Since I’ve been deep in the writing cave, the wonderful Rachel very kindly offered to take up the slack by writing a brand new “If You Like” post– and may I just say how delighted I was when she offered and how even more delighted I was once I read it?
Here, without further preamble, is our latest guest If You Like: If You Like Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction. And now over to Rachel!
I don’t know about you all, but once in a while I get a taste for a certain genre/ trope/ character personality and go crazy with it. I’ll look up recommendations on Goodreads, talk to friends, and make a list of things to check out from the library. Lately, because of Laurie R King’s latest in her “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” series [which I know has been a big hit on this website before!] I’ve been on a “Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction,” kick. The latest installment is intriguingly titled “The Murder of Mary Russell” and actually alternates between the Mary/ Sherlock storyline and Mrs. Hudson’s early life, as the famous housekeeper has her own intrepid adventures. King’s series is intelligent, amusing, and fast paced while packed with incredible dialogue and character/ plot development. The lady does her research. In the past few weeks I have also delved into several new (to me) series that promised similar devices to King. So if you like Mary Russell/ Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction, you may also like…
The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Rachel McMillan- The “first” in a series (there is a prequel available also) about two friends, Merinda and Jem, who eschew the patriarchal norms of 1910 Toronto and form a detective agency. Merinda is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes stories and uses them as research to help in their own cases. Fun, fast paced, and full of colorful personalities. (And if you like the Canadian show “Murdoch Mysteries”, you will surely like this series!)
Sister Beneath the Sheet by Gillian Linscott- First in a series about Nell Bray, a suffragette working under Emmeline Pankhurst, who directs Nell to look into a suspicious death. Slightly darker in plot and detail, this story still contains a great deal of history and atmosphere of the early suffragette revolution. Male-female relations in the book also raise though provoking questions in the midst of the current political debate over gender in America.
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn- First in a series about protagonist Lady Julia Grey, a woman who becomes involved in detecting when her husband unexpectedly expires at a dinner party. (Think “Gosford Park” meets the “Lady Emily” series by Tasha Alexander.) She is joined in her investigation by her husband’s acquaintance Nicholas Brisbane, who does get get along with Lady Julia at the outset and causes much consternation for her and amusement for the reader. Steamier and, in parts, darker, this book contains elements of several adored genres.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear- I’m almost done with this one, and it is blowing my mind. My favorite so far for no particular reason other than I am connecting with the eponymous Maisie. Incredibly bright, she is born into a lower class but rises up with the help of her employer-turned-patron. I definitely see elements of Mary Russell in Maisie Dobbs, except that Maisie has struck out on her own to open a detective agency and does not work with a partner after leaving the tutelage of Dr. Maurice Blanche. Maisie is able to easy sympathize with her clientele, drawing on shared WWI experiences (Maisie served as a nurse).
On tap for me (because I over-indulged at the library) are: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, and This Dame for Hire by Sandra Scoppettone.
Thank you so much, Rachel! I’m busy scribbling notes to myself since while half of these are old favorites (am I the only one reading this who feels a strong need to re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice right about now?), the other half are new to me. Which is very exciting.
I’ve been racking my brains to think who else I would add to this list…. There’s Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries (Scottish, 19th century), Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (American, turn of the century), Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries (Australian, 1920s), and, of course, Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness (English, 1930s).
Who are your favorite historical lady detectives?