The best historical mystery novels that will both enlighten and ensnare your imagination

Who am I?

From movies and shows I watched as a child, I've always had a fascination for all things oriental. When I did the research for my first published novel, In the Service of Samurai—a YA fantasy based in feudal Japan, I also fell in love with history. Mysteries have also always been a draw for me, so combining these two loves and the story fodder research brings up, which might not have otherwise presented itself, is like magic. Magic that other authors and I bring to you to enlighten, entertain, and forge connections with the past and present—a pleasure I wish to share with you.  


I wrote...

Black Jade

By Gloria Oliver,

Book cover of Black Jade

What is my book about?

Could an old-fashioned ballgown be used to commit murder?

Daiyu Wu believes there's been a murder by arsenic poisoning. But being blind, Chinese, and living in Dallas in 1930 carries many impediments. Add in the fact the police aren't aware of any foul play, and her job becomes doubly hard. With the help of her confidant Jacques, Dai sets out to find who has been murdered. And, if possible, who committed the foul deed. But there are many obstacles in her path—a spoiled popinjay, his jealous self-appointed girlfriend, and Dai's overprotective parents. Can she and Jacques avoid all the hurdles and get to the truth before it's too late?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Free Man of Color

Gloria Oliver Why did I love this book?

A Free Man of Color is the first book in the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly. I was already a fan of Hambly's fabulous fantasy books, so following her as she ventured off into more historically slanted books was an easy leap for me. 

The world of Benjamin January is set during a fascinating and chaotic time in the United States. New Orleans in the 1800s was a clash of cultures and creeds. The French and the Creole philosophies they'd imprinted on the city collide with the new ways of the growing American populace. Throw in the convoluted social structure for slaves and free people of color, and you've got a city in constant turmoil. Add in murder, and the stakes rise even higher.

By Barbara Hambly,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Free Man of Color as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This lush and haunting novel tells of a city steeped in decadent pleasures and of a man, proud and defiant, caught in a web of murder and betrayal.

It is 1833. In the midst of Mardi Gras, Benjamin January, a Creole physician and music teacher, is playing piano at the Salle d'Orléans when the evening's festivities are interrupted--by murder.

The ravishing Angelique Crozat, a notorious octoroon who travels in the city's finest company, has been strangled to death. With the authorities reluctant to become involved, Ben begins his own inquiry, which will take him through the seamy haunts of riverboatmen…


Book cover of Hotel Transylvania

Gloria Oliver Why did I love this book?

Hotel Transylvania is the first book of the Count Saint Germain series by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. A friend had recommended the series to me many years ago.

Count Saint Germain was a fascinating character from the 1700s. Yarbro added a touch of the supernatural to his story by making him a vampire. Yet Germain is not a typical vampire, living under different constraints than in Bram Stoker's famous tale. St. Germain is an alchemist, scientist, and lover, though not in the conventional sense. 

A unique take in Yarbro's novels is the inclusion of correspondence, transcribed in the same styles as missives would have been written at the time. This adds a lovely layer of flavor to each novel as they jump from country to country and different eras. 

By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic tale that introduced the legendary Le Comte de Saint-Germain, first published in 1978 and spawning 14 titles in the Saint-Germain epic, is now available in paperback. A fixture in 1740s Parisian society, Saint-Germain is a perfect gentleman--and a vampire. When the fiery young Madeline falls in love with him, a group of evil sorcerers targets her for their black mass--and only Saint-Germain can save her soul.


Book cover of The Ninth Daughter

Gloria Oliver Why did I love this book?

The Ninth Daughter is the first of the Abigail Adams Mysteries by Barbara Hamilton. Yes, that Abigail Adams—wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States. But this series is set before all that, at the cusp of the American Revolution. 

Struggling to be a supporting wife and mother, Abigail runs into trouble when her keen and curious mind finds clues to a serial killer hunting for victims in Boston's streets. 

As discontent continues to rise in the Colonies over England's strangling hold, there is more than one type of danger to contend with. The novel is a fun look at an amazing woman and the chaotic times and views leading the colonies to declare their independence.

By Barbara Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the Massachusetts Colony, political upheaval turns murderous?a new series featuring First Lady Abigail Adams.

1773: The Massachusetts colony is torn between patriots who want independence from British rule and loyalists who support the King. At the center is the educated and beautiful Abigail Adams?wife of John Adams, the leader of the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization opposing the Crown.

