historical fiction


The first book in the Daisy Dalrymple cozy mystery series set in 1920s Britain.

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Publication year: 1994

Format: Audio

Running time: 6 hours, 38 minutes
Narrators: Bernadette Dunne

The Honorable Daisy Dalrymple doesn’t want to rely on her family and so she works as a journalist and photographer for the Town and Country magazine. She’s sent to the Earl of Wentwater to write an article about his historical home. Daisy knows some of the people at the Earl’s court and the family welcomes her. However, she notices that something is off. The Earl’s beautiful new wife is the same age as the Earl’s daughter Marjorie. One of the male guests, lord Stephen, is hitting on the Earl’s wife. She seems to spur his advances but the Earl turns a blind eye. At the same time, Marjorie tries to seduce Stephen. Marjorie’s brother Wilfred seems uncountably hostile to his young stepmother.

A man is found dead. At first, everyone thinks it was an accident but Daisy notes something strange. When a dashing Scotland Yard chief inspector arrives on the scene, he agrees. She wants to write a mystery novel and is very interested in helping the chief inspector. He’s immediately attracted to her and agrees that he needs a secretary. He’s been warned that he needs to honor the Earl’s rank and investigate carefully.

This was mostly a fun and light listen. Unfortunately, the narrator isn’t British and that shows. The characters are somewhat stereotypical but entertaining. There’s a beginning of a romance between the inspector and Daisy but it doesn’t take over the story. Daisy is a plucky flapper and determined to make her own way in the world. The story is told from the POV of both Daisy and the inspector.

The solution was quite different than I expected and resulted in quite a convoluted ending. On the other hand, I didn’t guess the killer.

As I understand it, the original hardcover edition was split into three paperbacks.

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Publishing year: 2014

Format: Print

Publisher: Tor

Page count: 403

About half of the stories are set in the writer’s larger universe and one is a shared world. I had no trouble understanding the stories but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that they were very compelling, either. Most of the women are politically or socially dangerous.

Lev Grossman: The Girl in the Mirror: set in his Magicians world, the story follows Plum. She’s the leader of a secret society of students, the League, in a magical university. One student has stepped over the line and the League must discipline him with an elaborate prank.

Sharon Kay Penman: A Queen in Exile: 1189 Germany. Constance de Hauteville hears that her nephew has died. That means that Constance will be Queen of Sicily and her cold and ruthless husband the Holy Roman Emperor will also be King of Sicily. But a bitter battle for the crown must be won first.

S. M. Sterling: Pronouncing Doom: Machines don’t work anymore and society has fragmented. In this town, Wiccans rule. It’s the heavy duty of Juniper Mackenzie to sentence an evildoer.

Caroline Spector: Lies My Mother Told Me: Set in the Wild Cards universe, the main character Michelle Pond is a major superhero called Bubbles. She and her adoptive daughter Adesina are in a Mardi Gras parade when zombies attack. Michelle knows that her friend Joey, the Hoodoo Mama, is the one who controls zombies but why would Joey attack the parade and her? Turns out someone stole Joey’s power. And that’s just the beginning.

Sam Sykes: Name the Beast: Kalindris’ people are silent, watchful. They hear the Howling. But her daughter is nothing like that. Kalindris has grown to resent the man who sired the child and she also resents her daughter. When it’s time for the child to kill a beast and blood her hands, Kalindris goes with her because she’s sure that the child isn’t up to the task. The other POV is Senny. Senny’s Mother and Father are arguing. A beast killed Senny’s older sibling and the family is on the run.

Nancy Kress: Second Arabesque, Very Slowly: In a world, where a virus made 99% of women infertile, civilization has fallen. In Northern USA, people are either hunter-gatherer packs or farmer communities. The first-person POV main character Nurse is in a hunter-gatherer pack. She’s already past 60 and knows that when she can’t keep up anymore, she will be shot. But for now, she does her best to nurse the women and men of the pack. The women are valued for their fertility or if they have special skills.

Diana Gabaldon: Virgins: A novella set in her Oulander setting but before the books. Jamie Fraiser has just fled Scotland and joins a mercenary group where his best friend Ian is a member. Because Jamie and Ian understand Hebrew, they are entrusted with a mission to bring a Jewish girl, her maid, and a priceless dowry to Paris for her wedding. Of course, things go wrong.

A stand-alone murder mystery set in 1636 France.

