The best historical novels with strong women solving mysteries in 19th century Great Britain

Karen Hanson Stuyck Author Of Death of an Unfortunate Woman: An Alexandra Sinclair Mystery
By Karen Hanson Stuyck

Who am I?

I grew up loving stories set in the 1800s. I read Little Women six times, determined to become a writer just like Jo March. Eventually, I became one, writing everything from newspaper articles to medical brochures, short stories, and nine mystery novels. I set my latest book in 1819 Regency England. The myriad rules governing every aspect of proper behavior for “gently bred women” meant that any female refusing to conform faced scandal and ostracism from society. Any woman who managed to forge a life of her own design had to be strong, determined, and feisty—just the kind of female I want to read and write about.

I wrote...

Death of an Unfortunate Woman: An Alexandra Sinclair Mystery

By Karen Hanson Stuyck,

Book cover of Death of an Unfortunate Woman: An Alexandra Sinclair Mystery

What is my book about?

In 1819 England, Alexandra Sinclair and her husband, Benedict Nash, the Viscount Litton, are celebrating their marriage at an outdoor reception when children and their dogs discover a woman’s body in the adjacent woods. The victim was a resident of The Home for Unfortunate Women, an establishment preparing former prostitutes for responsible work. Local residents demand the Home be closed. Alexandra, an ardent social reformer, joins its board of directors, determined to keep the establishment open.

More deaths follow, each victim connected to the Home. Even when the Home closes, the deaths continue. Local constables cannot catch the killer. That leaves Alexandra and two friends—another board member and a former prostitute—to find the murderer before they become the next victims.

The books I picked & why

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The Anatomist's Wife

By Anna Lee Huber,

Book cover of The Anatomist's Wife

Why this book?

Lady Kiera Darby has a lot to contend with. A gifted artist, she was tricked into marriage by a ruthless surgeon and anatomist. He forced her to watch him dissect bodies, then carefully draw each organ for his human anatomy textbook. When her despised husband dies, Kiera hopes to never again see a human corpse. Unfortunately, she is at her sister’s Scottish estate when a woman at the house party is found murdered in the maze, her throat cut. Kiera’s brother-in-law asks Kiera and an inquiry agent at the party to investigate the murder. Guests at the party accuse Kiera, “the unnatural woman,” of being the killer, making finding the real murderer urgent. I loved Kiera, empathized with her pain and admired her strength when danger loomed around every corner. 

Silent in the Grave

By Deanna Raybourn,

Book cover of Silent in the Grave

Why this book?

The book begins with the death of Lady Julia’s husband at a dinner party at their house. Both Julia and the doctor believe he suffered a heart attack. Only an enigmatic private inquiry agent, hired by her husband, thinks Edward was murdered. When Julia discovers a threatening note to her husband, she determines to find his killer with the help of the inquiry agent. Over the course of their investigation, Julia changes from a naïve young wife to a mature woman, confident in her abilities. I loved the wonderfully eccentric characters in this book. After Edward’s death, Julia’s sister consoles her, “Don’t fret, dearest. You have always looked striking in black.” 

A Useful Woman

By Darcie Wilde,

Book cover of A Useful Woman

Why this book?

Rosalind Thorne’s life as a gently bred woman is upended when her father abandons the family. Finding herself penniless, Rosalind manages to use her connections and considerable skill to help wealthy society women solve their problems, for a discreet payment. In the course of helping a client who wants to become a patroness of Almack’s, the invitation-only social club, Rosalind discovers the body of an acquaintance in the ballroom. The patronesses of Almack’s want Rosalind to hush up the death, while the victim’s sister wants her to find her brother’s killer. Rosalind proves adept at putting the pieces of a very complex puzzle together, at great danger to herself. I loved Rosalind’s determination and cunning as well as the sardonic portrayal of the ton’s countless social rules, spitefulness, and hypocrisy.

Why Kings Confess

By C.S. Harris,

Book cover of Why Kings Confess

Why this book?

Unlike my other book choices, Why Kings Confess has a male protagonist, Sebastian St. Cyr. In my opinion, a very good historical mystery series got even better when Sebastian married Hero Jarvis, the brilliant and outspoken daughter of Sebastian’s mortal enemy, Lord Jarvis, a ruthless advisor to the crown. Hero writes searing investigative articles on societal injustice and, despite being heavily pregnant, participates actively in Sebastian’s work. In this book they investigate the brutal death of a man who was part of a secret delegation sent by Napoleon to determine the possibility of peace with Britain. The author is a historian who manages to seamlessly incorporate a lot of fascinating information about Regency England.

And Only to Deceive

By Tasha Alexander,

Book cover of And Only to Deceive

Why this book?

Emily marries Philip, the Viscount Ashton, a man she hardly knows, to escape her mother. After their wedding trip, Philip, an ardent game hunter, leaves for a hunt in Africa. When Emily learns he died of a fever, she hardly grieves. As she enters her year of mourning, Emily reads Philip’s journal, astonished to learn he loved her passionately. He also collected Greek antiquities, many of which he donated to the British Museum. Emily begins to study ancient Greek literature and antiquities. (I loved learning with Emily.) When she discovers that someone—possibly Philip—either gave the British Museum forged Greek antiquities or stole the originals from the museum and substituted forgeries, Emily works to unravel this mystery and find out what really happened to her husband in Africa.

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