Six Reasons Readers Love Historical Mysteries – And Six Historical Mysteries To Love!

Six Reasons Readers Love Historical Mysteries – And Six Historical Mysteries To Love!

As an avid reader (as well as an author), I love mysteries of every kind, but historical whodunits have a special place in my heart—and the hearts of many other readers, too. Why do historical mysteries capture readers’ imaginations? Elementary, my dear Watson:

  1. Everyone Wants a Time Machine. Historical mysteries transport readers to vastly different times and places: ones no train or airline flight can reach. Readers love to travel—in books, as well as in person—and historical mysteries offer a trip through time to more locations and eras than other modes of travel ever could. Well-researched historical novels bring the past to life, with vibrant descriptions of the colors, smells, and textures of life in a different time and place. For an excellent series of “Time Machine” mysteries, check out Annamaria Alfieri’s Vera and Tolliver novels, starting with Strange Gods, set in British East Africa in 1923.

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  1. Celebrating the Fine Art of Detecting . . . Many historical mysteries are set in times before the advent of modern forensic technology. Without access to DNA testing, fingerprint scanners, and other twentieth- and twenty-first-century tools, historical sleuths must take a more psychological—or, at least, less technologically assisted—approach to solving crimes. The battle of wits between the detective and the killer makes for excellent reading. Laura Joh Rowland’s seventeenth-century samurai detective, Sano Ichirō, is a great example of psychological sleuthing at its best.
  1. . . . With Old School CSI Techniques. The lack of modern forensic tools does not completely preclude forensic analysis. Historical mysteries from different eras allow readers to experience a range of forensic techniques and demonstrate how crimes were solved and forensic tools developed over time. The Anatomist’s Wife series by Anna Lee Huber, in which Lady Darby uses her knowledge of anatomy to solve nineteenth-century crimes, paints a compelling picture of forensics before the advent of the computer age.
  1. Unusual Sleuths. Historical mysteries offer a striking depth of field when it comes to sleuths. From alchemists to ninjas, debutantes, and knights errant—a historical sleuth can be anything, or anyone, a clever author gives a plausible reason to solve a crime. Even wanted men can get into the act—as Steve Goble’s brilliant pirate detective, Spider John Rush, can attest. The series gets off to a rousing start with Bloody Black Flag and continues with The Devil’s Wind.
  1. Learning History—No Study Required! Well-written historical mysteries (and other historical novels, too) are bursting with juicy details about life in other times and places. From the foods people ate to the clothes they wore, the games they played, and the poisons they used to knock off unsuspecting victims, historical mysteries educate as well as entertain. And—except for the big reveal scene—there isn’t even a test at the end of the book! For a truly entertaining read, check out Jennifer Kincheloe’s Anna Blanc series, set in 1907, featuring Anna Blanc, socialite-turned-sleuth and one of the funniest, unlikeliest historical detectives on the shelf today.

Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and the author of Trial on Mount Koya (Seventh Street Books, July 2018) and five other novels in the Hiro Hattori Mystery series set in sixteenth-century Japan and featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. She has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. Susan is currently spending a year in Japan, researching her next two Hiro Hattori novels and climbing mountains for a nonfiction book, 100 Summits, scheduled for publication in 2020. She posts photos and stories about ninjas, history, and her travels in Japan at

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