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Publication year: 2022

Publisher: Palmetto Publishing

Format: ebook

Charles de la Forêt is the third son of a Baron. A couple of months ago, his father sent him to Paris to be a musketeer. Charles has no choice but to obey. However, he enjoyed the camaraderie of the musketeer cadets and has even made a couple of friends.

Dueling is illegal in France but when a group of the Cardinal’s guards interrupt rudely the cadet’s play, Charles has to defend the Musketeers’ honor and fight one of them. They’re both wounded. The next day, Charles is sent to his first mission; not because he’s the most qualified but because the Cardinal might charge him if he remains in Paris.

Charles is sent to a small town, Pontcourt, to bring a murderer and proof of his guilt to Paris for trial. A family was brutally murdered but the people caught the villain. When Charles and his servant Michel arrive in the town, they encounter a mystery. The suspected murderer has been tortured so much that he can’t travel. Still, he insists that he’s innocent. He’s also a tax collector, so the local people want him to be the culprit. Charles starts to investigate even though the people are against it.

Charles lives in the shadow of his two elder brothers who are more successful than him. His father is constantly disappointed in him. So, he’s eager to prove his worth but he also wants justice to be done. He was born and raised in a small town and thinks that Paris is a smelly and dangerous place. He’s short and men often underestimate him. The Musketeers assign him the servant Michel. Michel was born and raised in Paris and thinks it’s the best place in the world. They don’t know each other but must quickly learn to rely on each other because the people just want to see the murderer punish with torture and death.

This was an entertaining read. It has surprisingly many action scenes for a murder investigation. Wray has clearly researched the time and the place; his descriptions are vivid. The mystery has enough twists to keep you guessing. This is a stand-alone story but it can be easily expanded to a series.

The first book in the historical mystery series about Holmes’ daughter.

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Finnish publisher: Bazar

Publishing year: 2017

Format: Print

Finnish translator: Marja Helonen

Page count: 329

London 1914. John Watson Jr. is the first-person narrator. He’s the son of John Watson and also a doctor, although a pathologist. His dad helps investigate the murder. The elder Watson still lives at 221 B Baker Street and that’s where the story starts. Mary Harrelston comes to see him, looking for help because her brother has just died, and everyone thinks it’s a suicide. But Mary doesn’t think so. Watson and his son agree to look into it. Apparently, two people witnessed Mr. Harrelston’s plunge to death and their statements disagree. One is a gardner and one is a ten-year-old boy. The boy is the son of Joanna Blalock, a young widow.

Watson knows that Joanne is the daughter of Holmes and Irene Adler. He tells about her to his son but swears him to secrecy. They meet with Joanna, and the younger Watson is immediately smitten with her. She has incredible deductive powers and insists on helping with the case. The case turns out to be, as usual, far more than what you see at the first glance.

This book felt like fan fiction. The trio meets Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade who is the son of the original Lestrade. He needs a little persuasion in letting Joanne join the investigation. They also need the help of Toby Two, descended from Holmes’ Toby and young Ms. Hudson is Dr. Watson’s housekeeper.

The plot is nicely twisted, but not too complicated. The mystery isn’t who murdered the man, but how and why and how can our heroes prove it. Joanne explains her deductions thoroughly, partly to convince the men around her. She reads a lot and has a very good memory. As a woman, she has a very limited choice of professions so she’s a nurse. Her ten-year-old son is the spitting image of young Holmes and is also very perceptive and makes excellent deductions. The younger Watson also praises Joanne’s looks all the time, in his thoughts, which can be a bit tiresome. There’s a romance between them.

It’s a light and easy mystery read if you don’t mind (or especially if you like) the many connections to the Holmes stories.

The first book in the historical Nottingham series reimagining the myth of Robin Hood. Or rather a deconstruction of the myth.

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Publication year: 2019

Format: Audio

Running time: 25 hours 25 minutes
Narrators: Raphael Corkhill, Marisa Calin

This was far darker than I expected it to be. I guess it can be called realistic but is it really realism when every decision has bad consequences? But I guess it is realistic when everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing, no matter who they hurt or how much.

I was curious to read another reimagining of Robin Hood but unfortunately, this one wasn’t for me. For one thing, three significant POV characters are new: William de Wendenal, Arabel de Burel, and Elena Famwell, Will Scarlett’s lover. They’re solid, flawed characters with dark pasts. But since they’re not part of Robin’s myth I didn’t care for them. For another, it’s very dark. No matter how much the characters strive to do good, all their actions turn out to be wrong.

