The best historical mysteries that make a time and place come alive

Laura C. Stevenson Author Of All Men Glad and Wise: A Mystery
By Laura C. Stevenson

Who am I?

I’m an historian who writes novels, and an avid reader of historical murder mysteries—especially ones whose characters are affected by social, religious, and political change. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the breakup of rural British estates between 1880 and 1925, when, in a single generation, the amount of British land owned by the aristocracy fell from 66% to perhaps 15%. I thought it might be interesting to set a “country house” mystery on one of the failing estates, with a narrator influenced by the other great change of the period: from horses to automobiles. “Interesting” was an understatement; writing it was eye-opening.  


I wrote...

All Men Glad and Wise: A Mystery

By Laura C. Stevenson,

Book cover of All Men Glad and Wise: A Mystery

What is my book about?

The end of WWI finds Willingford Hall, a 2000-acre baronet’s estate, in mourning. Its heir has been killed at Passchendaele, leaving behind a historic stable, a talented young horse, and Harry Green, a stable boy whose father is the head groom. In 1919, Willingford Hall’s steward is murdered, and the investigation proves that his embezzlement has brought the estate near bankruptcy. If it’s sold, what will happen to Harry’s father, now that automobiles are replacing horses? And what will happen to Harry, a stable lad who is in fact a lass—and one with no skills suitable to women? Harry’s answer is clear: she must find the murderer, thus proving herself Somebody instead of a servant. Her decision is more dangerous than she knows. 

The books I picked & why

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Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

By C.J. Sansom,

Book cover of Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

Why this book?

Dissolution is the first of C. J. Sansom’s magisterial 7 Matthew Shardlake mysteries, set during Tudor England’s Reformation. In 1537, Henry VIII’s feared Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, sends Shardlake, a brilliant, hunchback lawyer, to investigate the murder of a royal commissioner who was investigating the Monastery of St. Donatus on the south English coast. Once an avid reformer, Shardlake is unsurprised to find embezzlement and sexual misconduct at the monastery, but he also recognizes the beauties of the services and the veniality of the men who will be enriched by the monastery’s dissolution. The portrait of Tudor politics, monasticism, and the interplay of St Donatus’s dissolution and Shardlake’s disillusion has set a standard for all historical mysteries. 


Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery

By Stephanie Barron,

Book cover of Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery

Why this book?

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is the first of Stephanie Barron’s 14 Jane Austen mysteries, based on Austen’s “discovered” diaries about her adventures as a sleuth.  The series’ witty tone is true to Austen’s, and portrayals of Austen’s family are based in fact. In this opening volume, Jane is visiting a friend “of more fashion than means” newly married a middle aged earl—who dies, poisoned, after a celebratory party. His will divides his estate between his countess and an heir known to be too fond of her, making the pair obvious suspects. As Jane works to prove her friend innocent, the descriptions of aristocratic Regency life, dress, manners, and law are superb. 


Murder at Old St. Thomas's

By Lisa M. Lane,

Book cover of Murder at Old St. Thomas's

Why this book?

Lisa M. Lane’s Murder at Old St. Thomas’s opens in Old St. Thomas’s Hospital, recently closed to make way for railroad lines. In the once-famous operating theater, the body of an eminent surgeon is found nailed to one of the seats in which medical students once watched him operate. The cause of death: toxic inhalation of chloroform. As Detective Inspector Cuthbert Slaughter and his American sergeant Mark Honeycutt interview suspects, their investigation provides a portrait of Victorian surgery (anesthetics still experimental; hygiene ignored by all but the nurses taught by Florence Nightingale). This 2022 mystery has fascinating characters, and it provides a wonderful picture of Victorian London and Southwark. 


The Last Kashmiri Rose

By Barbara Cleverly,

Book cover of The Last Kashmiri Rose

Why this book?

 The Last Kashmiri Rose: Murder and Mystery in the Final Days of the Raj is the first of Barbara Cleverly’s 13 Joe Sandilands mysteries. In March of 1922, Sandilands’ return to Scotland Yard from Calcutta is delayed by Bengal’s governor, who sends him to a military post where his niece Nancy’s husband is Controller. Nancy’s best friend has committed suicide, according to the local police. But Nancy has learned that since 1911, four other officers’ wives have died in peculiarly violent circumstances. After Sandilands’ investigation uncovers a series of murders, he looks for the murderer amidst tea parties, dances, picnics, and dinners. The portrait of Anglo-Indian society, in which every need is supplied by socially invisible native servants, is excellent.


Blind Justice

By Bruce Alexander,

Book cover of Blind Justice

Why this book?

Blind Justice, set in 1768, is the first of Bruce Alexander’s 11 Sir John Fielding mysteries. Its hero is the famous blind magistrate of London’s Bow Street Court; its narrator is thirteen-year-old Jeremy Proctor, whom Fielding’s wisdom has saved from an unjust accusation of theft. The pair investigate the death of Sir Richard Goodhope, who has been discovered shot in his library, locked from the inside. Sir John assumes suicide, but Jeremy’s observation of a detail that the magistrate could not see suggests murder. Proof of murder involves following Goodhope’s history through London’s streets, gambling houses, coffee houses, and great houses—to Drury Lane theater and Newgate—in a compelling portrait of eighteenth-century London.


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