The best books for that dark and stormy Victorian vibe

Who am I?

I confess to a life-long interest in both the Victorian era and in crime, and I blame my dad for both. Dad was a Cleveland Police detective who introduced me to the Holmes stories at an early age. We read Doyle and we both enjoyed Basil Rathbone’s take on Sherlock in the old black-and-white movies. Dad also gave me my first chance to practice my detecting skills when on his days off, he’d load me into the car, buy me an ice cream cone (no doubt to keep me quiet), and take me for a cruise around the city looking for stolen cars.  

I wrote...

Of Manners and Murder: A Dear Miss Hermione Mystery

By Anastasia Hastings,

Book cover of Of Manners and Murder: A Dear Miss Hermione Mystery

What is my book about?

London, 1885: When Violet’s Aunt Adelia absconds with her newest paramour, she leaves her role as the popular Agony Aunt, Miss Hermione, in Violet’s capable hands. But instead of the prissy pondering she expects, Violet finds the first letter she receives is full of portent. Ivy Armstrong fears for her life! When Violet visits the village where the letter was posted, she learns Ivy is already dead.

Violet quickly discovers that when you represent the best-loved Agony Aunt in the Empire, manners—and murder—are all in a day’s work.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crocodile on the Sandbank

Anastasia Hastings Why did I love this book?

I clearly remember the first time I opened a copy of this book. I was riding an exercise bike and looking for a distraction. Boy, did I find it! 

This is the book that proved to me that mysteries can be funny as well as intelligent. The heroine, Amelia Peabody, is a wonder, an ahead-of-her-times Victorian woman who is both plucky and smart. The man who will become her husband is irascible, irreverent, annoying—and completely adorable! 

You don’t have to love ancient history to join these two intrepid archaeologists in Egypt. Come for the mystery. Stay for the history, the atmospheric setting, and a cast of well-drawn, memorable characters.  Know that once you start, you will be hooked.

There are 20 books in the Amelia Peabody series.

By Elizabeth Peters,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Crocodile on the Sandbank as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amelia Peabody is Elizabeth Peters' most brilliant and best-loved creation, a thoroughly Victorian feminist who takes the stuffy world of archaeology by storm with her shocking men's pants and no-nonsense attitude!

In this first adventure, our headstrong heroine decides to use her substantial inheritance to see the world. On her travels, she rescues a gentlewoman in distress - Evelyn Barton-Forbes - and the two become friends. The two companions continue to Egypt where they face mysteries, mummies and the redoubtable Radcliffe Emerson, an outspoken archaeologist, who doesn't need women to help him solve mysteries -- at least that's what he…

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Anastasia Hastings Why did I love this book?

I know what you’re thinking. As soon as I say The Five is nonfiction about the victims of Jack the Ripper, you’re going to cringe. 

Not to worry, this incredible book is a recounting not of the murders, but of the lives of Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane, victims of history’s most notorious serial killer.

Rubenhold’s extensive and impressive research introduces us to each woman, and the finely crafted prose helps us understand what their lives—and the lives of so many women in Victorian times—were like. 

When you read the book (and you’ll thank me for it) don’t miss the afterword that details what each woman had in her pockets when her body was found. The lists are telling as well as moving. 

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth. Powerful and shaming' GUARDIAN

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but…

Book cover of The Cater Street Hangman

Anastasia Hastings Why did I love this book?

I will admit it’s been a while since I read this, the first Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery.

The fact that I still remember it and include it on this list says something. The mystery is convoluted enough to keep readers interested and the story of the lead characters going against societal norms (young woman from a good family attracted to a “lowly” police inspector) is intriguing. 

Throw in the foggy atmosphere of Victorian London and you’ve got a real winner. Be aware, though, Hangman is the first of 32 Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels.

By Anne Perry,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Cater Street Hangman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the debut of the New York Times–bestselling Victorian crime series, Inspector Thomas Pitt seeks an elusive strangler among upper-class British society.

Panic and fear strike the Ellison household when one of their own falls prey to the Cater Street murderer. While Mrs. Ellison and her three daughters are out, their maid becomes the third victim of a killer who strangles young women with cheese wire, leaving their swollen-faced bodies on the dark streets of this genteel neighborhood. Inspector Pitt, assigned to the case, must break through the walls of upper-class society to get at the truth. His in-depth investigation…

Book cover of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Anastasia Hastings Why did I love this book?

Another nonfiction book and the only one on my list not set in England, Devil in the White City takes readers to Gilded Age Chicago and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. 

Great storytelling and incredible research introduce readers to the gleaming white exposition city and its ultimate juxtaposition, the World’s Fair Hotel just west of the fairgrounds. The hotel was built by Henry H. Holmes, a young and handsome doctor, who was also a sadistic killer. 

Holmes lured women to the hotel, a place complete with a dissection table, a gas chamber, and a crematorium. The horrors of the murder are made all the more real—and creepy—against the background of city leaders, determined architects, and joyous fairgoers. 

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked The Devil in the White City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Chicago World Fair was the greatest fair in American history. This is the story of the men and women whose lives it irrevocably changed and of two men in particular- an architect and a serial killer. The architect is Daniel Burnham, a man of great integrity and depth. It was his vision of the fair that attracted the best minds and talents of the day. The killer is Henry H. Holmes. Intelligent as well as handsome and charming, Holmes opened a boarding house which he advertised as 'The World's Fair Hotel' Here in the neighbourhood where he was once…

Book cover of The Hound of the Baskervilles

Anastasia Hastings Why did I love this book?

No list of Victorian mysteries would be complete without a tip of the deerstalker to Doyle and the most famous character in fiction, consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. 

The Hound, a novel rather than a short story as are so many of the other Holmes stories, is especially atmospheric, drawing on the legends and the dark and brooding ambiance of Dartmoor as well as tales of the supernatural. It makes for some spine-tingling moments and a chance for Holmes to show off his finely honed powers of deduction. 

What, you don’t have time to read it? As fun as it is, skip the Benedict Cumberbatch version of this one and watch the PBS production starring Jeremy Brett.

Once night falls, the Victorian vibes will have you listening a little closer for the braying of an enormous hound.

By Arthur Conan Doyle,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Hound of the Baskervilles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead, his face distorted with shock and horror, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are faced with a sinister and difficult puzzle. A fearsome creature stalks the wild and barren hills of Dartmoor. Is it a demon from the spirit world? Will it defeat their skill and courage? Who is the tall, mysterious figure seen lurking on the moor at night? Can Holmes save Sir Henry, the new owner of Baskerville Hall, from the ancient family curse? Or will the terrifying hound claim yet another victim?

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The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Model Spy is based on the true story of Toto Koopman, who spied for the Allies and Italian Resistance during World War II.

Largely unknown today, Toto was arguably the first woman to spy for the British Intelligence Service. Operating in the hotbed of Mussolini's Italy, she courted danger every step of the way. As the war entered its final stages, she faced off against the most brutal of forces—Germany's Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

Celebrated model Toto Koopman had beauty, brains, and fame. Born to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, she took up the life of a bon vivant in 1920s Paris and modeled for Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel. But modeling didn’t satisfy her. Fluent in six languages, she was adventurous and fascinated by world politics.

In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…

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