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: A Daiyu Wu Mystery

By Gloria Oliver,

Book cover of Black Jade: A Daiyu Wu Mystery

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?

The books I picked & why

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A Free Man of Color

By Barbara Hambly,

Book cover of A Free Man of Color

Why 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.

Hotel Transylvania

By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,

Book cover of Hotel Transylvania

Why 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. 

The Ninth Daughter

By Barbara Hamilton,

Book cover of The Ninth Daughter

Why 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.

The First Man in Rome

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of The First Man in Rome

Why 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. 

Good Night, Mr. Holmes

By Carole Nelson Douglas,

Book cover of Good Night, Mr. Holmes

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in private investigators, murders, and ancient Rome?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about private investigators, murders, and ancient Rome.

Private Investigators Explore 96 books about private investigators
Murders Explore 292 books about murders
Ancient Rome Explore 106 books about ancient Rome

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Dancers in Mourning, The Ides of April, and A Gentleman's Murder if you like this list.