historical fiction


A collection of ten British crime stories set during Christmas.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Publisher: Profile Books
Page count: 278

These are all cozy crime stories and four of them actually don’t have a murder which was a nice change. They’re almost all historical short stories.

‘The Necklace of Pearls’ by Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the guests invited to spend Christmas with a very rich, and not very nice, man and a collection of other guests. When the host’s daughter’s pearl necklace goes missing, Lord Peter is asked to look for it.

‘The Name on the Window’ by Edmund Crispin: this is a clocked room mystery or rather a pavilion which is surrounded by newly fallen snow and no footprints. Yet, a man was murdered in it.

‘A Traditional Christmas’ by Val McDermid: The narrator goes to her wife’s family for Christmas. Everyone is accepting of them even though they have a very traditional English upper-class Christmas. At least, until someone ends up dead.

‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ by Arthur Conan Doyle: a stolen jewel is unexpectedly found in a Christmas goose. Holmes and Watson go on a goose chase. (yes, I had to write that in honor of the silliness of the story 😊)

‘The Invisible Man’ by G.K. Chesterton: A Father Brown mystery where a ghost seems to be haunting a couple of people.

‘Cinders’ by Ian Rankin: In a Cinderella play, the Fairy Godmother’s actress has been murdered and Rebus and the other detectives have their hands full questioning the theatre troupe.

‘Death on the Air’ by Ngaio Marsh: A very nasty man is found dead. At first it seems like he was electrocuted through a radio but that might not be the case.

‘Persons or Things Unknown’ by Carter Dickson: A group of people has gathered to celebrate Christmas and their host tells them a mysterious tale from the house’s history.

‘The Case is Altered’ by Margery Allingham’: yet another tale where a rich couple has gathered a group of people in their house for Christmas when mysterious things start to happen.

‘The Price of Light’ by Ellis Peters: An older rich, and nasty, man is feeling his mortality and tries to find a way to pave his soul’s way to heaven. As long as it doesn’t cost too much and makes sure that he is remembered. He’s giving exquisite candlesticks to the abbey. But then, the candlesticks are stolen and Brother Cadfael makes his own investigation.

I enjoyed most of these stories. I haven’t read Rankin before and I ended up enjoying his story so much that I might read his other works this year.

Despite their shortness, most of the stories have a twist or two and kept this reader, at least, guessing.

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An alternate history story set in Ancient Egypt.

Publication year: 1998
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count: 401

Senenmut was born to a lowly merchant but his mother made sure that he got into the scribe school, so that he could build a better life for himself. At the lofty age of fifteen, Senenmut knows that he’s the best of the students. He knows that he’s meant for a better life than the one he has with his common-born family of parents and two younger brothers. When his master Seti-Nakht sends him to the royal palace, Senenmut dreams of working for the king and impressing him. But when he’s instead directed to the queen’s palace, his wounded pride makes him refuse her offer to become her scribe and tutor. Because Senenmut knows that he’s meant for better things than to serve a proud and arrogant child-queen Hatshepsut.

But on his way back to his crowded home, his hot temper cools and he starts to fear that the queen will fling him to the crocodiles for his proud answers. Instead, she calls him back and gives him the job of tutor. This time, he accepts and soon the young queen charms him, too.

This is not an adventure story. It’s the life story of Senenmut who was born a commoner but rose to a high office and through his eyes also the story of Hatshepsut, a queen who rose to become a pharaoh. The story is told mostly through Senenmut’s eyes but another POV character is Nehsi, the chief of the queen’s bodyguards. All of the characters are proud, even arrogant, and prickly in their pride. They’re also driven and buck the conventions of their time and to do that, they can’t be very likable.

Hatshepsut is shown here to be arrogant and imperious which she no doubt was, because she was raised as a pharaoh’s daughter. But she’s also very aware of her place as the leader of her people and a conduit (or symbol) between the gods and the people. She wants to rule well and learns how to do it, despite the limits to what she’s allowed to do as a woman. On the other hand, she also seems to despise her brother-husband the pharaoh Thutmose II and extends that feeling to his son (whose mother is a concubine).

While this is an interesting take on her story, it takes quite a few liberties with what we know today about Hatshepsut. Of course, it was written 1998. I do find Hatshepsut fascinating and I’m probably going to get Pauline Gedge’s Child of the Morning.

