The best smart historical mysteries (that start a series)

Who am I?

I’m a public health research scientist who writes humorous historical mysteries set in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD. Like you, I read. I love smart, well-researched historical fiction with strong female protagonists and a good romantic subplot. Extra points if the book is funny because studies show laughter is good for you. 


I wrote...

Book cover of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

What is my book about?

It's 1907 Los Angeles. The best future Anna Blanc can hope for is to be married off to the highest bidder. What she really wants to do is use her formidable brain to trap criminals like Sherlock Holmes. So, Anna does what any girl would do. She buys off her chaperone with heirloom jewelry and uses an alias to secretly get a job as a matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. If the cops find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding. When Anna falls afoul of the police chief's handsome son and he discovers her secret identity, Anna must choose—be the detective she was born to be or leave a killer on the loose.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crocodile on the Sandbank

Jennifer Kincheloe Why did I love this book?

My favorite historical mystery series was born in 1975 when Elizabeth Peters published Crocodile on the Sandbank. She died with a pen in her hand in 2013 at the age of 85, still writing this timeless series. In the novel, Amelia Peabody, a British feminist spinster in 1884, fights for her place in Egyptology—a world forbidden to her—while falling in love and being absolutely hilarious. The series follows her archeologist family into the 1920s and remains delightful throughout. The books are smart, pee-your-pants funny, and feature some of the most original characters in genre fiction. The author wields her PhD in Egyptology like a magic, world-building wand and makes Egypt and the whole English obsession with Egyptology in the late 19th century come alive.

By Elizabeth Peters,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Crocodile on the Sandbank as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amelia Peabody is Elizabeth Peters' most brilliant and best-loved creation, a thoroughly Victorian feminist who takes the stuffy world of archaeology by storm with her shocking men's pants and no-nonsense attitude!

In this first adventure, our headstrong heroine decides to use her substantial inheritance to see the world. On her travels, she rescues a gentlewoman in distress - Evelyn Barton-Forbes - and the two become friends. The two companions continue to Egypt where they face mysteries, mummies and the redoubtable Radcliffe Emerson, an outspoken archaeologist, who doesn't need women to help him solve mysteries -- at least that's what he…


Book cover of The Anatomist's Wife

Jennifer Kincheloe Why did I love this book?

Have you ever picked up a historical romance novel, attracted by the era, then read the book and said to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be great to explore other genres in this setting?” Then you need Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mystery series. I picked up The Anatomist’s Wife at random from the library and was instantly confused. It seemed like the setting for a romance novel—1830s Scotland—but it’s first and foremost a mystery. Her characters are interesting and complex, the mystery is solid, and her beautiful prose elevates the genre.

By Anna Lee Huber,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Anatomist's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE FIRST LADY DARBY MYSTERY

“A riveting debut…an original premise, an enigmatic heroine, and a compelling Highland setting…a book you won’t want to put down.”—New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn

Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister’s estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own…


Book cover of Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Jennifer Kincheloe Why did I love this book?

In 1940 London, Maggie Hope, a brilliant mind who graduated top of her class, is recruited by Number 10 Downing Street to be…a typist. Of course. She’s a woman. She’s also a crackerjack code breaker. I think you know where this is going. The character is wonderful, the writing strong, the story tight. A highlight for me was when Maggie –a young, virginal, cerebral type—pulls off a daring motorcycle jump with a man on the back because she has to. I don’t know, I think there’s a life lesson somewhere in there.

By Susan Elia MacNeal,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mr. Churchill's Secretary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BARRY AWARD WINNER • Heralding the arrival of a brilliant new heroine, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

“With any luck, the adventures of red-haired super-sleuth Maggie Hope will go on forever. . . . Taut, well-plotted, and suspenseful, this is a wartime mystery to sink your teeth into.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none…


Book cover of Murder at the Mena House

Jennifer Kincheloe Why did I love this book?

Jane Wunderly survives her abusive now-dead husband and does not want to get married again. She fends off the match-making efforts of her aunt Millie while solving a murder at a destination hotel in 1920s Egypt. Enter Mr. Redvers, a bad-boy banker and the romantic subplot. Maybe I have a thing for strong, smart, single heroines. Maybe I have a thing for Egypt. I spent a whole summer painting an orphanage there in 1984 when I was 17. The land is magic. Erica Ruth Neubauer makes the 1920s in Egypt come vibrantly to life. Her novel conjures the romance of the desert, colonial excess, and vast oceans of sand. It’s just cool. 

By Erica Ruth Neubauer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Murder at the Mena House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel—an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows . . .
 
WINNER OF THE 2021 AGATHA AWARD

Egypt, 1926.Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won’t be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie’s best efforts, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane’s plans to remain cool…


Book cover of Styx & Stone

Jennifer Kincheloe Why did I love this book?

Ellie Stone, a young alcoholic newspaper reporter in 1960s New York, makes her own rules while searching for a killer. The series is an incredible window into the era and the protagonist is superb. Booksellers, publishers, authors—we all know who James Ziskin is—simply one of the most decorated mystery authors writing today. This series has won so many awards, I can’t begin to list them all here. In spite of this, James Ziskin remains a secret to most readers. This baffles me and the only thing that can explain it is that we happen to be in that one alternate universe where James Ziskin, who is a bestselling author in every other multiverse, randomly hasn’t caught fire in this universe. Yet.

By James W. Ziskin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Styx & Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ellie Stone is a professed modern girl in 1960s' New York City, playing by her own rules and breaking boundaries while searching for a killer among the renowned scholars in Columbia University's Italian Department.

"If you were a man, you'd make a good detective."

Ellie is sure that Sgt. McKeever meant that as a compliment, but that identity-a girl wanting to do a man's job-has throttled her for too long. It's 1960, and Ellie doesn't want to blaze any trails for women; she just wants to be a reporter, one who doesn't need to swat hands off her behind at…


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The Fornax Assassin

By J.C. Gemmell,

Book cover of The Fornax Assassin

J.C. Gemmell Author Of The Fornax Assassin

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Inclusive What-if worrier Eco-warrior Mountain trekker Ten-mile runner

J.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In 2038 a devastating pandemic sweeps across the world. Two decades later, Britain remains the epicenter for the Fornax variant, annexed by a terrified global community.

David Malik is as careful as any man to avoid contact with the virus. But when his sister tests positive as an asymptomatic carrier, she must relocate to Fornax Island to join the isolated population of contagious untreatables. Fortunately, the British prime minister’s latest manifesto includes reintegrating the islanders with the nation. Yet, he does not survive a visit to Fornax Island to unveil his new policies.

The military suspects one of its junior officers is responsible for his death. Malik seizes his chance to represent the possible assassin, allowing him to protect his sister. Yet within days of taking on the case, he finds himself accused of masterminding the assassination. 

The Fornax Assassin

By J.C. Gemmell,

What is this book about?

2038: a devastating pandemic sweeps across the world. Two decades later, Britain remains the epicentre for the fornax variant, annexed by a terrified global community.

David Malik is as careful as any man to avoid contact with the virus. But when his sister tests positive as an asymptomatic carrier, she must relocate to Fornax Island to join the isolated population of contagious-untreatables.

Fortunately, the British prime minister’s latest manifesto includes reintegrating the islanders with the nation. Yet, he does not survive a visit to Fornax Island to unveil his new policies.

The military suspects one of its junior officers is…


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