinating to read about New York in those days and to see how much the city has changed.

  3. May 4, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Hi, Nancy! I started reading two historical mystery series lately — the Regency London mysteries by C.S. Harris, where the hero is aristocrat Sebastian St. Cyr, and Lindsey Davis’ series about Informer Marcus Didius Falco (a sort of private eye with a fabulous sense of humor) in Ancient Rome. Great series with wonderful heroes and tons of great historical detail.

    • May 4, 2012 at 8:48 am

      I love Deanna Raybourne, lots of gothic undertones and a splash of romance. Anne Perry writes a good series of hardboiled detective novels set in Victorian England. Sarah Waters is amazing, just finished Fingersmith and loved it to pieces. I would love to one day be grouped with these lists of authors. I write historical mysteries too.

      • Nancy Adams said,

        May 4, 2012 at 9:05 am

        Hi Tracy! Nice to meet another writer of historical mysteries. Where and when are yours set? Never heard of Deanna Raybourne, but oh, I LOVE Gothic! Can’t wait. I’ve read Anne Perry and Sarah Waters, both wonderful writers. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 4, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Thanks, Barbara. Those are two terrific series. I’ve read the first few in each and absolutely want to get back to them. Great characters!

  4. May 4, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I enjoyed the Valentin St. Cyr mysteries by David Fulmer, set in New Orleans.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 4, 2012 at 11:45 am

      New Orleans is such a cool city. I will definitely have to check this one out! Thanks, Patricia.

  5. Grace Topping said,

    May 4, 2012 at 11:54 am

    We can’t forget Ellis Peters for her wonderful series about Brother Cadfael. And, if you haven’t read Edward Marston, check out his series about an Elizabethan actors. He also has several other series worth reading. I had the real pleasure of meeting him at Malice. He was quite gracious to me a gushing fan.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      Oh, Brother Cadfael, absolutely. I love those books. Edward Marston sounds wonderful–Elizabethan actors, oh yes! Definitely going on the list. Thanks so much, Grace, for stopping by!

  6. Joe DeMarco said,

    May 4, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I’ve got lots of favorites and among them is Rosemary Sutcliff.

    Crimes on Latimer

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks, Joe, for stopping by. I don’t know Rosemary Sutcliff. What are her books about?

  7. suzanneadair said,

    May 6, 2012 at 6:51 am

    I’m a member of the Historical Fiction Authors Collective (http://historicalfictionauthors.net/), a co-op of nearly three dozen authors who write in the historical genres (crime fiction, romance, etc.). Among us are numerous award winners. The HFAC covers time periods from Ancient Greece and Rome to the 20th century. Lots of good historical reads there.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks, Suzanne, that sounds like a group I should definitely check out!

  8. Judy said,

    May 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I enjoy the historical mysteries by Margaret Frazer

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 7, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Yet another author who’s been on my TBR list for far too long. Thanks for the reminder! And thanks, Judy, for stopping by.

  9. CK said,

    May 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Half-Magic was one of my ALL TIME favorite books whilst growing up. And you’re right about Ivanhoe in there, though I didn’t realize it until you mentioned it.

    My favorite historical novel is Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (and it’s very detective-storyish, too, in the Atwoodian way, AND based on an actual murder case).

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 10, 2012 at 8:48 am

      So glad to meet another fan of Half-Magic, CK. I’ll have to check out Alias Grace. Where and when is it set?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • CK said,

        May 10, 2012 at 9:48 am

        It’s set in mid-19th century Canada.

      • Nancy Adams said,

        May 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm

        Makes sense, since Atwood is Canadian. Thanks!

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