The best historical mysteries that make you wish you had a time machine

Who am I?

I’ve been a lover of historical mysteries ever since I realized it’s possible to read mystery fiction and learn history at the same time. Every time I pick up a mystery set in the past, whether it’s the ancient past, the more recent past, or somewhere in between, I know I’m going to be intrigued and challenged by a great story and come away with a greater understanding of the people, culture, customs, and events of that time period. It’s a win-win. I write historical mysteries because I want to share with readers what I’ve learned about a particular time or place in a way that’s compelling and engaging. 

I wrote...

Cape Menace: A Cape May Historical Mystery

By Amy M. Reade,

Book cover of Cape Menace: A Cape May Historical Mystery

What is my book about?

In 1712, Ruth Hanover vanished into the wilderness, leaving behind her husband, William, and their daughter, Sarah. Though William and Sarah have never stopped hoping Ruth will return, their hopes are dimming.

Now, two years later, William is acting strangely. He won’t tell Sarah why he’s conducting business with a mysterious stranger in the night, he won’t explain the sudden increase in his income, and he won’t tell Sarah what people in town are saying about her mother’s disappearance. When the time comes for Sarah to face her father’s secrets and figure out why her mother never came home that December day, what she learns will shock her tiny community on the New Jersey cape and leave her fighting for her life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Summoning the Winds: The Lanthorne Ordinary Witches

Why this book?

I tell anyone who will listen that I am not a fan of anything paranormal, but this series has me hooked. I think Summoning the Winds is the first book I ever read about witches (Hamlet doesn't count), and I loved it. In a nutshell, the series takes the notion of witch trials and turns it on its head with tales of real witches in colonial Connecticut of the 1660s (where, in my time machine, I would view the events in this story from a safe distance).  

Yarrow Pickering, the main character and an eighteen-year-old orphan, is spunky and smart. She’s also a witch. She uses her abilities for good and, like her mother, is skilled at creating herbal remedies for illnesses and injuries suffered by the people in the village of Milthorpe. When she attempts to help a young girl who has become ill, the girl’s father becomes vexed and responds to Yarrow’s ministering by making accusations against Yarrow and others in the village, including an old woman who has refused to sell him a plot of land he desires.  

The early American witch trials are beginning, and Yarrow is up against formidable foes when she tries to respond to the rumors that are swirling around Milthorpe. But she has a quick wit and a keen understanding of human nature, and both serve her well when danger threatens her and her sister, Tansy. The story delves into the murky world of spells and hexes, and the author describes sorcery in a way that makes it both believable and understandable.  

The research, the pacing, the writing, the twists and turns—all of it is masterful. I firmly believe this book has not gotten enough attention, and I’ve made it my personal mission to tell more people about it.   

Summoning the Winds: The Lanthorne Ordinary Witches

By Cynthia Raleigh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Witches have been hunted, tried, and executed for centuries. The Colonies are not immune to the fear of sorcery. In the Spring of 1660, the small Connecticut village of Milthorpe abruptly finds itself in the throes of a witch scare. Yarrow Pickering, the village herbal woman and proprietor of the Lanthorne Ordinary struggles to prove an accused woman is innocent but becomes ensnared in the witch hunt. Yarrow can't be sure if her relationship with the Magistrate’s son will harm or help her against her most strident opponents. The trials are beginning...but this time, what will happen when one of…

The Innocents

By Christine Anne Asbrey,

Book cover of The Innocents

Why this book?

This first-in-series book takes place in 1868 in the American West, a place I would visit in my time machine (I wouldn’t stay because I’m not a fan of dust and dirt and there was plenty of that in the early American West, but that’s on me).  

Abigail (Abi) MacKay is a Pinkerton detective who has to do her job twice as well as any man to prove she deserves the position. Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy are leaders of the payroll train-robbing gang known as The Innocents. Nat and Jake are supposed to be the sworn enemies of the Pinkertons, but as luck would have it, Abi and the two men are forced to team up after the men save her life and she promises to help them find the person who murdered a friend of theirs.  

But once their collaboration is over, what’s going to happen? Abi is falling for Nat—is the feeling mutual, or is Nat just trying to learn more about Pinkerton methods? Is she going to be able to do her job and turn Nat and Jake over to the authorities? 

I couldn't put this book down. It had everything I love in a story: mystery, suspense, romantic tension, a quick pace, and well-drawn characters. Abi’s charming rogue of a quarry is confounding, intelligent, caring, and annoying.

The Innocents

By Christine Anne Asbrey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Pinkerton Detective Abigail MacKay is a master of disguises—and of new crime-solving technology! But she’ll have to move fast to stay a step ahead of Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy.

