The best books about lady sleuths and spies that will transport you back in time

Who am I?

So look, I’m going to admit something: I’ve been casting myself as the heroine in historical adventures and mysteries since the age of six. I’ve been Sherlock Holmes’s daughter, Elizabeth Bennett’s slightly disreputable sleuthing cousin, the lone lady Pinkerton hunting down Butch and Sundance. These youthful fantasies combined three things I adored: puzzles, adventure, and geeking out on history. When I got a little older, I left off imagining myself in the starring role in favour of something even more immersive: becoming someone else entirely. Whether I’m writing them or reading them, books like the ones on this list transport me, and I hope they’ll transport you, too.


I wrote...

Murder on Millionaires' Row: A Mystery

By Erin Lindsey,

Book cover of Murder on Millionaires' Row: A Mystery

What is my book about?

Rose Gallagher might dream of bigger things, but she’s content enough with her life as a housemaid. After all, it’s not every girl from Five Points who gets to spend her days in a posh Fifth Avenue brownstone, even if only to sweep its floors. But all that changes on the day her boss, Mr. Thomas Wiltshire, disappears. 

The investigation takes her from the marble palaces of Fifth Avenue to the sordid streets of Five Points. When a ghostly apparition accosts her on the street, Rose begins to realize the world around her isn’t at all as it seems – and her place in it is about to change forever.

The books I picked & why

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And Only to Deceive

By Tasha Alexander,

Book cover of And Only to Deceive

Why this book?

I had the great pleasure of meeting Tasha at a writers’ conference some years ago, and we hit it off immediately. Not only was she warm and generous, she has a subtle wit that had me giggling in all sorts of inappropriate situations. Combine that with our mutual love of travel to the great cities of the world, and I knew that I would love her Lady Emily mysteries. To journey with Lady Emily is to vicariously visit 19th century Constantinople and Paris, St. Petersburg, and London—all in the company of a smart, sophisticated lady with a delightfully wry sense of humour.


Girl in Disguise

By Greer Macallister,

Book cover of Girl in Disguise

Why this book?

I have a thing for Pinkertons. They’re so often portrayed as villains, but this one is a hero: Kate Warne, the (real-life) first female Pinkerton detective. Kate’s story is fascinating and tense, full of surprising twists—some real and some fictional. At times Girl in Disguise reads more like a spy novel than a detective story, especially when it comes to a certain real-life assassination attempt I’d never heard about, and which literally dropped my jaw. Readers interested in fascinating women largely forgotten by history will devour this one.


The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn,

Book cover of The Alice Network

Why this book?

Like many of my favourite historical novels, this one combines real historical figures with fictional ones, and tells the story of female spies in World War I. Eve Gardiner is the sort of character who will stick with you forever: fierce and vulnerable, flawed and very, very real. Where so many female characters triumph through exceptional wit and beauty, Eve’s triumphs—and her failures—come about through grit and indomitable willpower. Tense, dark, and profoundly transporting, The Alice Network drops you into occupied France with nothing but your wits and the support of a sisterhood of amazing women determined to serve their countries, even at the cost of their lives.


A Killer in King's Cove

By Iona Whishaw,

Book cover of A Killer in King's Cove

Why this book?

Sometimes, I want to be transported to faraway, exotic places. But it can be equally delicious to experience a place you know well—in a time you don’t. It’s what attracted me to writing about 19th century New York, and what I love about Iona Whishaw’s Lane Winslow mysteries. They take place in the interior of British Columbia, Canada, a place I’ve spent plenty of time in. But sleuthing with ex-spy Lane Winslow in 1946 brings a fresh, fun perspective that is at once familiar and totally new. This book is perfect for curling up lakeside in an Adirondack chair, hot cup of tea in hand.


A Curious Beginning

By Deanna Raybourn,

Book cover of A Curious Beginning

Why this book?

“Being a lady is a crashing bore, or hadn’t you noticed?” So observes Veronica Speedwell: lepidopterist, spinster and – much to her chagrin – a lady. But Veronica isn’t going to be bound by that, and she’s as happy chasing murderers as she is butterflies and men. This book is as much about her smoldering relationship with the enigmatic Stoker as it is a whodunnit, which is part of what attracted me to it. I’m a sucker for sexual tension, and this book has it in spades—along with the sort of dry one-liners that will have you snickering into your tea.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Illinois, murders, and France?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Illinois, murders, and France.

Illinois Explore 63 books about Illinois
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France Explore 587 books about France

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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