The best medieval murders and mysteries in fiction

Who am I?

After enjoying Josephine Tey’s wonderful Daughter of Time, in which she exonerates Richard III from the crime of murdering the princes in the tower, followed by the Brother Cadfael mysteries, I became hooked on historical crimes and decided to try writing them myself! It was quite a challenge researching both the history and the settings from Australia, but the novels became a wonderful excuse for lengthy visits to travel around Great Britain and France. As well as writing the Janna Chronicles, my passion for history has also prompted several other published novels and series, including the Shalott trilogy.

I wrote...

Blood Oath: The Janna Chronicles 1

By Felicity Pulman,

Book cover of Blood Oath: The Janna Chronicles 1

What is my book about?

A young woman, alone and on the run in a medieval kingdom at war, goes in search of her unknown father, hoping to avenge her mother’s murder with his help. In this six-book series, Janna follows the clues as she flees from forest to farm, to abbey, Stonehenge, and, finally, to the royal court at Winchester.  Along her journey she solves many crimes and mysteries, including the secrets of her birth, and of her heart. Torn between love and duty, Janna is forced to take sides in the bitter fight for the crown between King Stephen and Empress Matilda: a decision that could keep her safe – but break her heart. 

The books I picked & why

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A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael Book 1)

By Ellis Peters,

Book cover of A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael Book 1)

Why this book?

I loved this series featuring Brother Cadfael, a herbalist and healer at Shrewsbury Abbey who solves crimes and mysteries at the time of the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda mid-12th century. Both his character and that period of history inspired my Janna Chronicles. Once a warrior and crusader, Brother Cadfael is more worldly than the other Brothers, so is at home solving crimes both within the abbey and in the ‘world outside’ along with his friend, Hugh Beringar, Deputy Sheriff of Shrewsbury. In this series, I learned a lot about the medieval treatment of disease, and also picked up clues on how to solve murders and mysteries without the benefit of modern technology! 

Fortune Like the Moon (Hawkenlye Mysteries)

By Alys Clare,

Book cover of Fortune Like the Moon (Hawkenlye Mysteries)

Why this book?

Because my character Janna seeks refuge in an abbey while on her quest to find her father, I found it interesting and instructive to read about Abbess Helewise and life at Hawkenlye Abbey in more detail. I also enjoyed trying to second-guess whodunit as the Abbess and her helpmate, lord of the manor, Josse d’Acquin, solve the many crimes that come their way. And I was intrigued by the supernatural elements introduced by Alys Clare, with the abbey being situated so close to the ancient forest in the Great Weald, and how the two worlds often intertwine. 

The Queen's Man: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries)

By Sharon Kay Penman,

Book cover of The Queen's Man: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries)

Why this book?

Bastard-born Justin de Quincy becomes ‘the Queen’s Man’ after carrying an important letter from a dying man to Eleanor of Aquitaine. He is charged by Eleanor to keep her son John out of mischief and thwart his efforts to become king while she sets about raising the ransom money to bail Richard the Lionheart out of his prison in Austria. As a roving trouble-shooter, Justin is supported by the under-sheriff of Hampshire and a sergeant, Jonas, but things become complicated after he falls for the Lady Claudine, who is close to John, while the Queen’s double agent, Durant, also poses a threat. I enjoyed reading about all the intrigues of the court as Justin solves crimes and murders. 

A Plague on Both Your Houses: The First Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

By Susanna Gregory,

Book cover of A Plague on Both Your Houses: The First Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Why this book?

Set in Cambridge in the 14th century, Matthew Bartholomew is a doctor trying to instill knowledge into his students while surviving the rigours of life in an under-funded college, and the censure of fellow physicians who still believe in astrological charts, and who dismiss Matthew’s new-fangled notions of cleanliness. Although keen to focus on his students and his studies, Matthew invariably becomes involved in the town vs gown troubles, along with murders and mysteries when his help is invoked by the Proctor, Brother Michael. Great reads about life in a university town along with medieval medical practice.

Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

By C.J. Sansom,

Book cover of Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

Why this book?

Set during and after the reign of Henry VIII, this series features the hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. First employed by Cromwell, he is sent to Scarnsea to solve the murder of a commissioner sent to ‘persuade’ the abbot to surrender the abbey during the dissolution of the monasteries. The seven novels in the series chart Shardlake’s shifting fortunes as his allegiance shifts from Cromwell to Henry and his last wife, Catherine Parr, and finally to the Lady Elizabeth and her advisor, the wily William Cecil. The crimes are carefully plotted, the characters keep you guessing, and the series presents a detailed and compelling view of these tumultuous times. An excellent read! 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle Ages, Edward III of England, and England?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle Ages, Edward III of England, and England.

The Middle Ages Explore 216 books about the Middle Ages
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Good Wife of Bath, Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy, and The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century if you like this list.