Set in 1191, King Richard is fighting in the crusades with Robin of Loxley and William de Wendenal as his closest allies. Robin and William even wear the king’s crown from time to time, acting as his body doubles to draw away assassins. But money and weapons don’t flow from England and that hurts the army. When Robin is wounded, he and William are sent to England to retrieve the missing weapons.

Meanwhile in England, the sheriff of Nottingham and his guard captain Lord Guy of Gisborne must collect crippling taxes that the king has ordered to fund the war. Lady Marion Fitzwalter is doing her best to keep the people from starving or rotting in jail because they can’t pay the taxes.

In the forest, a group of outlaws and former street urchins hide out, stealing what they can. Their leader is a huge, older man John Little who tries to keep his people safe. But Marion gives them information and directs their efforts.

The book did have some very interesting reversals. The current sheriff, for example, is trying to do his job and keep the peace. But the king’s demands and the disdain of the local nobles makes it very hard. Even his guard captain Guy thinks the sheriff is weak and ineffectual. Guy himself loathes everyone who breaks the law and does his best to keep his own men safe.

So, everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing, but they’re working against each other, which adds to the grim tone. Everyone also assumed others’ motivations are bad. However, there was some humor, especially in the banter between the characters.

The Robin Hood mythos had quite a few reversals. The biggest one is, of course, right from the start Marion was leading the outlaws and Little John was the field leader. Also, Robin’s attitude toward poor people was very elitist: he thought they were poor because they didn’t work hard enough and when he started to help the poor, it was a political choice. Alan a Dale isn’t a musician at all. Robin often mentions that the outlaws can’t effectively fight against Nottingham’s guard because the outlaws aren’t trained and have poor weapons. Will Scarlet has a different upbringing, I liked him a lot. I won’t spoil the others. Some of them I liked, some I didn’t. It was nice to see more female characters, though.

The book has multiple POV characters and each chapter starts with the name of the POV character and where he or she is. The story has quite a few surprises. Even the end has a very surprising twist and is a cliffhanger, not really an ending.

The first book in a series of murder mysteries set in 15th century Tallinn.

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Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2019

Format: print
Page count: 320

Finnish publisher: Into

Finnish translator: Jouko Vanhanen

Melchior Wakenstede is the Apothecary in Tallinn, Estonia. His father was an apothecary before him. Melchior knows the people and the places of Tallinn. In the 15th century, the town is right on the edge of Christian lands. Indeed, the town and the time period take the center stage. The Dominican monastery, the guilds, and the alehouses are described lovingly, and for me, the mystery came second. The characters are fairly typical for the time and for a detective story, but entertaining enough.

When a Teutonic knight, who was the governor of Gotland, is visiting Tallinn, he gets really drunk and is murdered: his head is cut off with a sword and an old coin is shoved into his mouth. Of course, the town’s notable people are in an uproar. The town’s chief of police is used to petty robberies and so he calls on Melchior to help him. The curious and perceptive Melchior is happy to talk to people and deduce what happened and find the killer.

The book starts with the murder. It has quite a few POV characters and a large cast of characters. The female characters are pretty bland, though, especially Melchior’s wife Keterlyn, who seems to be there just so he can explain things to the reader. The ending is very Agatha Christie -style of gathering people together while Melchior explains what happened.

While Melchior is an educated man, he’s also a product of his times. For example, he thinks that only bloodletting can cure diseases, and he’s also quite religious. Also, he has a mysterious curse that will apparently drive him insane in time. Only his wife can ease the symptoms.

The Finnish translation uses older style words, probably for the atmosphere.

The fifth story in the Argolicus historical cozy mystery series but can be read as a stand-alone. The others are short stories.

Publication year: 2021
Format: ebook

Publisher: Fervent Crux Press

Page count at GoodReads: 320

This historical book is set during the times when the Ostrogoths ruled Rome, specifically during king Theodoric’s rule.

Gaius Vitellus Argolicus was a Roman praefect for seventeen years, but now he has returned to the small town of Squillace and his father’s old house. He’s from a patrician family so he’s automatically one of the town’s leaders. When he first comes to town, he’s invited to join the town council’s meeting. He agrees and finds out that despite a good harvest, the town is starting to suffer from a grain shortage. This has caused unrest and forced the council members to talk about it. Nobody else wants to look into it so Argolicus volunteers. Argolicus thinks that he can just visit the biggest grain merchant, Quintinus, and ask what happened to the grain. Also, Argolicus’ mother is trying to arrange a marriage between him and Quintinus’ daughter.