A new Phryne Fisher mystery.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 22 minutes
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel

Orchestral director Hugh Tregennis has been murdered, with a stack of musical notes stuffed down his throat. Inspector Jack Robinson is looking for Phryne’s help because the policeman knows nothing about singers. Phryne agrees to help. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Tregennis was universally hated and nearly anyone in the choir could have killed him. Phryne promptly joins the choir and goes undercover.

Phryne has also some more personal troubles. Mathematician Rupert Sheffield is giving a lecture about the art of deduction and out of sheer curiosity Phryne attends. Rupert turns out to be very handsome but very rude and downright insufferably arrogant. But Phryne’s dear friend John Wilson is Rupert’s aide and head over heels in love with him. Rupert doesn’t seem to even notice poor John’s devotion and Phryne decides to educate Rupert.

This one somewhat rewrites Phyrne’s experiences as an ambulance driver in WWI. In a previous book (Murder in Montparnasse), we’re told about Phryne’s first love, after WWI. But apparently, Phryne had a fling with John Wilson just before her first love who was a famous Parisian painter. John was a young doctor who did his best to keep his patients alive. While he’s mostly gay, during the war both he and Phryne hook up, just to feel alive in the middle of death. They parted on good terms and quickly fall into bed together.

This was another somewhat unlikely story, but very entertaining. The familiar cast is back and the new characters are good, too. Most of Phryne’s time is spent in the choir, practicing along with the others. Some of the choir members are large personalities and very entertaining.

The sixth book in the historical mystery Smokey Dalton series set in Chicago 1969.


Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 20 minutes
Narrator: Mirron Willis

It’s autumn in Chicago in 1969 and Smokey is investigating houses which are owned by his girlfriend Laura Hathaway. One of the houses became empty recently because the manager died inside the building and Smokey is investigating the house’s condition. He’s somewhat prepared for the smell of death which seems to be everyone in the house but then he finds a secret door in the basement and behind it skeletons. Human skeletons. He talks is over with Laura and they decide to keep quiet about them because the building previous owner was Laura’s father so the discovery could be used against her. As a woman who leads a large company, her position is precarious.

So, they decide to document everything in case they can bring the matter to police. Smokey interviews and chooses to men to help him: a nationally known forensics specialist and a local mortician. However, they don’t know Smokey or his fugitive past, so he must be careful around. Also, they must be care while working in the building so that the neighbors don’t suspect anything.

Meanwhile, the trial of so-called Chicago 8 (later 7) has started. They’ve been charged with conspiracy and starting a riot. Seven of them are white men and one black. Racial tensions are heating up, again. There are more police and FBI agents in the city and Smokey must be more careful than ever.

Smokey and his team find more bodies so he has to investigate the past and finds a horrifying history of police brutality against black people.

The story tries to handle both 1969 and 1916. For me, both histories were fascinating, if horrifying at the same time because much of it is true. 1916 was at the beginning of prohibition and the various crimes surrounding it. However, they don’t have much relevance to Smokey’s case so some people might dislike that portion of the story.

The book has several grisly scenes and the tone is very grim. Smokey’s adopted son Jimmy feels almost like a distraction from his work and relationship with Laura. We don’t have much time to revisit other old friends.

Personally, I liked the book a lot but it’s not the best of the series.

The fifth book in the historical mystery series about Smokey Dalton.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 8 minutes plus an excerpt from the next book.
Narrator: Mirron Willis

It’s 1969 in Chicago and summer vacations at school have just started. Smokey Dalton and his adopted son Jimmy are still on the run from the FBI because Jim saw the person who really killed Dr. King, and now the police are after them. Jimmy’s teacher Grace Kirkland asks Smokey to search for her eldest son, Daniel. He had gotten a scholarship to Yale but she found out that Daniel hasn’t been in Yale for the spring semester. He seems to have vanished.

Smokey knows that he can’t do the investigation from Chicago so he has to drive to New Haven. He decides to take Jimmy with him because it would be unfair to the boy to leave him once again to friends. But Smokey also realizes that he needs someone to take care of Jimmy when needed, so he also takes along Malcom Reyner, a young orphan who works as a short-order cook. Malcom can also talk with students the way that Smokey can’t. At Yale, he encounters both systematic and individual racism but also people who try to fight them. However, the deeper he digs, the more disturbing things he finds. The antiwar movement isn’t just nice.

Smokey and the people around him are very human, both in good and bad. They feel real to me. Of course, I’ve never been to USA nor am I black so I don’t know how real they actually are. The plot moves fast and the conclusion is satisfactory. I did miss some of the secondary characters, such as Laura, but it’s also good to see other parts of USA back then.

