Thursday, September 14, 2017

Learning American History Through Fiction

Edith here, loving the still-fabulous tomatoes, juicy peaches, and sweet corn of a New England September.

I'm often studying history. I live in an antique house in a town full of history, and I use much of what I've learned about both in my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. So I got to thinking about my fellow historical mystery writers. Given the period I write in, I naturally gravitate to authors also writing about the second half of the nineteenth century, maybe squeezing into the first part of the twentieth.

Like who, you ask? Let's start with Nancy Herriman's Old San Francisco Mysteries. I love this series. A British-born nurse tends the poor and neglected in post Civil War San Francisco. Nancy's writing is vivid and chock-full of correct historical detail. No Pity for the Dead has Celia Davies bumping up against a ruthless real estate developer. Some things just never change! But along the way you feel what it was like to live in a rapidly developing San Francisco (one of my favorite cities, by the way). 



My fellow Macavity nominee (for the Ann Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel) Ann Parker writes the Silver Rush Mysteries. I love these books, set in the real boomtown of Leadville in 1880 Colorado. I didn't know anything about the Silver Rush, and Ann brings it all alive. The dust, the issues of a woman and an African-American owning a respectable bar, the complications of a woman wanting a divorce from her disappeared husband, and so much more.


Anna Loan-Wilsey's Hattie Davish series come along next, set in various places around the country in the 1890s. Her protagonist is an independent "typewriter" - which means she's a typist. Sometimes she works for the wealthy man who employs her, and sometimes she's on loan to a friend of his in places as far flung as Missouri, Rhode Island, Arkansas, and Illinois. Anna drops in atmosphere in each place so you feel like you are there. In her latest, A March to Remember, she's researching something for Sir Arthur in our nation's capital but instead gets swept up in the worker's rights as well as the women's rights movement. The movements were real, as were some of the characters.

Alyssa Maxwell (no relation) pops up next in the chronology, with her wonderful Gilded Age mysteries set in Newport, Rhode Island in 1895 and thereabouts. While I used to live in Newport Beach, California, I didn't know much about the eastern version except for the row of big mansions (which I still haven't seen in person yet). Emma Cross is a less-than-well-off relation to the Vanderbilts, and a reporter. I love where she takes me in and around Newport, and what I've learned of the lifestyles of regular people as well as the rich and famous.


Jessica Estevao's (aka Jessie Crockett) Change of Fortune series starts at the very end of
the 1890s and is set in scenic Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where I happen to know that Jessie owns a summer home. Her latest book, out in two weeks, is Whispers of Warning. Her series protagonist Ruby Proulx, was raised by a con artist but escaped the itinerant life to live with her aunt, Honoria, who runs a hotel for spiritualists. Ruby herself is psychic in that she appears to hears voices from beyond. I love how Jessie captures the end-of-the-century feeling of Old Orchard with all the senses alive.

One of my inspirations for writing the Quaker Midwife Mysteries has been Victoria Thompson. Her Gaslight Mysteries begin in 1899 in New York City featuring an upper class midwife. I knew basically nothing about the city at that time, and now I can traverse it in its modern reincarnation and recognize names and landmarks. 

Vicki also has a new historical mystery series debuting this fall with City of Lies. I read her short story featuring the characters and was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of City of Lies. Elizabeth Miles, the protagonist, and her father are scam artists but of the Robin Hood sort. You're going to love it! The series starts in 1917 and is mostly set also in New York.

And my little run through a portion of American history wouldn't be complete without mentioning Rhys Bowen and her Molly Murphy series, which begins in 1901 and also takes place in New York City. I have followed Irish Molly all the way from her beginnings to the latest book, Time of Fog and Fire, which takes place only five years later in book time but fifteen years later in author time. As with Vicki's Gaslight books, Rhys takes you all over the city and through all layers of society, too.



Okay, readers, who did I forget? (Apologies ahead of time!) Favorites among this list? Extra points if you've read at least one book by each author. What have you learned from reading historical fiction? And I'll send a large-print copy of Called to Justice to one commenter here today - but be sure you include your email address. 

23 comments:

Eileen Charbonneau said...

Oh gosh these are all new to me...thank you! I'll contribute Lauren Belfer's City Of Light, wherein I learned what a world-leading city Buffalo, NY was at the turn of the 20th century, our newly electrified age, while reading a wonderful mystery with a heart-rending heroine.

Edith Maxwell said...

Awesome. I'll put that on the list!

kk said...

Wonderful list. Historical mysteries are my favorite.

Edith Maxwell said...

Me, too, KK!

Robin Coxon said...

I've enjoyed reading Jennifer Chiaverini's books relating to the Civil War period. Her quilt series held bits of history to them but Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker stole my heart. Your midwife series is one of my favorites since our family has a midwife within it. Their importance to the expectant mother is priceless. Thanks for sharing the other books that have historical significance.

Edith Maxwell said...

Great, Robin. I love quilting stories from the past.

Celia Fowler said...

I love all of the Authors and series you have written about, but I seemed to have missed Ann Parker's books. I don't know how they escaped my radar, but they are now on the top of my TBR list. I live about 2 hours away from Leadville and can't wait to read about how the silver rush affected it! One of my favorite historical novels is The Alienist by Caleb Carr ~

Thank you so much for the Large Print book giveaway -- my Mom is 86 and a voracious reader, and I know she would love to read Called to Justice! bobandcelia@sbcglobal.net

Edith Maxwell said...