However, Quintinus is away. Argolicus and the merchant’s daughter Proba get along well and agree to be friends, only. The next day Proba tells Argolicus that her father has been murdered. Argolicus agrees to find the killer.

Now, the scholarly former praefect who dislikes politics has two problems in his hands. If he can’t find out where the grain has gone, the poor townspeople will riot. Finding Quintinus’ killer is a more personal task.

This was a very good mystery. Argolicus doesn’t know the local people and he must talk to them to find out more about Quintinus so he could solve both the murder and the mystery of the missing grain. The setting is very well researched and comes alive in the story. The people are believable. While Argolicus has investigated crimes before in Rome, this is a new town with politics he doesn’t yet understand. The book has many short vignettes which show the life of ordinary people and add wonderful depth to the setting.

Argolicus loves his books. While he owns slaves, as is usual for the time, he’s a gentle master. He even rescues a young girl who has run away from her parents who were going to sell her to slavery. He gives the girl a home – but even that becomes a political gesture. Argolicus’ friendship with Proba also causes people to wonder about their relationship.

The two other significant characters are Nikolaos, Argolicus’ Greek tutor, mentor, and slave. Nikolaos is still gently teaching Argolicus to observe and make deductions. Quintinus’ daughter Proba lives with her parents, but it quite an independent-minded young woman. She is her father’s accountant which was unusual for women at that time. Her father’s death pulls the rug under her life, but she’s determined to help clear her father’s name.

This was a very enjoyable cozy mystery that brought to life the people and the setting of the times.

A historical murder mystery set in 80 BC in the Roman Republic. Can be read as a stand-alone but it’s the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series.

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Publisher: Minotaur books

Publication year: 1991
Format: print

Page count: 380

Gordianus is called the Finder because he’s an investigator. He’s a Roman citizen but hasn’t inherited wealth, so must work for his living. A young slave comes to him early in the morning, asking him to go and meet with the slave’s master, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Gordianus has never heard of the young man who is just starting his career as an orator and a lawyer. So after dallying in his house for a while, curing his hangover, Gordianus and the slave, Tiro, head to Cicero’s house. Cicero has just accepted his first law case, involving a suspected patricide. Gordianus isn’t too keen to get mixed in such a case but he needs the money so he takes the case.

He inspects the place where the father was killed, interviews different kinds of people, walks up and down Rome itself, and even makes a short trip to the countryside. The case turns out to be quite a bit more complex than he thought at first.

The book has excellent descriptions of Rome and the culture at the time. Slaves are more numerous than free men. While the wealthy take shelter from the hot sun, the slaves toil away, doing all the real work. Saylor doesn’t sweep away the slavery but has ”good” owners and also the ones who berate and beat their slaves whenever they want. We also get to know that slaves can testify at court, but only under torture. Gordianus himself owns a half-Egyptian female slave, Bethesda, and he sleeps with her several times. She’s depicted as pretty headstrong woman so I guess Saylor implies that the sex is consensual on her part, too. But since she’s a slave, she can’t choose.

The mystery itself is pretty complicated and forces Gordianus to go around and meet all sorts of people, showcasing Rome and its people, both poor and rich. Gordianus lives near the Subura, the slums, and he goes through it several times.

I mostly enjoyed this one and enjoyed the historical detail, although the writing style is pretty dry. Interestingly enough, the mystery is based on Cicero’s first real case.

Collects miniseries Marvel 1602: The New World 1-5 and Marvel 1602: The Fantastick Four 1-5.

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Writers: Greg Pak, Peter David

Artists: Greg Tocchini, Pascal Alixe

The first miniseries follows the adventures of Bruce David Banner and Peter Parquagh in the Roanoke colony in the New World. Banner was the right-hand man of the murderous King James of Scotland and England. James sent Banner to the New World to murder Nicholas Fury, but when Fury disappeared, Banner changed to a monster, the Hulk.

The local newspaperman, Jonah Jameson, has hired Peter. Peter also became friends with Virginia Dare, the daughter of Roanoke’s governor. She can change to various white animals, but she can’t control the change nor what she does in animal form. Peter has his own secret as well. When a pack of dinosaurs is trampling the settlement, he uses his powers to save people and the Hulk does the same.

