For those of us who enjoy reading murder mysteries in a historical setting, a series written by Charles Todd is the perfect match. In the first book, A Test of Wills, we meet Ian Rutledge, who is returning to Scotland Yard for the first time after spending four years at the front and several months in a hospital for shell shock. Before the war, Rutledge had been a gifted and up-and-coming inspector with a flair for solving murder cases. Now, he often hears the voice of Hamish MacLeod, one of his men who died in the trenches of France. Hamish sarcastically comments on everything Rutledge is doing from a point behind his shoulder. Rutledge doesn’t dare turn around for fear of seeing Hamish in the flesh.
In Georgette Heyer’s The Unfinished Clue, it becomes evident that whilst some marriages end happily, others end in murder. Sir Arthur Billington-Smith was dead, and he probably deserved it. He had been chuffing and harrumphing at his male guests, leering--and perhaps a bit more--at the female ones, all the while being quite revolting to his wife.
Aren’t English country house parties entertaining? Well, they are when penned by a master craftsman such as Georgette Heyer. Her thoroughly modern (for the early twentieth century) heroine Dinah, sister to the beleaguered soon-to-be widow, has a clever wit and no intention whatsoever of being set down by her blowhard brother-in-law.
It did not surprise her entirely. His advancing cancer had been their secret, allowing him to go about his usual routine as best he could. But now, on the other end of a bad phone connection, her grandmother is frantic. Why was her husband in a tiny village no one has heard of? What happened to his very personal belongings which were not returned with his body? Furthermore, she bitterly accuses Natalie (correctly) of having conspired to hide his illness.
Sherlock Holmes is looking for a swarm of wild bees and perhaps something more personally sinister at the start of Beekeeping for Beginners. What, or rather whom, he finds instead is a young person, dressed in good if tattered clothes, whose wits and keen observation are a surprising match for his own.
Eduardo and Ciro watched their beautiful, bereft mother leave them behind, not looking back once. Surely, they were now orphans. Abandoned to be raised at a nunnery in the Italian Alps, they would grow into good if very different young men with only one hope—to see their mother again.
Brooklyn is a tough place to grow up in the early part of the 20th century. It’s made of immigrant families struggling to get by. Young Francie Nolan, half German and half Irish, adores her handsome father, the sometime singing waiter, and her more hard-minded mother who scrubs floors and does much to give her kids a better life. But, uneducated as her parents are, they have few choices and huge problems that a bright girl like Francie can certainly see.
Karleen Koen’s Before Versailles is a splendidly rich story of romantic intrigue set in the early days of the Sun King’s rule. Louis XIV is a very young and handsome king. Newly-married to a virtuous if plain Spanish princess, he is determined to be true to his vows, but the ladies at court have other ideas—particularly his brother’s wife.
Young in years but not so much in worldly cares, Rose Meadows is set adrift when her wayward father abandons her permanently and her handsome, caretaking distant cousin takes up with the local Bolshevik crowd. But, in Cynthia Ozick’s historical novel Heir to the Glimmering World, Rose doesn’t give up. She takes matters into her own hands and answers an advertisement for a research assistant in a town miles away.