Nat and Jake are the ringleaders of The Innocents, a western gang that specializes in holding up trains carrying payrolls—and Nat is pretty savvy when it comes to using the new sciences of 1868 in committing his crimes.

Charismatic Nat and handsome Jake are on the run, and they’ve always gotten away before—before Abi. But when Abi is caught by another band of outlaws during the chase, there’s no other…

Murder on Black Swan Lane

By Andrea Penrose,

Book cover of Murder on Black Swan Lane

Why this book?

This first-in-series book is set in Regency London, a place I would love to see via time machine (but only to visit—not to live there—because I like my creature comforts way too much).  

The two main characters, Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford, are from different sides of the tracks, so to speak, but there is some evidence that Charlotte may have experienced affluence at one time. Charlotte and Wrexford team up to solve a murder for which Wrexford stands accused. Their witty dialogue, disparate strengths, and willingness to overlook the other’s shortcomings make this a great read. 

And the cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? 

Murder on Black Swan Lane

By Andrea Penrose,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Murder on Black Swan Lane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Regency London, an unconventional scientist and a fearless female artist form an unlikely alliance to expose a cold-hearted killer . . .
The Earl of Wrexford possesses a brilliant scientific mind, but boredom and pride lead him to reckless behavior. So when pompous, pious Reverend Josiah Holworthy publicly condemns him for debauchery, Wrexford unsheathes his rapier-sharp wit and strikes back. As their war of words escalates, London’s most popular satirical cartoonist, A.J. Quill, skewers them both. But then the clergyman is found slain in a church—his face burned by chemicals, his throat slashed ear to ear—and Wrexford finds himself…

Book cover of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate: A Mystery

Why this book?

I picked up this book because I loved the cover (who says we don’t choose books by their covers?) and shortly thereafter found myself completely immersed in a 17th-century English Restoration mystery. I would visit that era in my time machine provided it’s fully stocked with soap and hand sanitizer (this time period being the one during which the Great Plague took place). 

Main character Lucy Campion is a chambermaid in the home of a London magistrate. Her days are filled with the drudgery of servant duties—that is, until a murder claims the life of a servant in the household and someone Lucy holds dear is accused of the crime. Knowing that person can’t possibly be the killer, Lucy sets out to find out whodunit. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll stop there. 

I learned more about 1660s England reading this book than I ever did in history class. The author holds a doctorate in British history, so she knows her stuff.  

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate: A Mystery

By Susanna Calkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Murder at Rosamund's Gate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Susanna Calkins's atmospheric debut novel, a chambermaid must uncover a murderer in seventeenth-century plague-ridden LondonFor Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime. In a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren't permitted to defend their clients, and--if the plague doesn't kill them first--public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she…

Book cover of Murder in the Crypt: A Redmond and Haze Mystery Book 1

Why this book?

I know I keep beating the same drum, but just try to take a look at that cover and tell me the story doesn’t look intriguing (and yes, I do see the similarities between this cover and that of The Murder on Black Swan Lane). 

Like any self-respecting English mystery, this one begins with a main character discovering he’s received a bequest of an English estate and its accompanying title. This particular main character is Jason Redmond, a Captain and doctor in the Union Army during the American Civil War. At the end of the war, he returns home to find his sweetheart has married his best friend during his absence. When he receives news of the bequest, having no one to marry and still experiencing haunting memories of the tragedies he witnessed during the war, he heads to England to dispose of the estate (at least, that’s his plan, and we all know what happens to the best-laid plans). He takes along his young companion Micah, a boy he befriended during the war. 

Immediately after arriving at the estate, Redmond finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery that requires him to partner up with the local constable, Daniel Haze, a man fighting his own demons. The two make a solid team, with each man bringing certain talents and strengths to the investigation. It’s a confounding mystery and one strewn with plenty of red herrings to keep readers guessing. 

I would definitely set my time machine dials to mid-nineteenth-century England, especially if I could visit estates like the ones in the book. They’re genteel on the surface, but so much goes on underneath.  

Murder in the Crypt: A Redmond and Haze Mystery Book 1

By Irina Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Murder in the Crypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the body of a young man is found stuffed into the tomb of a medieval knight, Parish Constable Daniel Haze is tasked with investigating his first solo murder case. Suspicion instantly falls on the only stranger to arrive in the village of Birch Hill just before the crime took place, but the American captain proves to be an unexpected asset. A former soldier and a skilled surgeon, Jason Redmond is not only willing to assist Haze with the investigation but will risk his own safety to apprehend the killer.With no suspects, no motive, and few leads to follow, Redmond…

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