The cast of character grows a lot because for the majority of the book Smokey and Jimmy aren’t in Chicago. They constantly meet new people and have to adjust to two new cities. We also get a glimpse into Smokey’s past.

Malcolm is eager to get away from his current job but he is will to work hard to achieve what he wants to. There’s rising racial tensions in Chicago and Smokey feels threatened by it; he’s looking for a safer place where he and Jimmy might live. Jimmy is delighted to follow Smokey, at first, but once again he wants to do more than Smokey allows him to do.

Another excellent addition to the series.

One short story and a novella about the adventures of Reginald Worcester and his gentleman’s automaton Reeves. Yes, it’s steampunk Wodehouse!

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook
Page count: 145
Publisher: Book View Café

Humor isn’t easy to write. But this one I really liked. I haven’t actually read much Wodehouse (and I think all of them have been Finnish translations) but I’ve watched Jeeves and Wooster almost religiously. Reading this, I heard Bertie’s voice narrating and laughed out loud several times.

In the first story, Aunt Bertha sends Reggie to a country estate with the mission to end an engagement between Reggie’s cousin Herbert and Josephine Smith. However, the Crandle Castle is owned by an earl whose daughter Reggie has been engaged to previously and it didn’t end amicably, so Reggie doesn’t look forward to the task. Fortunately, he acquires a very useful automaton from the Drone club. Reeves turns out to be indispensable.

In the second story, “Something Rummy this way comes”, Aunt Bertha demands that Reggie will get married and sends him to all the dances of the season. Even feigning a heart attack doesn’t work. So, Reggie and Jeeves concoct plans to make Reggie less desirable in the eyes of the debutants and their family. However, soon Reggie dances with one Emmeline Dreadnought and finds out that several debutants have gone missing. Their families want to avoid a scandal and haven’t told the police. Reggie decides to become a consulting detective and investigate discreetly. Emmeline insists on helping him. Hilarity ensues.

Reggie has his own horseless carriage Stanley Steamer. Reeves is an automaton which occasionally needs his steam topped off. The setting is in England 1903 but Queen Victoria is still in charge. Secondary characters include Reggie’s friends from the Drone club and his mighty aunts as well as several other notable high society people.

This was highly entertaining story where it was easy for me to ignore the flaws, such as a ridiculous plot. Compared to Jeeves and Wooster, Reggie is stupider than Wooster and clearly less intelligent than Reeves and not very socially smart either. Reeves also suggests and uses subterfuge in a way that Jeeves wouldn’t. Of course, Dolley didn’t live in 1903, either.

The fourth in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 41 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mirron Willis

Smokey is a black man in 1969 Chicago and a private detective. He has continued his romance with Laura Hathaway, a rich white woman, and it brings some problems with it. The story starts with Laura and Smokey taking part in a charity fundraiser for orphaned black children. Laura’s suggestion of white families adopting them isn’t received well, to say the least.

On their way to Smokey’s apartment, Smokey hears a woman calling for help from his neighbor’s apartment. He and Laura investigate and find an unknown black woman bleeding heavily. They get her to a hospital where the doctors refuse to help her because they suspect that she’d done an abortion, which is illegal. Laura won’t stand for that, though. Smokey tries to find out the strange woman’s identity and ends up investigating on who is responsible for the botched abortion the stranger suffered through. In another plot thread, Smokey works for Laura inspecting the buildings her company owns. When he finds the remains of a baby, he just has to find out who is responsible.

Also, Black Stone Rangers and the Panthers play a significant role in the story.

Several plot threats make this book is bit more sprawling that the previous ones but no less enjoyable. Many familiar characters return and Smokey’s adoptive son Jimmy starts to act out on his teenaged impulses. Jimmy feels left out of Smokey’s life when Smokey deals with problems he doesn’t want Jimmy to know about. The boy’s also afraid that Smokey will be injured or even killed. Even though Smokey’s friends would no doubt take care of the boy if that happened, it’s not enough for the boy.

Nelscott describes Chicago wonderfully even though the racism is hard to read about. And racism does worm its way into pretty much everything. As far as I can tell, the characters are realistic for their time.

The story is a chilling reminder that women’s current rights haven’t existed for long and people are again, or still, working to diminish or destroy them altogether. Even here in Finland.

Another excellent book in the series.

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