When a murder occurs in the home of their friend and fellow patriot, Rebecca Malvern, John is accused of the gruesome crime, which was seemingly perpetrated to obtain a secret Sons of Liberty document. With both her husband?s good…


Book cover of The First Man in Rome

Gloria Oliver Why did I love this book?

Though not strictly a historical mystery, The First Man in Rome, the first of the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough, still belongs on this list.  

Most people have heard of Julius Caesar, but what of those that came before him, shaping Rome by conquest, politics, marriage contracts, and other more nefarious means? Meet the ambitious Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. 

Rich in details and history, McCullough shapes a fascinating story incorporating the elements of Roman society, their gods, and the problems of the fast-growing empire. 

By Colleen McCullough,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The First Man in Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With extraordinary narrative power, New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough sweeps the reader into a whirlpool of pageantry and passion, bringing to vivid life the most glorious epoch in human history.

When the world cowered before the legions of Rome, two extraordinary men dreamed of personal glory: the military genius and wealthy rural "upstart" Marius, and Sulla, penniless and debauched but of aristocratic birth. Men of exceptional vision, courage, cunning, and ruthless ambition, separately they faced the insurmountable opposition of powerful, vindictive foes. Yet allied they could answer the treachery of rivals, lovers, enemy generals, and senatorial vipers with…


Book cover of Good Night, Mr. Holmes

Gloria Oliver Why did I love this book?

Last but not least is Good Night, Mr. Holmes, the first of the Irene Adler series by Carole Nelson Douglas. Irene Adler is 'the woman'—the only person to have ever outwitted Sherlock Holmes. Douglas takes the character first mentioned in Scandal in Bohemia and gives her a life and investigations of her own.

The tales are told from the perspective of Nell, a sheltered, orphaned pastor's daughter, who Irene takes under her wing. Solving crimes and uncovering plots, they run into Sherlock and Watson time and again as well as real historical personages like Bram Stoker.  

The books are delightful, full of suspense and country-crossing mysteries. Her treatment of Sherlock and Watson is also superb. The narrator, Nell, holds a special place in my heart.

By Carole Nelson Douglas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Good Night, Mr. Holmes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the American Mystery Award for Best Novel of Romantic Suspense, and the Romantic Times Award for Best Historical Mystery

Miss Irene Adler, the beautiful American opera singer who once outwitted Sherlock Holmes, is also a superb detective, as Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker can attest. Even Holmes himself must admit--albeit grudgingly--that she acquits herself competently.

But in matters of the heart she encounters difficulty. The Crown Prince of Bohemia--tall, blonde, and handsome--proves to be a cad. Will dashing barrister Godfrey Norton be able to convince Irene that not all handsome men are cut from the same broadcloth?


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The Fornax Assassin

By J.C. Gemmell,

Book cover of The Fornax Assassin

J.C. Gemmell Author Of The Fornax Assassin

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Inclusive What-if worrier Eco-warrior Mountain trekker Ten-mile runner

J.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In 2038 a devastating pandemic sweeps across the world. Two decades later, Britain remains the epicenter for the Fornax variant, annexed by a terrified global community.

David Malik is as careful as any man to avoid contact with the virus. But when his sister tests positive as an asymptomatic carrier, she must relocate to Fornax Island to join the isolated population of contagious untreatables. Fortunately, the British prime minister’s latest manifesto includes reintegrating the islanders with the nation. Yet, he does not survive a visit to Fornax Island to unveil his new policies.

The military suspects one of its junior officers is responsible for his death. Malik seizes his chance to represent the possible assassin, allowing him to protect his sister. Yet within days of taking on the case, he finds himself accused of masterminding the assassination. 

The Fornax Assassin

By J.C. Gemmell,

What is this book about?

2038: a devastating pandemic sweeps across the world. Two decades later, Britain remains the epicentre for the fornax variant, annexed by a terrified global community.

David Malik is as careful as any man to avoid contact with the virus. But when his sister tests positive as an asymptomatic carrier, she must relocate to Fornax Island to join the isolated population of contagious-untreatables.

Fortunately, the British prime minister’s latest manifesto includes reintegrating the islanders with the nation. Yet, he does not survive a visit to Fornax Island to unveil his new policies.

The military suspects one of its junior officers is…


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