The best books for writers of Victorian mysteries

Who am I?

I write historical mysteries, and developed an interest in early forensics when I was a police officer. I have worked in private industry, as a civilian police worker, and in a department connected to the Home Office. Historical mysteries particularly appeal to me as they present a different, and very specific, challenge. There’s no lab to process evidence, and everything needs to be double-checked for anachronisms, even down to the colour of light from gas lamps in different areas. Extensive research acted as the foundation for developing the characters in The Innocents Mystery Series. I like my mysteries twisty, complex, and intricate; through a fog of history and a touch of light humour.  

I wrote...

Innocent Bystander

By C. A. Asbrey,

Book cover of Innocent Bystander

What is my book about?

Pinkerton Agent Abigail MacKay’s spoiled sister, Madeleine, has eloped with a widower whose wives mysteriously die—leaving behind a great deal of money each time. No doctor has been able to establish a cause of death for any of the women, but Abigail is sure they were murdered—and that her younger sister is going to be next. The only person who can help is the charismatic criminal, Nat Quinn—and Abi left him cooling his heels in jail at their last meeting.

Two competing reporters get involved, and cause chaos, along with an old nemesis of Nat’s coming into the mix. One thing is certain: David Bartholemew is a murderer. But how is he doing it?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

Why did I love this book?

For any fans of vintage murder mysteries this book is a must-read. This is a thorough examination of the poisons used by Agatha Christie, giving details of the availability, interactions with the human body, how toxins can be detected now, and at the time the books were written. As a reader or a writer, this book will make murder by poison less of a mystery, and more of a trail of clues.     

By Kathryn Harkup,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A is for Arsenic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the BMA Book Awards and Macavity Awards 2016 Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's all made-up ... Agatha Christie revelled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random - the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not…

Book cover of 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics

Why did I love this book?

This is a biography of one of the unsung heroines of forensic science, and a lady who should never have ventured into the world of work at all. A socialite born in 1870 is an unlikely feminist hero, but she not only made the investigation of violent crimes her life’s work, she revolutionised the methodologies. Once you’ve read this book you’ll never look at a doll’s house the same way again.     

By Bruce Goldfarb,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 18 Tiny Deaths as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A captivating blend of history, women in science, and true crime, 18 Tiny Deaths tells the story of how one woman changed the face of forensics forever.

Frances Glessner Lee, born a socialite to a wealthy and influential Chicago family in the 1870s, was never meant to have a career, let alone one steeped in death and depravity.

Yet she developed a fascination with the investigation of violent crimes, and made it her life's work. Best known for creating the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of dollhouses that appear charming―until you notice the macabre little details: an overturned…

Book cover of Criminal Investigation: A Practical Handbook for Magistrates, Police Officers and Lawyers

Why did I love this book?

Europe was at the forefront of the revolution in forensic science in the 19th century. Way ahead of the UK, and decades ahead of the USA. While most of the pioneers were doctors, Gross was a lawyer. He made the language of the law more accessible. Written over a hundred-and-fifty years ago as a textbook, the style will appeal more to the academic reader and researcher of historical forensics. The Kindle version hasn’t been transcribed well, but is a fascinating window on the past nevertheless. 

By Hans Gross,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Criminal Investigation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Excerpt from Criminal Investigation

This Indian and Colonial edition, while omitting some portions of the original which would be of no use to the practical worker, for example, the slang words of Bohemian gipsies, thus contains much new and interesting matter, the better to adapt the book for India and the Colonies, and also to bring the last German edition of 1904 thoroughly up to date. These new passages, derived from the writings of specialists, the latest criminal intelligence, and the somewhat extensive experience of the adap tors as criminal lawyers, are interwoven with the text.

Book cover of Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death

Why did I love this book?

Anyone who has been involved in the investigation of crime will tell you that establishing the time of the offence is vital. It’s always been surprisingly hard in the case of murder. This well-written book takes the reader through the advances and pitfalls in estimating the time of death accurately. It’s a superb work, full of scientific detail, and fascinating details which make this book a must for every crime writer.     

By Jessica Snyder Sachs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Corpse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When detectives come upon a murder victim, there's one thing they want to know above all else: When did the victim die? The answer can narrow a group of suspects, make or break an alibi, even assign a name to an unidentified body. But outside the fictional world of murder mysteries, time-of-death determinations have remained infamously elusive, bedeviling criminal investigators throughout history. Armed with an array of high-tech devices and tests, the world's best forensic pathologists are doing their best to shift the balance, but as Jessica Snyder Sachs demonstrates so eloquently in Corpse, this is a case in which…

When Science Sheds Light on History: Forensic Science and Anthropology

By Philippe Charlier, David Alliot, Isabelle Ruben (translator)

Book cover of When Science Sheds Light on History: Forensic Science and Anthropology

Why did I love this book?

This is exactly the kind of book I find fascinating, with real-life historical mysteries being explored and researched using cutting-edge scientific methodologies. It covers so many aspects of forensics, from facial reconstruction to DNA. If you are the kind of person who loves seeing famous people from history analysed for poisons, seeing mummies facing the same medical problems as we do, and wonder if a skull found in an attic belongs to a king, then this is the book for you.    

By Philippe Charlier, David Alliot, Isabelle Ruben (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Science Sheds Light on History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Did Richard the Lionheart really die from just a crossbow wound, or was there foul play? Who are the two infant children buried in Tutankhamen's tomb? Could a skull found in a tax collector's attic be the long-lost head of Henri IV? In When Science Sheds Light on History, Philippe Charlier, the "Indiana Jones of the graveyards," travels the globe with his forensics team to unravel these and other historic mysteries. To get answers, Charlier looks for clues in medical records, death masks, fingerprints, and bloodstains. He even enlists the help of perfume experts to smell and identify embalming materials.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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