Great, Celia. You'll love Ann's books. Gah - I have had the Alienist on my shelf for a long time and haven't gotten to it. With that recommendation, I'm floating IT to the top of my own towering TBR pile!

Daniele K said...

I love so many historical mystery series, including these mentioned above. I also enjoy Caleb Carr's Alienist, PB Ryan, M Louisa Locke, and Jill Churchill's Grace and Favor series. Thank you for the chance to win. I would love to be able to share a large print book with my near blind mother. Dmskrug3(at)hotmail(dot)com

Edith Maxwell said...

Thanks for these names, Daniele!

Jadedcup Schubert said...

I've only, sadly, watched historical dramas. Call the midwife, Father Brown, etc. I need to pick up a few of these right after I finish Murder Most Fowl,

ceblain said...

One of my all time favorite historical mystery authors in recent years is Alyssa Maxwell. I have read everyone of her Gilded Age mysteries and have loved this series due to the masterful writing and the New England background which is Newport, R. I. I have also read Jessie Crockets Maine location series and that also drew me to buy her books. I have lived in CT and MA all my life with lots of connections to the other New England towns as well so I especially enjoy having stories set there. I have read one of Anna's books and a few of Edith's books and all we're wonderful.

My reading was slowed down tremendously in recent years due to failing vision but after two eye surgeries since June, I am now able to see distance and much better to read but it is still far from normal sized print with three tries of varying prescription glasses until I have another surgery for retina repairs. So with that situation facing me, I would love to read
a large print book and would be delighted to be chosen. This article was such a nice collection of authors who sound so interesting to read too. Thank you.
Cynthia Blain

ceblain (AT) tmlponline (DOT) net




Karlene Barger said...

I've loved Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy books, Janet Estevao's Whispers Beyond the Veil,
ALyssa Maxwell's Murder at the Breakers, and Radha Vatsal's A Front Page Affair (set in New York City in 1915.) These are all fun and exciting opportunities to learn a bit of history, watch a plucky heroine solve mysteries, and realize that skirt lengths and mores may have been somewhat different in a previous century, but that these heroines all succeeded by caring about issues involving friends and family and taking some risks to set their portion of the world right and make better, more interesting, more challenging lives for themselves!

Edith Maxwell said...

Karlene, I should have mentioned Radha Vatsal's book - I loved it, too.

Cynthia, I agree with you about Alyssa, Anna, and Jessica - hope you'll give the others a try, too!

Jadecup, I LOVE Call the Midwife - for obvious reasons, but also that they do such a good job with births and issues of the day.

Gail Anne said...

I have read more than one of all of these authors except Jessica Estevao, but she is on my list for the future. City of Light is a wonderful book. I loved The Alienist and also the sequel The Angel of Darkness. A great series from the past is Dianne Day's Fremont Jones mysteries--it starts out in Boston and then she goes to San Francisco--the book about the earthquake there is exceptional ! It takes place around 1900. There were 6 in the series. P B Ryan has an enjoyable series about an Irish maid in a wealthy Boston family; it's post Civil War and also has 6 in the series. Cuyler Overholt has a series about a female doctor around 1900; the first one I loved was called A Deadly Affection and she just released the 2nd in the series. Cordelia Frances Biddle has the Martha Beale mystery series which takes place in late 19th century Philadelphia, which provides some extra interest---she is wealthy , but has a secret beau that works for the mayor.
I love the historical mysteries because they provide a lot of information about the time and place in which they occur. Information about famous people, buildings, businesses that still exist and some that don't,food, clothing, how women lived and the limitations put on them....They flesh out the strictly historical books. They're much more enjoyable/entertaining and not so dry as a history book. I like to read the authors that provide a lot of that sense of being there...

Gail Anne said...

I also enjoy the series by M. Louisa Locke and K B Owen; both are entertaining and informative
of their respective times and places.

Edith Maxwell said...

So many new names, Gail Anne! Thank you so much.

Elisabeth said...

I've read several of the authors you mentioned but some are new to me. Going to definitly add them to my TBR pile. I also very much enjoy Charles O'Brien's books. Both his French Revolution Series and his more current one, Gilded Age Mysteries are thoroughly enjoyable.
Elisabeth
lis.conley@gmail.com

Edith Maxwell said...

I'll have to check out O'Brien. Thanks, Elisabeth.

Sue Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue Jones said...

Miriam Grace Monfredo's series that begins with Seneca Falls Inheritance is a wonderful foray into American history through historical mysteries. Seneca Fall is a beautiful old town in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, and was the cradle of the women's movement in the US. The mystery featuring sleuth Glynis Tryon, the town's librarian, is woven into the story of the 2 days in July 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglas and 300 others gathered in tiny Seneca Falls to discuss the unfair treatment of women. The Abolitionist and Temperance movements are also explored, along with the Underground Railroad and the views of Native Americans in the mid-1800's. I first encountered Seneca Falls when my aunt was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, and it was a magical town from that point on for me. I love "visiting" it though frequent re-reads of this series.

Edith Maxwell said...

I'll have to check that out, Sue. Thanks so much!

Edith Maxwell said...

Cynthia Blain is the randomly chosen winner. Congratulations, Cynthia! I wish I had a book for everybody.