However, King James is growing impatient with no news from the Roanoke and he sends the Iron Lord and his faithful servant Rhodes to the colony with a group of soldiers. When they come to the shore, they arrest the governor for treason. Of course, Peter and Virginia must help her father. Meanwhile, Banner flees to the wilderness and wonders if he has any reason to survive. And greedy Norman Osborn wants to kill all the Indians on the island. Lots of plotlines and lots of characters.

The second story centers on Fantastick Four and their struggle against Otto von Doom. Otto was called the Handsome, but he was hideously scarred in the main series. He wants a way to cure his scars. When he hears about a city beyond the edge of the world, he thinks has found it. He kidnaps William Shakespeare to document the voyage – and his triumph of the FF. The FF follow Shakespeare in Ben’s ship. But Johnny has kidnapped a woman he’s fallen in love with, Doris Evans on the eve of her wedding. Doris isn’t happy about it but the FF can’t turn back.

Otto has allied himself with the Four who are Frightful: Medusa, the Wizard, the Sandman, and the Trapster. Trapster seems to be the only one without powers.

The FF follow Otto’s flying ship and they meet in the middle of the sea. Of course, they fight and attract the attention of a couple of other familiar characters.

This was a fun read, especially if you liked the main 1602 comic. The New World deals with colonialism and Banner wrestles with the terrible things he has done for the king. It has so much story that the end feels a bit rushed. A couple of more issues would have fleshed out the conflicts and the side characters a bit more.

In the FF comic, David touches on the collision of scientific and religious worldviews. Sadly, I didn’t really care for how that ended. Will Shakespeare was added for some comic relief; other people said some of his most famous lines. Sue is invisible for most of the comic, but she’s pregnant and for some reason the fetus is visible, which looks really strange.

I think the FF are more, er, archetypal than usual: John is a drunkard womanizer, Sue is a bickering girlfriend, Reed is so focused on science that he doesn’t understand people around him, and Ben… is a gruff sea captain. However, the plotline partly rehashes one of the oldest storylines in FF.

It was fun to see the different versions of the characters I know, and I enjoyed the collection more than I expected.

The third book in the alternate history/SF Lady Astronaut series. Technically it’s a stand-alone but I recommend reading at least the first book, the Calculating Stars, first.

Publisher: TOR
Publication year: 2020
Format: print
Page count: 542

Elma York and the others are on their way to Mars. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Earth First terrorist group is doing their best to get the International Space Coalition and especially the various nations around the world to cancel the space program. They don’t believe that the meteorite strick damaged Earth so much that human habitation will become impossible. Instead, they try to funnel the funds toward rebuilding the US. They use religious rhetoric to turn people to their side.

Meanwhile, IAC is already training colonists to go to the Moon station.

Nicole Wargin is one the first female astronauts, ”astronettes”. She also the wife of the Governor of Kansas, which is the current US capitol. Earth Firsters arrange demonstrations, try to poison the lead rocket scientist, and sabotage a rocket. The FBI and IAC suspect that one or more of the crew or colonists on the Artemis Base are Earth Firsters. During the war, Nicole was a spy. Now, IAC boss Clemens wants her to spy on her fellow astronauts and the colonists. She knows just how crucial the information will be, so she agrees. Even though she hates spying on her friends.

Her husband is thinking of running for president. Nicole is already a very public person and is used to supporting her husband. But being the wife of a presidential candidate would make it even worse. She’s not thrilled but supports him. He’s not thrilled that she’s on the Moon for months at a time, but supports her. I loved their dynamic, as much as I loved Elma and Nathaniel.

Nicole is the first-person POV character. She’s extremely competent. A pilot, a spy, an astronaut, a diplomat. She’s also very human. She hates her paranoid spy -side but uses it when she must. She has anorexia. She has been getting better, but when she’s stressed she forgets to eat. When she feels that things are out of her control, the only thing she can do to have a semblance of control is by starving herself. That’s not good in space when you need to be at your best. She also has arthritis on her feet, which she hasn’t told IAC doctors.

This was a wonderful continuation of the series and I enjoyed it a lot. Nicole isn’t Elma. Her damage is different from Elma’s. Just like Elma, she’s a very human character. I also loved her close friendships with the other astronauts. The only flaw for me was in the epilogue: I don’t think one of the things in it would be possible then. I enjoyed it, but it felt out of place.

This book is similar to the first one because it has lots of politics. The main focus is firmly on Nicole and her friends, especially in the latter half of the book. The latter half also has a somewhat claustrophobic feel because Nicole is hunting for terrorists on the Moonbase.

Apparently, the series will get at least one more book. I’m looking forward to it!

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